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Old 03-17-2013, 07:27 PM
Chris Hill Chris Hill is offline
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Del Rio
Posts: 124
Default Safety Discussion #2: Low Altitude Flight

I expect this to be a hot topic, so please abide by the following guidelines for this discussion in order to keep it civil:
1) If you know any of the people involved in the video or the accident, please do not identify them.
2) If you are any of the people involved in the video or accident, please do not self-identify.
3) Do not enter into personal debates/general philosophical discussion in this thread. Please use the PM system or start a new thread for those types of discussions.

The purpose of this discussion is to talk about the risks associated with the low altitude flight environment and how to mitigate those risks. For the purpose of this discussion, low altitude will be defined as less than 1,000ft AGL. Encouraging/discouraging flight in the low altitude environment is NOT the purpose of this discussion.

THIS IS NOT A LEGAL DISCUSSION. While some of these accidents may appear to be violations of the FARs, keep in mind this is a safety discussion and the video/accidents are presented as examples of scenarios where people have crashed in a low altitude maneuvering environment.

That being, said please read the following accident reports and watch the following video:

Accident #1
Summary: Low altitude flight (200-300 ft) resulted in controlled flight into terrain. This one might lend itself to a discussion of visual illusions at low altitude over water.

Accident #2
Summary: Low altitude flight (500 ft) resulted in controlled flight into power lines.

Accident #3
Summary: Low altitude flight (less than 900 ft) at night resulted in controlled flight into terrain.

Accident #4
Summary: Low altitude ?buzz? followed by a steep pull up resulted in out of control flight into terrain.

Accident #5
Summary: Aggressive low altitude flight resulted in out of control flight into terrain.

Treetop Flyer
Summary: Successful low altitude river run. What you can?t see here is what preparation (if any) was done prior to flying this route. I offer this as an example of someone who successfully flew in the low altitude environment and made it look easy. Don?t let a video persuade you to fly in a regime in which you have not properly prepared yourself to fly.

I could keep going?but I think these scenarios provide examples of the most frequent types of low altitude crashes (excluding takeoff and landing). My brief and unscientific estimation, based on looking at NTSB reports, is that this type of accident accounts for about 10% of all RV accidents. Regarding low altitude flight safety, there are probably 10 pages of legitimate discussion on how to reduce risk, so hopefully we can have a good discussion on ways to fly low altitude and do it safely.

I?ll start with some topics which might be addressed by some resident experts on the forum (not all inclusive):
Visual Illusions
Visual Illusions over water
Restricted visibility
Multi passenger Flight Characteristics
Night time low altitude flight
Bird Strikes

RVs readily lend themselves to low altitude flight because they are fast and have above average power to weight ratios. I suspect this leads many people to enter into the low altitude regime too casually from thinking that the airplane performance will keep them safe. Any time I am going to fly low, I thoroughly review the route of flight to check for obstacles. Start with a good map, and look for anything which might be a hazard to you on your route. Make a note of the altitude required to avoid those obstacles by a safe distance. Is it a good idea to fly near cell towers or radio towers? Nope. Not only due to the fact that the tower itself can cause you to crash, but the tower also has wires that help hold it up and which are very difficult to see until it?s too late. So first, start with a good route study on the ground. Once you have a feel for the path along the ground which you want to fly, go scout it out from a much higher altitude where you can see the whole picture around you and not have to worry about inadvertently crashing while you are checking the route. After you have done that, you are better prepared to decide if you really want to pursue flying low in that area.

Hopefully this is enough to get the discussion started. Remember, focus on techniques to be safe as you post in this thread.
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