The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about the best practices to calculate and predict aircraft performance and to operate within established aircraft limitations.

A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.

Why Should I Monitor? 
“Well, I thought I could do that….” If you are lucky enough to survive an accident and make that statement, you are very fortunate indeed.

Accident investigators say a pilot’s unrealistic expectation of the aircraft’s performance, especially when that aircraft operates at the edge of its weight and balance capabilities cause some accidents.

Don’t be fooled. The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) Loss of Control Work Group suggests every pilot will benefit by understanding how to calculate aircraft performance.

Let’s have a look.

How Do You Monitor Your GA Aircraft’s Performance? 
Most GA aircraft do not have the dedicated automated flight data recording devices that the commercial operators have, but there are other ways to monitor performance.

Today, some manufacturers are offering self-contained flight data and visual data recorders for GA airplanes and helicopters.

But, even without dedicated equipment, pilots can track engine power, fuel flow, oil temperature and pressure:

  • Panel-mounted GPS systems and many hand-held units are capable of recording position, heading, speed, and altitude.
  • Engine monitors may have recording capability.
  • Oil analysis will gauge engine health, and, more importantly, prevent potentially catastrophic failures.
  • Some aircraft, especially helicopters, are equipped with chip detectors that can forecast engine and transmission failures in time for a safe landing.

Three Important Questions 
When we talk about aircraft performance, we’re looking at three basic needs:

  • How much can I haul?
  • How far can I go?
  • How long will it take me to get to my destination?

These aren’t simple questions, because you, the pilot, have to consider a few variables before you arrive at an answer.

Start with the Basics 

  • When planning a flight, decide how much weight you want to haul, and where you want to take it.
    –Start with the crew and passengers, then, add cargo. If you have already exceeded your aircraft’s capability, you’ll have to trim the passenger count, reduce the cargo, make multiple trips, or get a bigger aircraft.
  • Next, you’ll need to figure out how much fuel you can take, and after you consult the weather, you’ll figure out how far you can go.
    - If you have enough fuel to get to your destination plus an alternate airport, plus reserve, you’re good.
  • Next, run a weight-and-balance calculation to make sure you’re operating within the weight and balance limitations of your aircraft.
  • Think about takeoff and landing.
    - Consider your departure and arrival airport runway lengths, obstructions, and expected density altitude.
    - If the field is short and/or obstructed, you may not be able to fly safely with a full load.
  • Last, but far from least, make sure YOU are up to the task. Pilot skill and experience count for a lot.
    - Be conservative when you calculate your performance and consider adding a safety factor.
    -  Some pilots add 50-percent to their takeoff and landing calculations for safety.

Yes, YOU Are the Most Important Variable
Now, it’s all up to you. The calculations won’t mean much if you, the pilot, can’t duplicate them in your flying.

That’s why it’s critical that you document your personal performance capability at least once a year with your flight instructor.

Fly at a typical mission weight, and try to duplicate or simulate mission density altitudes. This exercise will help you become familiar with what you — and your aircraft — can do.

Finally, be sure to establish a baseline performance level for both you and your aircraft. Be aware that factors like fatigue (physical) or high-density altitude (environmental) can often result in performance below this baseline. On the flip side, proficiency training and lighter loading can often mean performance above this baseline.

Bottom line: know your limitations and always assess (and reassess) how you and your aircraft will perform on any given flight.

More about Loss of Control:
Contributing factors may include:

  • Poor judgment or aeronautical decision making
  • Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action
  • Intentional failure to comply with regulations
  • Failure to maintain airspeed
  • Failure to follow procedure
  • Pilot inexperience and proficiency
  • Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol

Did you know?

  • From October 2016 through September 2017, 247 people died in 209 general aviation accidents.
  • Loss of Control was the number one cause of these accidents.
  • Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
  • There is one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.

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