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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Getting in over your head

During flight training, a lot of time is spent practicing maneuvers--maneuvers that many students think they will never use after the checkride. On September 30, 2005, the pilot of a Cessna 150M attempted a go-around during dark night conditions at the Copiah County Airport in Crystal Springs, Mississippi. Unfortunately, something went wrong, and he and his passenger were killed in the ensuing crash.

The pilot of the Cessna activated the pilot-controlled lighting and entered the downwind leg for Runway 17. A commercial pilot on the field said the downwind and base legs appeared normal, but that the Cessna appeared to be too high and too fast on final. The airplane continued to descend with reduced engine power. About halfway down the runway, the Cessna was still at an altitude "about twice the height of the adjacent trees." The witness heard the engine power increase followed shortly by the sound of impact.

The wreckage was found about 422 feet southwest of the end of Runway 17 in a near-vertical position. Both the left and right flaps were found in their fully extended, 40-degree positions.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident to be the pilot's failure to retract the flaps during go-around and his failure to maintain airspeed, which resulted in an inadvertent stall. A contributing factor was the dark night conditions, the NTSB said.

The noninstrument-rated private pilot was issued his certificate on December 24, 2003. He had accumulated 141 hours, 19 of which were in the Cessna 150. The pilot had nine hours of night experience, 15 hours of simulated instrument time, and 2 hours of actual instrument time. He had also flown 10 hours in the previous month.

According to the POH, to retract the flaps on this model Cessna, the pilot must "...place the flap switch in the Up position. The switch will remain in the Up position without manual assistance due to an over-center design of the switch. Full flap retraction in flight requires approximately six seconds. More gradual flap retraction can be accomplished by intermittent operation of the flap switch to the Up position."

The procedure for a go-around in this model calls for a partial flap retraction (to 20 degrees) after full power is applied. Flaps are fully retracted after reaching a safe airspeed.

A go-around is not a maneuver that is practiced regularly, and they are done in "real life" with even less frequency. Although procedures vary depending on the aircraft, most checklists require that the flaps be retracted to about the halfway point.

To learn more, read Bruce Landsberg's "Safety Pilot: Going, Going, Going Around" from the September 1996 issue of AOPA Pilot.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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