|Wreckage of Cirrus SR22 at local KMWA airport yesterday.|
Yesterday at 4:38 p.m. in good weather, a Cirrus SR22 apparently landed long during touch-and-go landing practice at KMWA airport and overran the runway. Of the two aboard, one is confirmed dead. Occasionally, the Bear has written aviation articles, and this is one of them.
The Cirrus SR22 is a sweet little airplane that is very popular, although most students train in the venerable Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
Touch-and-go landings are a late part of a student pilot's training. The student lands, immediately raises flaps and throttles up to take off, then comes around and does it all over again. The airplane is never stopped. Nearly everything else about flying an airplane is a cinch, but landings are as much an art as a science. They are hard. That's why students practice them so much.
Undoubtedly, one of the two was the CFI; the other would have been the student pilot. It was almost certainly the student who was in control of the aircraft.
Airspeed, Airspeed, Airspeed
How does an accident like this happen? Like the Bear said, landing is hard. You have to have a number of things just right -- configuration (e.g. flaps), airspeed (airspeed, airspeed), altitude, rate of descent, and, of course being lined up properly. Did the Bear mention airspeed?
With a crosswind it really gets fun, because your airplane's nose is not pointing in the same direction your airplane is going. It will always "weathervane" into the wind. Just before touchdown, you have to line it up by kicking the rudder over. At least that's how the Bear was trained.
Of all of these, airspeed is the most important. You would think it would be the easiest, since there is a big thing marked with numbers with a needle in front of you. But so many accidents happen because of failure to pay attention to airspeed. Even professional captains can make this basic mistake, as in the 777 crash on landing in San Francisco. (At least they had the excuse of believing the airplane would land itself without their help. That would be, not exactly.)
A long landing can be caused by coming in too fast, too high, or "floating" That is a frustrating experience where you just can't make your airplane get down those few extra feet to the runway, due to an aerodynamic interaction between your wings and the ground. Ultimately, though, it's trying to land without enough runway left.
Go Around, Go Around, Go Around
You would think pilots would power up and abort a landing when things were not going exactly right, but, oddly, they sometimes don't. Then, they usually die, along with whoever else had the misfortune of sitting next to them, probably a poor CFI who has invested $40,000 in his education and is getting paid box store wages.
This particular airport, KMWA, is one with which the Bear is familiar. Once, as a student, he was proudly demonstrating his fledgling skills to his brother, who was in the back seat. Not taking into account the extra weight in the tin-can Cessna, the Bear made a very firm landing. Nothing was bent, however, except the Bear's ego. Tough little birds those Skyhawks.
Forcing a landing without enough runway left is the obvious result here. Pilot error has to be expected. Always better to go around if your landing does not look picture perfect.
The Dangers of General Aviation
Ironically, the Cirrus SR22 is famously equipped with a parachute to bring the aircraft down safely if it cannot remain airborne for some reason. Obviously, it wouldn't have helped here.
There are no two ways about it. General Aviation flying can be dangerous. Mostly because of poor judgment on the part of pilots, not a lack of airmanship. A careful pilot flying a well-maintained airplane is very safe. They don't fly through questionable weather, they know their equipment, they keep their heads, and they use their checklists.
It is said that in general, men show better airmanship, but poorer judgment; and women show poorer airmanship but better judgment. The Bear would rather go with the latter if he had to choose.
Despite the informed conjecture here, we won't know for certain what happened until the NTSB and FAA complete their investigation. The Bear is not assigning blame or criticizing these particular pilots, but is speaking in general terms of accidents like these. The Bear wasn't there and doesn't know the particular circumstances of this crash. It is very sad when the absolute joy of flying turns into a nightmare, especially when it ends in death.
The last fatal crash there was in 1985. The pilot of a Cessna 150 suffered a fatal heart and his wife unsuccessfully attempted to land. So you never know for sure what happened until the investigation is concluded.
Oddly, just yesterday, the Bear was telling one of his sons that he ought to consider getting his PPL, and that he would buy him a "Discovery Flight." The Bear's mate was passing the airport at nearly the exact time the crash occurred.
St. Bart's Overrun
Here is an example of a runway overrun without such drastic consequences. This is at St. Bart's, famous for having the shortest runway in the world. Just 2100 feet long. And, you've got to clear a hill on short final. Pilots bringing tourists in must be specially certified as having Jedi powers or something.
You can also tell there is a crosswind by the way the airplane is crabbing into the wind, but that should not have made a difference. The pilot is over-commited to landing, even when two-thirds of the already short runway is behind him. (The Bear would abort a landing beyond the one-third mark, and enjoyed putting it on the numbers, the Navy way.)
Why did he not go around and save himself a bent airplane? A go-around is a bit inconvenient, and an admission that you screwed up your landing. Yeah, the Bear knows: pretty dumb, huh? Notice how the airplane is "floating" down the runway to the two-thirds mark. That can be maddening. There's not a lot you can do at that point; you probably came in too fast. The pilot was probably so focused on waiting for a chance to flare (and also dealing with a fairly mild crosswind) he lost situation awareness. Perhaps he thought his turbo twin's "beta" function (sort of a reverse gear) would save him.
Fortunately, no one was injured.