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I have been flying for 30 years and have my IFR ticket.
However, during my private pilot training I was exposed to an abnormal number of flying deaths of people I knew (7 dead in 6 accidents over a period of a year and a half). Those accidents stay with me to this day.
That series of horrific experiences over such a short period of time led me to develop a very low risk tolerance. It was etched into my brain that unless I flew every flight as safely as possible - I was going to die in a plane crash. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, it's what has been stuck in my brain.
So one of my first rules of safety has always been altitude. Fly as high as reasonable on every flight. In my 601 I typically fly at 5500, and higher, when traveling any distance, with a minimum around 4500 feet for short flights. Altitude is life....
So I have 30 years of thinking that any flight below 1500 feet is going to get me killed (no, i'm not exaggerating!). However, I now live in a beautiful rural and scenic area with few, if any, obstructions over 100 feet. I have started wondering what it would be like to occasionally fly at 500 feet (this is scary low for me!) for a short scenic flight.
So, I'm sure many low and slow pilots on this forum have never really considered my predicament. For many STOL pilots flying at 500 feet, is high. I'm wondering if there are some pilots who have been in my situation that did have to learn to get comfortable flying down low, and if so, what suggestions you might have?
FYI - I have gotten very comfortable with handling my plane in all regimes. I can spot land it nearly every time. This is not an issue of learning my, or my plane's, capabilities. Its more over-coming fear of low flight.
So did anyone take some sort of progressive approach to low and slow flight? If so, any suggestions for me?
Maybe the real answer is just go out and do it until you get comfortable, but I thought I would ask the experts here first.
Go ride a motorcycle for a while in heavy traffic with the idiots on cell phones. That's way more hazardous than most any type aviation.
The guys who have the most fun are the ones who naturally don't worry about their body much.
I've made three low and slow flights since I started this thread. Here's a few of my observations:
- it's much more interesting down low (yeah, kind of obvious, but it really struck me on these flights).
- the 601/650 are not nearly as much fun down low as the Zenith high wings (I have had a number of flights in Doug Dugger's planes). Also kind of obvious, but on my recent flights I kept wishing the damn wings weren't in the way!
- If you really slow down ( I was flying around 80 mph) it REALLY is a different type of flying. I found myself concentrating more on the seat of the pants feel as I maneuvered, rather than looking at the turn coordinator which I usually do. It also felt more relaxing. I think this was in part because I wasn't constantly checking the IFly 740 for traffic, as well as non-stop eye-balling for traffic.
I think when I started this exercise I was just thinking about the view out the window. I was also nervous about not having altitude so I thought I would be more nervous flying down low. What I'm finding is the opposite - because I'm not so concerned about traffic, and not thinking about altitude, all the related concerns just seem to disappear.
I know it sounds weird but it was as if, "Ok, I don't have altitude for an extended glide after engine failure - so I might just as well stop worrying about it." And I did.
I don't mean to say I wasn't keeping my eyes out for off-field landing spots because I was. It was just that the worrying about it seemed to disappear.
I think this exercise is helping me re-discover why I fell in love with flying in the first place.
Awesome! You just found the reason I built a 701 and never want to fly IFR or land at a towered airport (well, maybe OSH) ever again. The joy of grass strips and low and slow. Well done.
Hello Gary and fellow thread members,
Lot's of excellent point on a great post that's hard for folks to talk about seriously. If anyone ever want's to talk on the phone, dial me at 931 217 0519.
While I've flown small planes about 21 years however, a majority of my flight time is in big helicopters. I paraglide, and used to parachute, and climb, but I'm scared of heights. It's key that we trust our machine, or we are always going to be operating significantly inside of what's an appropriate safety margin, sometimes to the point of not flying when you can and should, losing proficiency, etc.
Know your machine, engine, fuel, and electrical systems, and have smart, appropriate confidence in them. The vast majority of power-loss situations are due to fuel starvation (running out of fuel). The vast majority of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) are due to weather issues, and lack of pilot training/proficiency, with a long chain of broken rings including get-home-itis (self-imposed, mission related stressors). Learn about weather and what MVFR actually looks like. When the vis seems real real bad look objectively at the chart and distances and realize it's still five miles. Understand that in the mountain states you'll hit a mountain or wires not a tower. You may be able to fly down to 300-500' without detailed studying of a chart first. In the plains and back east there are 2000' AGL towers. So have a reason for whatever altitude is your deck based on obstacles, not engine failures (which are VERY unlikely in most engines that produce >85hp put on Zeniths). Over monitoring of the engine will almost never prevent it from failing, but will prevent you from flying, and increase stress. Be smart about your fuel, and listen to the angel and devil on your shoulders and feelings you get. We don't "rise to the occasion" when there's an emergency, we "fall to our level of training", or get good lucky. I'd rather have my training than hope for the good luck.
So make sure flying is fun. Sometimes go up for a joy-ride, play in the wind, smell the fields, put a smile on some kid or old-timer's face for a while. But sometime have a goal for your flight that includes training yourself. Develop a systems-based approach to flying, using foreflight or such to update yourself enroute, use flight following and fly at altitude when it doesn't make sense to be below radar/radio coverage. Carry appropriate survival gear (for survival until you're picked up), participate in organizations that make us all better, If you are just up for a play flight don't do something abnormal, don't try some super low buzzing around if it's not thought of first, planned, etc. I land at some off-afld sites (always looking for more), and fly in some inhospitable places, but I don't just "roll in hot". There's a measured level of recon before dropping in below my deck alt, then before touch-n-go, then full landing. What's appropriate and measured will be different and adjust based on experience.
Flying is wonderful, and I've experienced some of the most conscious, fun times in the air, and some of the most stress-producing. The more exciting and stimulating a task is (fast in a vehicle, low in a plane, too steep on skis, etc.) the more our minds can't regret the past or worry about the future. That's when we get a rush, love what we're doing. Those are some of the times we really love. A challenging short-field approach meets these criteria. These times can be had safely if done in planned conditions, but they're no time to not know where the next set of wires is, how the winds are, or to have a ceiling/speed for turning around/landing/intentionally climbing up and going IFR.
Keep up the fun.
-Conor at Pianosa Flying Farm in Carlton, WA
931 217 0519
Certainly could write books on this. Unless a person has knowledge & experience to do this safely, my primary advice is don't do much of this with passengers on board.
Stall spins & controlled flight into terrain are certainly the big killers of low & slow flight. It's fairly easy to eliminate that danger by discipline in show off type maneuvers.
In the event of a forced landing, of course if possibly pick the best spot where there's a chance of saving the airplane. But don't spend so much time trying to save the airplane that you run out of all options and have to go in a spot you have no control over. Otherwise, focus on the best spot that has no big objects to hit because that will kill you. If you can at least get on the ground with the option to ground loop or can tear off a wing on something you greatly increase your chances. Tree tops can be a good option...depending.
Once all that is determined, your chances of surviving are directly proportional to airspeed. So land as slow as possible, and that usually will involve full flaps, unless of course deploying full flaps will force you to land in a more dangerous spot. But if you need partial flaps to get to the safe spot, do everything possible to get them in the last seconds and when close to the ground don't touch down until the slowest speed possible if reasonable to do so.
The best pilot in a forced landing in terrain where you will lose your airplane, is a pilot who is exceptionally skilled in making a really bad landing....