Preparation and Communication
Blue Water Ditching: Training Professional Crewmembers for the Unthinkable Disaster
Montgomery, Dave. North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.: CreateSpace, 2012. 139 pp. Figures, tables, photographs.
Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it’s wet with rain …
The idea of flying the ocean in a silver plane sounded romantic when Patsy Cline sang about it; nowadays it’s routine for passengers and pilots alike. But sometime, somewhere, it will be anything but routine — in fact, a potential disaster.
“It is a safe bet to predict that there will be a blue-water ditching by an airliner, freighter or large corporate aircraft in the near future,” says Montgomery, a former U.S. Air Force command pilot and today a Gulfstream IV captain for NetJets. In 1991, he participated in operational testing of an amphibious aircraft in the Atlantic Ocean. His biographical note says, “He writes about takeoffs and landings on parallel swells and on mixed sea chop from experience, something very few pilots can do.”
Ditchings are rare in proportion to the number of flights transiting large bodies of water, but given the huge number of those flights, ditchings are bound to occur from time to time. Montgomery calculates that some 716,300 flights take place each year across the North Atlantic, North Pacific and polar regions. “Add in to the statistics the number of flights over the South Atlantic, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean, Arctic Ocean and all of the seas and gulfs and the thousands of inter-island flights that face a ditching possibility, and we can conservatively estimate there are over a million blue-water flights a year,” he says. “That is 2,700-plus flights a day.”
Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) considered the possibility of ditching significant enough to produce a 664-page guide, Waterproof Flight Operations, published in 2004 and available as a compact disc <flightsafety.org/store/flight-safety-digest-september-2003–february-2004>. Montgomery says, “Search-and-rescue forces around the world are certainly aware of these risks. Recently a first mass-rescue drill was held with a scenario of a large passenger aircraft polar ditching.”
Airline and corporate crewmembers receive intensive training in briefing passengers for a ditching, evacuation, the use of life rafts and life vests, and other elements of survival in a water landing. Unfortunately, Montgomery says, realistic simulation of the event in all its complexity is impracticable.
“Because a real-time ditching training exercise is so time-intensive (expensive) and not [a regulatory] requirement, very few crews have ever experienced the 45-plus-minute drill in the simulator,” he says. “To be effective, the exercise would need actors to portray flight attendants and extra crewmembers. Also needed are actors to portray [pilots of] other aircraft within VHF [very high frequency] radio range, actors for ATC [air traffic control] and a functioning data link system if the operator uses a system. These emergency scenarios require extensive setup (envision a South Pacific crossing with multiple possible divert options). The setup time combined with required actors combined with simulator time equates to significant expenditures of training funds.” Nevertheless, he offers examples of possible simulations for two scenarios, a quick ditching and a drift-down ditching.
For crews who do not have the benefit of realistic simulation, Montgomery believes the keys to successful ditching are preparation and communication.
Concerning the former, he says, “I summarize ditching preparation for the front-end [cockpit] crew as having a working knowledge of how to handle the aircraft from power loss to water touchdown; and front-end crew pointing the aircraft in the right direction to either facilitate rescue [or] reach an area of best water conditions (beach, bay or protected side of an island); picking the best ditching heading; and having basic knowledge of how to handle the last 100 ft.”
He is impressed with current standards of preparation for “back-end” (cabin) crewmembers: “The ‘managers in the back’ can be very aggressive when the time comes to put on the emergency game face. After all, they are not [only] on the aircraft to serve drinks or food … they are there because the governing agency requires them for safety, and when an ‘event’ occurs they spring into action. … They are accustomed to dealing with very challenging unknowns.”
Communication preparation, Montgomery says, can be categorized as internal — within the aircraft — and external — to and from the rest of the world.
“As important as the internal communication is for the crew and passengers, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of external communication,” he says. “You may have limited electrical power and possibly limited radios. If you are down to VHF only, and the only relay aircraft within VHF radio range does not have an HF radio, or some data link capability, rescue could be delayed by hours … or days. However, if you are able to relay your location to “Mom” [slang for your company or headquarters], ATC, multiple aircraft via VHF radio and possibly even make a call direct to the correct regional rescue center, you have launched the recovery effort and greatly improved the survivability chances of all occupants.”
As in pricing real estate, “location, location, location” is critical to ditching. Sometimes it is beyond the crew’s control, but when feasible, they should calculate the most likely direction from which rescue will arrive and head that way. Oceans are vast. Melbourne, Australia, to Mumbai, India, is 5,292 nm (9,801 km). Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles is 6,509 nm (12,055 km).
Location is so important because “the successful ditching will leave crewmembers drifting, paddling or sailing in either the calm of beautiful seas or in the hell of rough waters. Very few aircraft plying the oceanic airways have equipment to support life more than 12 to 48 hours. A search area for a ditched aircraft can easily be hundreds or thousands of square miles.
“Even in the best scenario of continuous 406 MHz ELT [emergency locator transmitter] hits, rescue may be days away. In the wait for maritime help, most probably a long range [Lockheed] C-130, [Hawker Siddeley] Nimrod or [Lockheed] P-3 will find you to drop supplies if capable, but ships moving at a mere 20 kt will take time to reach you and pluck you from your raft or floating fuselage.”
Among the book’s chapters are those dealing with self-training by individuals or in team settings, preferred water-landing techniques, the search-and-rescue satellite system, aircraft and ship search-and-rescue assets, and on-the-water survival.
Overcoming Bad Attitudes
Loss of Control: Aircraft Upset Recovery, a User’s Guide
U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), developed with the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, Safety Operating Systems and Flight Safety Foundation. Compact disc. October 2012.
Aircraft upset is now recognized as the most serious threat to flight safety, and is one of the “significant seven” risks identified by the CAA in a study of more than 1,000 fatal accidents and the findings of its Mandatory Occurrence Reporting Scheme database. This CD training package is “intended as a refresher course for commercial pilots, offering in particular a step-by-step approach to identifying, and dealing with, a stalled aircraft,” says Gretchen Haskins, director of the CAA Safety Regulation Group.
The CD contains a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, “Upset Recovery: By Pilots for Pilots,” and three papers in Adobe PDF format: “Aeroplane Upset Recovery Training: History, Core Concepts and Mitigation,” from an original paper by Safety Operating Systems’ John M. Cox, developed by the Royal Aeronautical Society Flight Operations Group; “High-Altitude Operations,” a supplement to the FAA Airplane Upset Recovery Training Aid developed by an FSF-led industry working group in 2008; and “Stall Recovery Technique,” a CAA Safety Notice (SN-2011/08).
The PowerPoint quotes a 2011 Boeing study that says that between 2001 and 2010, 1,756 onboard fatalities and 85 ground fatalities resulted from loss of control accidents, so that a 50 percent reduction in the rate of loss of control accidents would be rewarded by 920 fewer fatalities over a 10-year period. The largest part of the presentation falls under the headings of “Avoid,” “Recognise” and “Recover” from loss of control. A refresher in the fundamentals of aerodynamics supplements the training.
The Royal Aeronautical Society document says it is designed “to use in preparation for the day you face an impending or actual loss of control during flight. It is a brief reference manual to be read and remembered. It gathers advice offered elsewhere and is intended to give pilots more background to add to their experiences in abnormal flight conditions and recovery, whether from impending stalls or fully developed upsets.”
The paper examines how serious the threat of loss of control is and cites “upset” accidents, many of which could have been avoided or recovered from (though not those caused by mechanical or automation malfunctions such as a locked rudder “hardover”). A second section looks at the aerodynamic factors involved in controlled flight and loss of control. A third offers detailed descriptions of recovery techniques in various unusual attitudes, such as “nose high, wings level,” “low airspeed, pitch attitude below minus 10 degrees and airspeed decreasing,” “high bank angles,” and “nose high, bank angle beyond 45 degrees; pitch attitude above 25 degrees and airspeed decreasing.”
The paper adds, “Monitor your instruments at all times and remain focused on the operation, without becoming distracted with peripheral activities that have nothing to do with the flight. Know your power settings and the aircraft attitude you need for the various phases of flight you encounter. Trust your instruments, not your physical reactions to what you think is happening, when you find yourself in an unusual condition.”
The CD is to be distributed to all U.K. commercial airplane pilots.