Safety Cause Du Jour
Flying|March 2017

Does our government’s response to safety issues sometimes cause more fatalities?

Martha King

As they approached the outer marker at Buffalo in their Q400 turboprop, Capt. Marvin Renslow, 47, and First Officer Rebecca Lynne Shaw, 24, had allowed themselves to be distracted by an extended conversation about their previous icing experience compared to their current icing conditions. They were now too fast for so close in.

About 3 miles from the outer marker, Capt. Renslow quickly reduced power to near flight idle and called for flaps 5 and gear down. In response, Shaw selected 5 degrees of flaps, put the gear down and moved the condition levers to maximum rpm. As the airplane slowed, Renslow called for flaps 15.

Two things happened next that are hard for many pilots to understand.

First, as the autopilot leveled the airplane at the glideslope interception altitude, it appears the pilots had forgotten they were at near-idle power. Neither pilot mentioned the pitch attitude of the airplane had increased from 3 degrees nose-up to 9 degrees nose-up, that the numbers on the airplane’s indicated airspeed display had changed from white to red or any of the other numerous cues of their deteriorating airspeed.

It is hard to imagine they had forgotten something so basic as the fact they were practically at idle power. But an abrupt slowdown creates a common trap for pilots of heavier, faster airplanes. It is easy to get out of the loop as the autopilot manages things for you. You can easily forget that you are in a major transition and fail to bring power back in when you should. In our 30 years of flying jets together, John and I have each made that same mistake and been rescued by our alert copilot.

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