Smoke On Go

Single pilot resource management at its best

Single Crew Resource Management is the art of managing all onboard and outside resources that are available to a pilot before and during a flight, in order to help ensure that a safe and successful outcome of that flight is never in doubt. By employing the concept of resource management, single pilots are better able to deal with non-normal occurrences or abnormalities, should these perhaps occur.

In 1963, I was a young schoolboy who was learning to fly.  On  a late Sunday afternoon I went for a flight with my Dad in a 1948-model Beechcraft Bonanza he owned a share in. A few days before our flight, one of his partners had done a heavy nose-wheel first landing in the aircraft and had neglected to report the event to his co-owners.

Danger warning

 On take-off from the then Pietersburg airfield, there was a loud thud as the landing gear was going through its retraction process. The early model Bonanzas had two gear lights. One of them illuminated red when the gear was in transit and the other illuminated green when  it  was locked down. The green light had extinguished at the beginning of the retraction cycle and the red light had illuminated and then remained on.  There was also a mechanical gear position indicator below the instrument panel. This flag was stationary in the mid-way position, showing that the gear was neither UP nor DOWN.

My Dad followed the POH procedures for the emergency gear extension. When he reached back behind the front seats to wind the awkward crank, he discovered that it was thoroughly jammed. He tried cycling the gear yet again, this time diving slightly for some extra speed and then pitching upwards with high positive-G so as to try and force the nose-wheel down. The nose  gear remained stuck!

No-one to turn to

Being a sleepy Sunday afternoon there was no one in the airport tower or in the air traffic circuit that he could ask for any assistance. He needed someone  that could look at the aircraft during a low and slow fly-by to tell him if they could see what appeared to be the matter. He  needed whatever information he could get in order to properly assess the situation.

Quick thinking

Instead he headed towards a rather prominent West-facing hill that was close to the airport. With the sun already fairly low on the horizon, my Dad flew slowly past the face of the hill so as to examine the aircraft’s shadow against it. The silhouette showed the nosewheel dangling in the half-way position. He then at least knew, what was wrong.

 He still couldn’t raise anyone on the radio, but knew which street the Pietersburg Air Traffic Controller lived in, so he made a few flypasts over his house at low level, just above the trees and power lines. It was not long before the somewhat agitated and curious ATC came out to see who was flying over his house in such a noisy, unorthodox and illegal manner.

When the ATC saw the aeroplane’s obvious predicament he headed out to the airport. Once he was in the tower my Dad did another fly past and the controller was then able to confirm the stuck nose wheel gear leg.

My Dad asked him to make a long-distance phone call to a friend of his in Johannesburg who was an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) who worked for the Beechcraft agents at Rand Airport. With the ATC acting as a relay between the AME on the telephone and my Dad on the aircraft’s radio, there was a huge amount of discussion that went on. No matter what was suggested and tried, the undercarriage remained jammed.

With no solution to the problem possible, the rescue services were alerted. In those days there were no emergency facilities  at the airport so the fire brigade had to come from the town centre.  An  ambulance and some fire trucks sped towards the airport, with their sirens and hooters waking half of the town. Since it was quiet weekend afternoon, these people jumped into their cars and formed a procession behind the rescue vehicles to find out what the excitement was all about!

With the light fading and our fuel running low, it was time to take action. My Dad prepared to land and told me to move onto the back seats of the aircraft, so as to move the aircraft’s C of G further aft. This would, to an extent, help him keep the nose up and away from the ground for as long as possible after the touchdown.  He made sure I had strapped myself in and then reassured me that he would land safely. l

On the final approach, when he knew he could safely glide to the runway, he pulled the mixture to the cut-off position and kept the speed low until the prop stopped. Luckily it did so in the horizontal position and safely out of harm’s way. After the touch- down he held the nose up for as long as he possibly could and until it eventually came down onto the runway surface. The subsequent drag caused by both the nose-wheel undercarriage leg and the bottom of the engine cowling, resulted in the aeroplane coming to a quick stop.  Besides a somewhat “mangled” nose-wheel leg, the  only  other manifestations of damage were a few small dents and scrapes on the bottom cowling.

SCRM

The key point about the whole event was that it was a classic case of excellent SCRM. When my Dad heard the sound and saw that this was linked to an undercarriage abnormality, he followed the Pilot’s Operating Handbook procedure to try and remedy the situation. When that failed he asked for help from people that might have been at the airport. When he could not find anyone, he had the presence of mind to think up a way to see his shadow and thus determine the problem. With that established he had to get some ground-based assistance, so he calculatedly broke the low flying regulations in order  to alert the ATC.

Once he had support on the ground the two of them  pooled their knowledge with the AME. When that still did not help, he prepared for an abnormal and risky landing. Having checked that the emergency services were in place, he then worked on a course of action that he would use to minimise damage to the propeller and engine.

Assessment, Action, Management

Throughout this all, I had watched him Assess the situation, then take whatever Action he could, and then go ahead with the Management of the operation. These three words are the keynote of modern day Crew/Cockpit Resource Management…ASSESS, ACTION, and MANAGE. This event took place in 1963, long before CRM had even been thought of.          

Having now been involved in the training of Applied CRM to airline pilots for over 30 years, when I look back on what I saw that day, I realise that my Dad had  accomplished  a masterful “home-spun” performance. He certainly utilised whatever resources he could to ensure a safe outcome to the problem.”