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Safety Publications/Articles

Making The Change

When A New Pilot Moves To A New Aircraft

Transitioning to a new aircraft is a big challenge for newly minted pilots. This is also a reminder for instructors to take a little extra time to be sure that the new skills recently demonstrated to an examiner transfer into different aircraft, as the following accident demonstrates.

A Grumman American AA-5B was damaged during a go-around as it was blown into trees lining a 3,000-foot runway. The pilot stated, "The accident occurred on landing Runway 24. Approach stable (crabbed). Final approach speed 70 kts. Experienced ground effect, perhaps wind shifted to tailwind. Attempted go-around-full power. Had not yet raised flaps (set to two-thirds). Gust (crosswind-300 degrees) of unknown speed. (Winds apparently recorded at accident site-in sheltered hollow-in excess of 20 mph.) Lost control of aircraft, which was blown into trees to left of runway.... Pulled back power before impact...."

The pilot had received his private pilot certificate just one month before, with a total time of 69 hours. All primary training was received in a Cessna 172. The Grumman American AA-5B had recently been purchased and the pilot had only logged 12 hours in that aircraft.

According to an FAA inspector, the pilot was practicing takeoffs and landings on Runway 24. During the accident approach, with the flaps set at two-thirds extension, the airplane floated. As the pilot applied power for a go-around, the airplane drifted left off the runway. While over the trees, the left wing dropped and made contact with tree limbs. The airplane cartwheeled and came to rest in an area of scrub pines. Fortunately, the pilot was not injured.

The winds were recorded from 280 degrees at 11 knots, with gusts to 22 knots. That makes the estimated crosswind component between eight and 15 knots. This is a significant amount of wind even for a more experienced pilot and more than recommended for a new pilot in an unfamiliar aircraft. Judging from the accident description, the pilot made a good choice to go around when the landing did not work out as planned. However, go-arounds remain one of the more troublesome maneuvers.

The AA-5B is somewhat faster than a Cessna 172 during its approach and, because of the relatively clean design and small flaps, may tend to float more than a C172. In most cases during a go-around, the aircraft will tend to drift left due to torque, P-factor, slipstream effect, and gyroscopic precession-if the pilot doesn't adequately correct for these forces. These phenomena are more pronounced at slow speeds and can be counteracted with right rudder. Add in the drift from the crosswind, a possibly slow reaction to raise the flaps to the climb configuration, and inadequate airspeed, and the recipe for a left-side departure is complete.

Crosswinds remain one of the leading accident causes, primarily among newer pilots. Practice in the wind, particularly after you've earned the certificate, but take an experienced hand with you until you're comfortable with significant wind and the flight characteristics of a new aircraft.

Bruce Landsberg is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

By Bruce Landsberg

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