January 16, 2009
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
Pilots seeing images of US Airways Flight 1549 floating in the Hudson River probably shared three thoughts: those pilots did everything right; I hope I could do it right if I ever had to; I hope I never have to.
Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, says general aviation pilots can learn valuable lessons from the airliner’s amazing emergency landing and increase their odds of a successful conclusion to any emergency.
First, he says, pilots need to remember that the “impossible turn” back to the runway really is impossible.
“If you have an emergency shortly after takeoff, the call of the runway behind you can be extremely strong,” Landsberg said. “But time and again we see pilots desperately trying to make it back stall and spin into the ground instead. Look for the best option within a few degrees of your flight path.”
Finding a good option can be especially difficult in urban areas, making it important for pilots to know what their choices are before an emergency strikes.
“Pilots should memorize the best emergency landing locations at their home airport and any other fields they visit regularly,” Landsberg said. “At new airports, it’s a good idea to make note of potential emergency landing locations as you approach. That way you have a mental map ready when you take off again.”
It may sound strange, but pilots should make an emergency landing as “normal” as possible.
“Fly the airplane all the way to touchdown, and try to set down in a normal landing attitude,” Landsberg advised. “Airplanes are designed to dissipate airspeed and distribute the force of impact during landing.”
The US Airways crash appears to have been the result of multiple bird strikes shortly after takeoff. The hazards of bird strikes for general aviation aircraft are somewhat different than those for jets. While jet engines can be disabled when birds are sucked into the air intake, bird strikes rarely damage the propellers of piston-engine aircraft. For most GA pilots, the hazard comes from birds and glass coming into the cockpit.
AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.
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