Almost

Almost

Almost

I am not sure if you have noticed, but there has been a rash of landing accidents or “runway excursions” lately. Sometimes weather related, but often just plain poor planning. Mistakes so fundamental that the pilot could have predicted the result before he or she even took off. One fatal accident involving a Phenom 300 that crashed into a parking lot near London’s Blackbushe airport in July of 2015 especially got my attention. 

The 57-year-old professional Jordanian pilot, with 11,000 hours, had landed at Blackbushe 15 times in the previous 16 months. The weather was clear with light winds. During the approach, the pilot was confronted with several callouts for traffic, but nothing unusual for most of us. To say that his approach was “unstabilized” however, would be an understatement.

At 1 nm from the threshold, the aircraft was diving at 3,000 fpm with an airspeed of 153 knots and a pitch attitude of 13 degrees nose down. At 1,000 feet above airport elevation, a series of six TAWS “pull up” warnings sounded. The pull up warnings continued unabated for 25 seconds until 50 feet above touchdown elevation. 

At the “five hundred” aural announcement, the airspeed was 156 knots with a rate of descent of 2,500 feet per minute. At 200 feet, the rate of descent was still 2,000 feet per minute. Crossing the threshold at 151 knots (about 43 knots faster than appropriate for the weight), the aircraft floated for nine seconds, landing 2,300 feet down the 3,474-foot runway. Even with ground spoilers deployed and hard braking, the Phenom departed the end of the runway overrun area at 83 knots. 

Although the occupants survived the impact, they were overcome by the resulting heat and toxic fumes, partially fed by the burning cars. In a little irony, the passengers included three members of the Osama bin Laden family. 

The British Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB), said emergency warnings prior to landing may have “saturated the pilot’s mental capacity.” The investigators were able to extract some data from the pilot’s previous flights and found one into Jedda Saudi Arabia to runway 34L which is over 12,000 feet long. That landing included multiple TAWS warnings, high rates of descent, a threshold speed of 150 knots and the flaps were still in transit at touchdown. This pilot almost made a successful landing. 

That got me to thinking that the word “almost” is probably not appropriate in aviation. Like I “almost” had enough fuel to make the trip safely. Or, I could “almost” climb to FL410 in ISA+5 temps in my Mustang. It appears from reading this accident record that you CAN make a successful landing without regard to speed, or descent rate, or flap position almost every time. Almost.

Fly safe.

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