Category: Personal

Heading to the clouds

Small but significant step in my flight training occurred last night. I flew for 1.6 hours in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), aka “actual IFR.”

I had a brief taste of it a few weeks ago, but last night I flew two precision approaches and a non-precision VOR-DME arc while in the soup. And I flew all three within spec, and nailed my landings. So a good night.

Today I savored the accomplishment by listening to the audio of the pilot who crashed at RDU last October, while flying IFR. The anxiety in his voice is apparent, and he’s clearly burdened by flying an unexpected approach while having lost his autopilot. So he’s struggling to aviate, navigate, and communicate at the same time. We’re trained to aviate, navigate, communicate in that order, but when you’re in the clouds, close to the ground, etc, it can be hard to keep those things separate.

I also read about another crash, a very recent one, involving a pilot struggling in IMC. This guy was picking up ice, and behind his airplane with the wrong localizer frequency dialed in.

This pilot was 69. The pilot who crashed at RDU was in his 70s. So aging private pilots should be cautious, and perhaps should ease out of IFR operations. Of course, they both could have been extremely fit. In any event, having done about 27 hours or so of simulated and actual instrument flying, I know the lonely feeling of keeping oneself alive only by reference to instruments.

NTSB files: PA32 crashes at KRDU

Reddit aggregated a lot of information on this one. A couple of people pounced on the LiveATC audio and edited it for YouTube. Unsettling to hear.

As I type, I realize that this crash happened almost exactly 24 hours ago–at roughly 2315Z. What was I doing? I’d finished having a drink/working at Pour Taproom. At 6:30 or so I told my wife I was coming home. By 7 or 7:15, I was tossing pizza dough in the comfort of home. This poor pilot and his wife, both 73, were crashing into the trees of Umstead Park, short of Runway 32.

The NTSB will decide whether the flight ended as LOC or CFIT (“loss of control”, “controlled flight into terrain”), but it’s clear that the pilot was under stress, with a perhaps-balky autopilot while he was vectored around with ceilings under 2,000 feet.

Sadly, he reported in his final transmissions that he had the airport in sight.

Anyway, bookmarking this for the final NTSB report sometime in late 2020.


FAA plane registry

LiveATC audio on YouTubehh

Flight track

UPDATE 2/13/2020: Preliminary NTSB report.

Best explanation for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Another definitive story from William Langewiesche.

In his telling, the disappearance of this flight, while dramatic and terrifying, isn’t so mysterious after all. There are millions of flights every year, so it stands to reason that once in a long while, there will be an unreliable, suicidal pilot at the controls. If Langewiesche is correct–and I think he is–then at least the passengers appear to have not suffered.