Basic Configuration for a "Safe" airplane

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ToddK

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I have been thinking about the various gizmos and safety programs being peddled to supposedly make aviation safer. Everything from AoA devices, auto land, parachutes, to training gimmicks like randomly scaring the crap out of students by pulling the throttle out during climb out.

After flying with a buddy on a warm day in our very light weight C-85 Champ, doing some stalls and other things, I am inclined to think that configuration really is the easiest way to stay out of trouble.

A longish fat wing, a bit of dihedral, more power then you need, and a cabin sized correctly (not too big) so that if you can fit it in, it will fly on even the hottest days, all seem to the simplest ways to make safe flying experience provided the pic is competent and safety minded.

What other simple design elements (no complex gadgets) have you encountered that make for a safer airplane?
 

Topaz

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Pilot training.

The single largest cause of aviation accidents in genav is "controlled flight into terrain," followed, I believe, by fueling errors. Neither of those are resolved by changing the airplane. Since I'm not an advocate of taking away control of the airplane and handing it to automation, I think pilot training (better and ongoing, not "more") is the solution to improving safety in the most meaningful way.
 

Marc Zeitlin

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Pilot training.
Since pilot error is the largest single meta-cause of aircraft accidents, this is certainly the theoretical first bar of the histogram on making things safer.

The single largest cause of aviation accidents in genav is "controlled flight into terrain," followed, I believe, by fueling errors.
Not according to the latest Nall Report:


CFIT isn't even mentioned as a category, and fueling is pretty far down the list. Not insignificant, but not one of the top pilot errors.

Neither of those are resolved by changing the airplane. Since I'm not an advocate of taking away control of the airplane and handing it to automation, I think pilot training (better and ongoing, not "more") is the solution to improving safety in the most meaningful way.
Eh. It depends on WHAT the pilot errors are, and whether training is even possible (most GA pilots fly something like 30 - 50 hours/year - they're NOT going to do 10 - 20 hours of "better" training/year to keep up their proficiency, particularly in emergencies. So in THEORY, training is the fix, but in practice, it's just not going to be - folks won't do it.

The two single largest causes of accidents listed in the Nall report are "Loss of Control" during landing, and "Loss of Control" during takeoff. These are situations (given the fact that folks just AREN'T going to train any substantial amount more than they do, no matter how much we advocate for it here) where an automated system COULD provide substantial safety increases - something along the lines of the Garmin ESP (but NOT the Garmin ESP - it's still got way too many bugs and corner cases - I've had it try to kill a customer in the case of an iced pitot). My point is that something that understands the aircraft's situation and reacts far more quickly than a human pilot COULD theoretically be far better at protecting from these types of accidents, given human nature.
 

challenger_II

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One can have all the visibility in the World, and it is useless if the Pilot doesn't keep his head out of the cockpit! I have flown with many people in the last few years that were more busy with their electronic gadgets than flying the airplane. It is down-right scary!

VISION I truly believe getting the pilot out from under or out from over the wing leads to more safety.
 

don january

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One thing I've seen in person that was a big help on safety on a aircraft was Wire cutters on leading edge of the main gear along with the wind shield and a added cable from top of canopy to vertical stab to help guide those hidden wires get deflected. Many pilots also would think a rear view mirror is nonsense but I wouldn't fly without one if I had the choice. Survival gear should also be a must Have. A good first aid kit to a sharp pocket knife heck even a few fish hooks and matches and the list goes on.
 

Victor Bravo

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I believe that if there is some equivalent of a "longitudinal study" showing the causes of accidents over time, we would see that lower levels of pilot skill are going to be associated with accident rates. Perhaps our aircraft accident data aggregator par excellence Mr. Wanttaja has this data available, or can number-crunch whatever data is available, to see if I'm anywhere near on the right track here or not.

Like many others here (many of whom have far more flight experience and formal education than me), I believe pilot training will make the biggest dent in crash/injury incidents. All the other innovations absolutely have their place - the parachutes, Roncz's ICON wing, the electronic gadgets, ADS-B, FLARM, technical improvements in fuel/ignition, etc.

But stupidity or ineptness or judgment or skill or critical thinking (the human parts of the pie chart) is still the biggest problem IMHO.
 

Hot Wings

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I will go to my grave resisting any solution that takes control away from the pilot.
I tend to agree with the thought. I feel the same way with the push to self driving cars.* For me a fully automated plane is just another soulless transportation device like an elevator or moving sidewalk.
Unfortunately the reality is that training must be followed up with practice. As a group we just don't have enough 'quality' time in the air. Much like the average ground bound SUV driver that spends (WAG) 70% of their driving life going to/from work/grocery store on good weather days the average recreational pilot doesn't practice their skills near the edge. Short/spot landing contests at the yearly pancake breakfast aren't enough.
Without the personal accountability of the pilot choosing to put in (and being able to afford) time to practice what they were taught automation is probably the only solution. :(

*Self driving care are not likely to blast past me in the open lane while I'm stopped at a red light and not notice the cross traffic they barely missed, or be like the driver that thinks it is perfectly fine to wander around in the left lane 20MPH under the posted speed limit. I expect that the autonomous vehicles will at least be predictable?!?
 

patrickrio

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I tend to agree with the thought. I feel the same way with the push to self driving cars.* For me a fully automated plane is just another soulless transportation device like an elevator or moving sidewalk.
Unfortunately the reality is that training must be followed up with practice. As a group we just don't have enough 'quality' time in the air. Much like the average ground bound SUV driver that spends (WAG) 70% of their driving life going to/from work/grocery store on good weather days the average recreational pilot doesn't practice their skills near the edge. Short/spot landing contests at the yearly pancake breakfast aren't enough.
Without the personal accountability of the pilot choosing to put in (and being able to afford) time to practice what they were taught automation is probably the only solution. :(

*Self driving care are not likely to blast past me in the open lane while I'm stopped at a red light and not notice the cross traffic they barely missed, or be like the driver that thinks it is perfectly fine to wander around in the left lane 20MPH under the posted speed limit. I expect that the autonomous vehicles will at least be predictable?!?
For both planes and cars we are already seeing what will likely happen.

Automation will make it so more and more laws are passed to keep the unreliable human operated vehicles out of the way of the more heavily automated and therefore safer vehicles. Insurance companies will then slowly make it too expensive for more and more people to operate the more dangerous vehicles or will refuse to insure them to do so at all.

Eventually you will lose the legal right to human operate a vehicle where it is useful AND even in the un-useful places you won't be able to get insurance.

I think there are high odds that this will eventually happen for both cars and aircraft. I just hope I am allowed to operate my own vehicles myself until I am too old to do so...... cause I enjoy it.
 
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Hot Wings

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I just hope I am allowed to operate my own vehicles myself until I am too old to do so...... cause I enjoy it.
I don't think we have to worry about that in our lifetime for either cars or aircraft - though I'm not to sure about aircraft since they are are orders of magnitude easier to automate.
City dwellers may see personal transport eliminated completely in favor of automated public transport vehicles coupled with other dedicated infrastructure to make them practical/safe.
 

BJC

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Unfortunately the reality is that training must be followed up with practice. As a group we just don't have enough 'quality' time in the air.
Yes, continual training is important. One thing that everyone can do, is, on every flight, fly with the greatest precision possible rather than just sit there sloping through the air.


BJC
 

Bigshu

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The single largest cause of aviation accidents in genav is "controlled flight into terrain," followed, I believe, by fueling errors. Neither of those are resolved by changing the airplane.
What kind of flight training helps with either of those issues? We're taught to calculate fuel burn, to switch tanks as needed, to be mindful of our fuel reserve, and still have people run out of fuel. We have all kinds of charts and supplements and moving maps and synthetic vision, and still have CFIT issues.
One planning aid I like is AOPAs online flight planner. If I try to set up a flight that is beyond range for my fuel onboard, it won't do it. I need to add fueling stops to get the plan to compute, but when it's right, I get a printable portion of a sectional with my route, showing TOC, waypoints, TOD all indicated along the route. I can select various types of routing (with moving maps, it seems like "direct" is the only route we use anymore) to take advantage of various nav aids along the way. My Ifly gps has a scrolling side view showing if there are terrain conflicts, and has audible alarms for terrain, including obstructions like towers. That helps.
I think simplifying the avionics would let pilots keep their eyes outside where they belong. As to fuel, maybe a totalizer with time or miles to bingo fuel, like we've had in cars for decades would help keep the pilot aware of the fuel situation.
 

Victor Bravo

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I posted this recently in another discussion... it is going to be a lot harder for some Chinese or Russian hacker to screw with my personal programming and hijack or crash my old 172 than it would be for that same hacker to find an open port and break into the OS of whatever automated self-driving aircraft system that they come up with.

It guess it could be done, but the hacker would have to be a lot more wealthy and a lot more attractive than the hackers who showed up in my e-mail so far.
 

ToddK

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Thread drift can be fun, and training is always good, but not the topic of this discussion, nor is auto land or any other complex auto software. Just design elements, and small things that can add up to a package that helps to stack the deck in favor of the pilot.
 

rotax618

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Model RC airplanes are increasingly fitted with a flight stabiliser, these can be programmed to not only stabilise the aircraft in six axes but also have a failsafe mechanism to return the aircraft to level flight should it enter a flight regime which normally result in a crash. Perhaps the use of this technology is the future of sport aircraft.
 

Victor Bravo

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OK, agreed. Back on topic. IMHO, specific physical design elements include:

1) Sufficient vertical "side area" underneath or clear of the horizontal stabilizer, so that the vertical stabilizer (fin) doesn't get "blanked out" at high AoA and cause spin recovery issues.

2) Proper twist or other airfoil components that result in strong inboard-first stall progression and give the pilot roll control at and past the stall.

3) Pronounced wing root and/or tail buffet to deliver a clear non-electrical seat of the pants warning to the pilot, regardless of (or in place of) any and all electronic gadgetry, lights, sounds, stick-shakers, or pilot shock collars.

4) Enough power or low-speed thrust to get the pilot out of trouble when they make a poor decision about high density altitude or flying over that mountain on a hot day.

5) And for the electronic gadgeteers, a master caution light system (idiot light) where a low fuel condition (15% remaining or less), oil temperature, oil pressure, CHT, etc. puts a red light in the pilot's field of view.

(edit) '618's suggestion of an automatic "back to level flight" button makes some amount of sense, as much as I hate to admit it.
 
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