Realizing That Avionics Anomalies Can Occur

by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2019 issue

As an active flight instructor, I always continue to learn, and periodically I see something I have never seen before. I have seen autopilot failures and electronic anomalies before, but this would have been the demise of the aircraft occupants should it have happened in low instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).

I have written in many of my articles that once inside the final approach fix (FAF), you need to focus on your flight instruments. The instruments I am talking about is your SIX PACK or primary flight display (PFD) should you have a glass panel.

Had we attempted an approach in low IMC, we may have met our demise on this training flight. This all happened while giving an instrument proficiency check (IPC) in a Beechcraft Bonanza. The owner of the aircraft had recently sent his electronic horizontal situation indicator (HSI) in for repair, and this may have been only the second flight after having it reinstalled.

We had shot several approaches earlier, which were mainly GPS approaches, and all went well, both on the autopilot and hand flown. After stopping for lunch, we decided to do a VOR approach with a full procedure turn. The HSI was driven by a Garmin 530, and after getting established inbound on the procedure turn, we switched to VLOC (VOR/Localizer). This approach was hand flown, and I watched the pilot fly the course deviation indicator (CDI) so precisely, the needle didn’t move one-64th of an inch had we been able to measure it.

The distance from the VOR to the missed approach point (MAP) was about 4 miles, so this should have been fairly close to the runway at the MAP. However, we were off to the right by about one-half mile.

I was eager to blame the VOR transmitter itself as the Garmin display on the 530 showed us to be off the runway to the right as well. The rest of the flight that day was spent doing numerous types of approaches at different airports, both hand-flown and using the autopilot, and I noticed that all had significantly large errors. Further testing showed that once passed the final approach fix (FAF), the CDI needle would lock in the center and would not move. The glide-slope needle would respond properly, and the course on the Garmin would always show proper position.

Let’s assume this happened in low IMC, and think of all those obstacles out there a half mile from the runway centerline. I wish we could have had more time to troubleshoot the problem and learn what was happening, so we might be able to correct the problem with confidence. I do not want to mention the HSI equipment by name, as this may be an abnormality or an installation problem, even though approaches made earlier that day did not show any issues. But as a result of this incident, the aircraft owner lost confidence in his equipment and ordered a new glass panel.

For many issues of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I have emphasized staying focused on the flight instruments, but looking at the map display on the multi-function display (MFD) on occasion may not be too bad of an idea. Years ago, I remember having a mechanical HSI stick on me, but this situation was the first of its kind I had ever experienced.

Flight Simulators Can Be A Useful Flight Training Tool

For the past 10 years or so, we have been seeing simulator training become quite popular. Doing instrument flight training in the early 1990s for a well-known instrument training company, I traveled with a portable ATC-610 simulator. It weighed close to 50 lbs. and served the purpose in its day.

Back in the early 1990s, we used VOR for navigation, and did ILS, VOR and ADF approaches, and you could program this simulator to do some pretty neat things. All VORs worked the same; there was no button pushing or trying to learn the different architecture of all the GPS navigators now on the market.

If you were doing advanced training with true realism, you went to Flight Safety or Simu-Flight where the simulators cost millions of dollars and were motion based. Then about 10 years ago, a company by the name of “Redbird” introduced an affordable motion-based simulator that came close to those big million-dollar simulators. When I say affordable, these units are still around $100,000.

I was overwhelmed at how awesome these units were, but became rather disenchanted when a Garmin 430/530 in the simulator did not have the same “buttonology” as the same unit in the airplane. There were different panel configurations to closely simulate different aircraft. As time evolved, we have seen many firmware changes, and I have to say, we are almost there.

The instructor now connects wirelessly to the simulator via wi-fi using an iPad, and we have moving maps with Foreflight-like operation, and the instructor can fail almost anything that can fail in the real aircraft. Redbird simulators can now be found at many major flight schools, and prices vary, but are pretty close to about one-fifth of the cost of renting an equivalent airplane.

With weather in Wisconsin this past winter only flyable a few days a month, I spent quite a few days instructing in the Redbird simulator in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. They have three panel configurations at this location – a Cessna 182 RG with steam gauges and a Garmin 430/530 avionics suite, the Cessna 182 fixed gear with a Garmin G1000 panel, and a Beechcraft Baron B58 with steam gauges and the Garmin 430/530 avionics suite. It needs be noted that this Redbird simulator meets many FAA requirements for initial and recurrent training, and all of the requirements can be met for an instrument proficiency check (IPC), except for the circle-to-land approach, which must be done in an airplane.

I spent the better part of three days in the Tomahawk simulator to bring a Boeing 767 captain up to speed on the Beechcraft Baron, after he had been flying only heavy iron for the last several decades. He did a fantastic job, and we had a great time doing things in the simulator that you would not dream of doing in the real airplane for safety reasons.

With the motion and high definition screen, you feel like you are really flying an airplane. When you do something that cannot be done in a real airplane, like stop and stand still in mid air to discuss something, it will cause nausea in many simulator students.

The instructor can create almost any weather situation that you can imagine – severe turbulence, thunderstorms, rain, snow and low IMC, causing the pilot to fly the missed approach procedure. I do not know all of the details of the database structure, but the new firmware connects to a central database at Redbird headquarters, and it updates all of the data for navigation and the approaches. Radio communication is also getting quite sophisticated, as well. For instance, when the instructor changes the weather, the ATIS voice reflects the change. That’s pretty neat!

For a while, I was a bit disenchanted in using the Redbird simulator with instrument students, but they have come a long way…not perfect yet, but getting close.

If there is some serious training in your future where you would be pushing the limit of safety doing it in an airplane, consider some simulator training.

Keep flying safe!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. Kaufman conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in a variety of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics, although he is based in Lone Rock (KLNR) and Eagle River (KEGV), Wisconsin. Kaufman was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Email questions to captmick@me.com or call 817-988-0174.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.

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