Aviate, Navigate and Communicate!

Vance

Gyroplane CFI
Joined
Oct 30, 2003
Messages
16,765
Location
Nipomo,California
Aircraft
Givens Predator
Total Flight Time
2400+ in rotorcraft
Tired, off for a month and overtasked.

This is a story about a 65 year old client who will remain anonymous who had an unpleasant experience while learning to fly with me in The Predator.

I will call him Bob which is not his real name and it’s not him in the pictures.

I feel there are many important lessons here about learning to fly a gyroplane so I felt I should share them with my friends in the hopes they avoid having an unpleasant experience doing what for me was a big challenge and a lot of fun.

The story will have more value if you don’t think things like I would never do anything that stupid.

I have made all of these mistakes myself; just is a different order.

It is a long post so take you time if you want to find value in it.

A month previous I had transitioned my ten hour primary learner into the front seat. There are many things nicer about being the front seat but it also comes with extra responsibilities.

The pilot in the front seat has to manage the magneto switches, the intercom, the transponder, the rotor brake, the mixture control, radio frequencies, the toe brakes for steering and I prefer they make the radio calls. They are also responsible for monitoring the engine instruments.

When I first transitioned Bob to the front seat a month previous I managed the radio calls to keep him further away from task saturation. There are a lot of new tasks to manage and a whole different sight picture. We had spent more than an hour briefing Bob on the front seat before his first flight in the front seat.

He did very well and he knew he would be off for a month and wanted to mitigate the impact with chair flying so he took pictures of the Predator’s panel and created a very nice panel on cardboard that he attached to his work bench at home and spent a lot of time chair flying and practicing the various check lists and verifying the instruments.

Recent flight experience has value.

In my experience flight skills are perishable and the newer they are the faster they deteriorate.

I was confident enough in Bob that we were going to do his cross country the next day after accessing the impact of not flying for a month.

I suggested that it might be easier if I made the radio calls.

Bob had been practicing, making notes and listening to live ATC and he felt the radio calls would not be a distraction.

We practiced the radio calls at Santa Maria (SMX) with me playing the fast talking sometimes hard to understand atc (air traffic control).

He worked though the startup check list, initial call to ground, read back to ground and the run up procedures and everything went very well.

Bob made the call to Santa Maria tower and atc responded experimental gyroplane one four two Mike Golf; hold short of runway three zero for landing traffic.

Bob’s read back was perfect.

Atc; “gyroplane 142 Mike Golf, Runway three zero cleared for takeoff.”

Bob’s read back for his takeoff clearance was correct and with very little coaching his takeoff was nice as can be.

On his initial climb out the tower told him to make left traffic and report abeam with intentions. He read it back perfectly.

I was picking up a squeal in my active noise reduction (ANR) head set making it harder to hear, I felt I could still hear ok and there was no reason to abort the mission. We had lots of ways to deal with intercom problems.

Bob was having a little trouble with airspeed and altitude but was still to practical test standards. His turns to cross wind and downwind were tidy maintaining airspeed and altitude and I gave him some praise.

Bob made his downwind call: “Experimental Gyroplane one four two Mike Golf, request the option for left closed traffic runway three zero” I feel this minor mistake began his troubles.

Atc responded “gyroplane two Mike Golf; number two following the Cessna, runway three zero cleared for touch and go.

Bob got as far as experimental gyroplane one four two Mike Golf before there was a long pause and I felt Bob was losing his situational awareness.

Because of the lack of clearance acknowledgement atc repeated; “Gyroplane two Mike Golf runway 30 cleared touch and go.”

After another long pause Bob responded “Experimental Gyroplane one four two Mike Golf clear touch and go.”

Bob said something that I was not able to understand and I said; I can’t hear you. We later discovered that Bob and inadvertently tuned down the intercom. At the time I thought it was because my ANR was acting up combined with the extra wind noise in the back seat and maybe his microphone was badly positioned.

It appeared to me Bob had lost situational awareness because we were more than a hundred feet below pattern altitude (800 feet mean sea level 550 feet above the ground) and had slowed to 35kts indicated air speed (target airspeed is 50kts) and was deviating from the normal downwind flight path.

I like to have a big safety margin and the trees and power lines were close enough to make me uncomfortable.

I pointed out these deviations and it appeared to me Bob didn’t respond with the appropriate control inputs.

We had descended below 500 feet mean sea level (250 feet above the ground) and the airspeed dedicator was showing 35kts. Shouting this time; WE ARE TOO LOW AND TOO SLOW, FULL THROTTLE, NOSE DOWN.

Bob shouted back; “I AM AT FULL THROTTLE”.

I shouted NOSE DOWN!

I did not seem able to get Bob to respond with appropriate control inputs and I could barely hear him.

We have a procedure for intercom failure where if I shake the stick; I am taking control of the aircraft. I felt Bob would learn more if I talked him through it.

Atc announced “gyroplane two Mike Golf; pattern altitude at Santa Maria is eight hundred feet.”

Bob appeared to have lost directional control and was deviating left.

With three aircraft in the pattern I made a call to Atc “gyroplane two Mike Golf; this will be a full stop landing.

Atc came back sounding somewhat relieved; “gyroplane two Mike Golf; runway three zero cleared to land.”

I repeated the clearance and told Bob to turn right and get the nose down.

This seemed to me to be the turning point and I was glad I had not taken the controls. “Make a normal landing” I said loudly; trying to be less abrasive and attempting to sound confident and in control of the situation.

I talked Bob through the landing and after he ballooned up, he got the power in and saved the landing.

I made the radio calls on the ground. Bob didn’t respond when I told him to turn right at alpha five until I shouted at him to TURN RIGHT and we got a little lost on the way to fuel nearly missing turning left at taxiway Romeo and nearly turning at Sierra (the commercial ramp with all the attendant transportation security administration rules and fines). TURN LEFT, SHARP LEFT TO ROMEO. This is not an uncommon mistake because Taxiway Alpha, Alpha five, Alpha six, Romeo and Sierra all come together.

We had a long debrief where we attempted to identify the path to this unpleasant situation. Tired, a month off, and task saturation seemed to be the greatest contributors with turning down the intercom and my shouting adding to a bad situation.

I believe in using the acronym IMSAFE before every flight. It stands for Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, and Emotion. Flying is a no go for me if any of the items are not where I would like them to be.

We determined that Bob was stressed and fatigued.

Bob was crippled by task saturation and trying to make perfect radio calls pushed him over the edge.

Aviate, Navigate and Communicate in that order is sage advice.

I don’t think Bob would have crashed if I had not been there to intervene.

I do feel Bob lost control of the aircraft and the practical test standards are all about aircraft control and are written in blood.

Bob knows well that power controls altitude and pitch is how airspeed is managed and yet in my opinion when overtasked he reverted to the natural tendency to believe pulling back on the stick will make her climb and full throttle will make her go faster.

There is a lot of bent metal and some dead pilots from this mistake in a gyroplane.

After a lengthy debrief Bob decided we were done flying for the day, got some rest, returned to the back seat the next day and made nine nice takeoffs and landings while making all the radio calls correctly if not perfectly.

If you are wondering how I remember the details; I have studied the video of the flight extensively including the audio to learn and help me become a better flight instructor. I was particularly listening for the change in Bob’s voice to try to identify when it started. I suspect he was in on the edge and managing things well before his failed read back and struggling with the read back pushed him over the edge. It appears from the audio that once I made the radio calls he recovered quickly.

Bob and I learned a lot from this and I hope you have too.





8. The view of The Predator from the front seat.jpg
 

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DavePA11

Active Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2015
Messages
959
Location
USA
I was renting a plane at Centennial class D airport south of Denver with parallel runways and had to turn over the radio communication to the instructor since the radio reception was very poor and the tower kept using local landmarks for reporting that I could not recognize being new to Denver area. I believe the tower was use to using local landmarks with the local instructors everyday. The radio reception was a known issue in the rental plane and okay to hear if you had a noise cancelling headset which the instructor had, but I didn’t.

How do you tell the tower not to use local landmarks and use distances and directions? There are landmarks on the sectional, but they were not using those or maybe they were and I could not recognize them… idk.

It can get stressful if you cannot understand the tower or the directions they are providing. Centennial is one of the most used class D airports in USA I am told and was very busy when I wa flying out of there. First time I landed with right and left runways. They replaced the radio in the rental and can now hear the tower. I didn’t recognize the noise on the ground with ground control so maybe due to higher engine revs while flying.

I can see how the student can get overwhelmed, but as you mentioned keep flying…

Thanks for posting Vance.
Dave
 

All_In

Gold Supporter
Joined
Apr 21, 2008
Messages
15,698
Location
San Diego, CA. USA
Aircraft
Piper Archer, Aviomania G1sb
Total Flight Time
Not sure over 10,000+ logged FW, 260+ ultralights, sailplane, hang-gliders
I've flown into 100's of airports where they use local landmarks like the "Rock Pile".
The instance I hear the local landmark.
I say "Not familiar with the Rock Pile. But have DME or now GPS distance."
Or if I did not have those would add request distance from the airport.

However, sometimes they will describe the Rock Pile and if I see it, often unmistakable, then they teach you the local landmark.
---
Likewise, I've been a might perplexed on following taxi instructions even when I write them down and read them back.
As soon as that happens I report to Ground new to the airport request taxi instructions.
And they seem happy to call my every turn.
 
Last edited:

Vance

Gyroplane CFI
Joined
Oct 30, 2003
Messages
16,765
Location
Nipomo,California
Aircraft
Givens Predator
Total Flight Time
2400+ in rotorcraft
How do you tell the tower not to use local landmarks and use distances and directions? There are landmarks on the sectional, but they were not using those or maybe they were and I could not recognize them… idk.
Thanks for posting Vance.
Dave
A good and often unasked question Dave.

When you are unfamiliar with the local landmarks the magic word to ATC is “unfamiliar.”

“Student pilot” may also help regardless of your status.

You never want to be afraid to use “unable”.

ATC will figure it out, it is their job and safety is a higher priority than expeditious.

This can be a bigger challenge at an unfamiliar non-towered airport and all the more reason to say distance and direction as part of your calls.

Don’t be afraid to ask for distance and direction if someone reports "over the golf course."

Radio work is about communication and I don’t care if I don’t sound cool or someone thinks I am too pedantic about radio calls.
 

Martin W.

Active Member
Joined
May 10, 2020
Messages
326
Location
Winnipeg
.

I confess a dislike for tower communications .... most of the time the tower gives a compressed burst of words .... half of which are unintelligible .... mix in wind noise , and engine noise , and static ... I hate it.

I often blamed myself .... until once in a while I encounter a clear speaking controller who speaks every word clearly and uses 7 seconds to say it instead of 3 like the others .... and I find women controllers best of all ... clear speaking and no words cut short.

.
 

Vance

Gyroplane CFI
Joined
Oct 30, 2003
Messages
16,765
Location
Nipomo,California
Aircraft
Givens Predator
Total Flight Time
2400+ in rotorcraft
.

I confess a dislike for tower communications .... most of the time the tower gives a compressed burst of words .... half of which are unintelligible .... mix in wind noise , and engine noise , and static ... I hate it.

I often blamed myself .... until once in a while I encounter a clear speaking controller who speaks every word clearly and uses 7 seconds to say it instead of 3 like the others .... and I find women controllers best of all ... clear speaking and no words cut short.

.
Most of the controllers I have dealt with do a great job and go out of their way to help.

The controller in this story was the tower boss and she is very nice.

Her response to the lack of acknowledgement of the landing clearance was typical; say it again and simpler.

When she mentioned the pattern altitude she was calm and not judgmental.

She once came all the way down out of the tower to apologize for one of her controllers.

She basically lets me do whatever I want as long as I tell her first and she doesn’t think it is dangerous.

I feel fortunate to work with her.
 

Tyger

Super Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2017
Messages
1,160
Location
Germantown, NY
Aircraft
Magni M16
Total Flight Time
420
... most of the time the tower gives a compressed burst of words .... half of which are unintelligible .... mix in wind noise , and engine noise , and static ... I hate it.

I often blamed myself .... until once in a while I encounter a clear speaking controller who speaks every word clearly and uses 7 seconds to say it instead of 3 like the others .... and I find women controllers best of all ... clear speaking and no words cut short.
Agreed!
I think what bugs me the most are the ATC guys that just whip through recording the ATIS data. What's the big rush?
OK, they might be saving ten seconds on the recording, but then everyone has to listen to it at least twice to make sure they heard it all right.

While I'm on the subject of ATIS, what's with the airports that only have the ATIS/AWOS on the VOR freq (e.g. 111.6 at KAVP), which I cannot get on my radio...
 

WaspAir

Supreme Allied Gyro CFI
Joined
Oct 21, 2006
Messages
5,034
Location
Colorado front range
Aircraft
Bell 47G-3B-1 / A&S 18A / Phoebus C, etc.
Total Flight Time
stopped caring at 1000
If you take the time to study the TAC (x2 scale of sectional) or even better, a helicopter route chart (if there's one for your locale), there are often visual reporting points and landmarks indicated (and on the heli chart, even little drawings of useful buildings and structures). I"ve carried the heli chart even in fixed wings for LA, NY, and Houston because they are so good for visual navigation. The Terminal Area Charts are useful when there's no Heli chart.

In the SF Bay region, there's an Embassy Suites hotel that's marked on the TAC and useful for San Jose and Reid Hillview traffic, and I might never have found it without the chart marking.
 

Vance

Gyroplane CFI
Joined
Oct 30, 2003
Messages
16,765
Location
Nipomo,California
Aircraft
Givens Predator
Total Flight Time
2400+ in rotorcraft
If you take the time to study the TAC (x2 scale of sectional) or even better, a helicopter route chart (if there's one for your locale), there are often visual reporting points and landmarks indicated (and on the heli chart, even little drawings of useful buildings and structures). I"ve carried the heli chart even in fixed wings for LA, NY, and Houston because they are so good for visual navigation. The Terminal Area Charts are useful when there's no Heli chart.

In the SF Bay region, there's an Embassy Suites hotel that's marked on the TAC and useful for San Jose and Reid Hillview traffic, and I might never have found it without the chart marking.
Thank you J.R.

I find the helicopter charts and the terminal area charts a useful addition to my sectional charts.

Unfortunately they are not available for much of the country.

I have learned a lot from teaching.
 

WaspAir

Supreme Allied Gyro CFI
Joined
Oct 21, 2006
Messages
5,034
Location
Colorado front range
Aircraft
Bell 47G-3B-1 / A&S 18A / Phoebus C, etc.
Total Flight Time
stopped caring at 1000
I have learned a lot from teaching.
Indeed, that's the meaning of my signature quote from Joubert: Enseigner, c'est apprendre deux fois, or in our local lingo, "To teach is to learn twice".
 

Vance

Gyroplane CFI
Joined
Oct 30, 2003
Messages
16,765
Location
Nipomo,California
Aircraft
Givens Predator
Total Flight Time
2400+ in rotorcraft
Indeed, that's the meaning of my signature quote from Joubert: Enseigner, c'est apprendre deux fois, or in our local lingo, "To teach is to learn twice".
I have learned a lot from you J.R.
Who is Joubert!
I looked up the translation of your quote.
My mother and my sister spoke French, I do not.
 
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