Pilot and his wife use their iPads to crash-land airplane after navigation systems fail

“A pilot and his wife used their iPads to fly about 80 miles in the dark and land safely without landing gear at the Rapid City Regional Airport after the electrical systems failed, compromising their single-engine plane,” The Associated Press reports.

“After their electrical systems went out, the husband and wife used their iPads to navigate to the regional airport,” AP reports. “The only instruments they had available were airspeed and altitude indicators. ‘He had to be a super good pilot,’ said Department Battalion Chief Tim Daly.”

“The couple was not able to alert traffic controllers that they were entering Rapid City airspace and, without landing gear, the pilot landed the plane on its belly on a less-used runway,” AP reports. “The plane skidded to a stop and officials say sparks were shooting from the bottom of the fuselage.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s iPad saves the day again!

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    1. Probably just a mapping app with satellite/aerial photo overlay. It’ll show your current position, you can find a nearby airport and display the runways. And maybe the compass app to display what direction you are going.

    2. I haven’t found any articles ID’ing the app yet, but it’s possible it was Xavion, an app written by the creator of the X-Plane flight simulator. The app is designed in part to help direct pilots to the best (not necessarily nearest) airport or landing strip in case of engine/instrumentation failure, by guiding pilots on a suggested glide path that can include turns to bleed speed and altitude if you’re too near an airport for a direct approach.

  1. Wow! The foremost question in my mind is whether or not the iPads had cellular data capability. If not, it would have been an especially dicey proposition trying to navigate by WiFi triangulation, even in a populous area.
    Surely, iOS devices save hundreds (or more) during the course of any given day. Just imagine how many of these devices are used by police, paramedics, hospitals, emergency response teams, and so on. With a billion+ iOS units sold, the statistics could be very surprising.

    1. If I frequently flew in a small plane where there is no cellular signal, I would keep a map app, such as Magellan RoadMate, that keeps all the map data on the iPad/iPhone. All it needs is GPS, and you get that at any altitude.

      1. Hi Steve,
        That was the point of my comment/question. Without the optional cellular data capability, the iPad would not have the GPS chips, leaving this couple with a lot fewer good options. Just keeping some static nav maps stored on the ‘Pads would be a big help in this situation.
        ALL iPhones have both cellular data and GPS capability..

  2. The missing info is — Were the iPads cellular? If so, they could use mapping to fly right in.

    If NOT, then they use last known location and direction. The get compass headings. As they fly they look for landmarks to update the direction to fly and waypoints.

    You need a compass for direction, an airspeed to determine distance vs time, and an altitude device so you do not crash into the ground coming down. Cities have altitude data on aerial maps.

    It would be easier with his wife there to read info and confirm headings.

    aerospace engineer

    1. Every pilot I know uses an external GPS receiver (Bad Elf) for their iPad when they are flying. they work with all iPads and are more accurate than the built-in receiver – you can also place them wherever you want in the cockpit to get the best signal (at least with the bluetooth models).

  3. ‘He had to be a super good pilot,’ ???

    The bare minimum for a pilot flying at night is to use VFR (visual flight rules) with a physical map. The cities and roads are all lit up by cars and street lights and are used to determine your location. All planes have a pitot tube for powering the airspeed indicator and the turn / bank indicator. The altimeter works without electrical power so they had the required instrumentation to fly the route even without electrics. The gear is usually able to manually be lowered by hand pumped hydraulics so I have to strongly question how good this ‘pilot’ was. Using the iPad was totally not necessary for a licensed pilot with the bare minimum skills.

    1. Wow, you’re amazing. I’ll bet you could have advised Sully Sullenberger on how to land his plane on a runway instead of the Hudson River. We bask in your awesomeness.

      1. RealityCheck is correct. Anyone who received a Private Pilot Certificate in the U.S. should have the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate an aircraft at night, even with electrical power loss. Such situation allows them to declare emergency (although, without battery-operates backup radio, this pilot couldn’t do it). Still, with functioning pitot-static systems, the challenge was within basic private pilot training.

        Using an iPad to navigate made the challenge much less demanding though. I’m still not sure why wasn’t he able to manually extend landing gear, though, if the only malfunction was the loss of electrical power.

    2. “All planes have a pitot tube for powering the airspeed indicator and the turn / bank indicator”…

      Partly true. The pitot tube doesn’t power power instruments directly, it provides input data that the instruments display in some readable format.

      The airspeed indicator is driven by ram-air pressure from the Pitot system; the altimeter compares pressure differential between an internal aneroid capsule and pressure from a static port, usually placed somewhere on the fuselage. Vertical speed indicator (VSI) measures air pressure change rate.

      Turn-and-bank, gyro compasses, and artificial horizon or flight controllers use an electrically- or air-pressure driven gyroscope; electrical is more common, except for older general aviation aircraft. (The slip indicator in a turn-and-bank indicator is just a curved inclinometer, similar to what you see in a carpenter’s level.)

      Radio navigation aids are a different kettle of fish. (I’m an FAA ground instructor, and the above descriptions are necessarily somewhat simplified.)

  4. I live in Rapid City, sounds like he really must have been a good pilot to belly land it.

    At night he could have seen airport lights once he got close, and 5 miles north is Ellsworth AFB, although I would not have wanted to be him landing at an active B-1 base with their security level. Lots of spotlights, dogs and AR15’s. But it sounds like he was a cool customer so he would have dealt with it.

    1. If he was such a good pilot to belly land it, why didn’t he land it on the grass to minimize the damage and spark hazard and risk of fire?

      Or better yet, why didn’t he use the manual hydraulic pump lever and manually lower the landing gear?

      1. The recommended procedure for gear-up landing is always going to be asphalt / concrete. Grass landing risks much greater damage to the plane.

        Gear-up landing aren’t as rare as one might think. There are plenty of weekend pilots who are rated for ‘high-performance’ aircraft (the kind that has retractable gear, constant-speed prop, etc). These are the kind that tends to forget, in their final approach procedure, to extend their landing gear, and end up inadvertently landing on their belly. There is usually no injury to pilot/passengers, and damage to the aircraft is reparable. Plenty of sparks fly, for sure, but unless the crosswind was severe, any pilot would be competent enough to land a plane on its belly without damaging wings, in which case those sparks pose no danger of fire (you’d need fuel to start a fire, and fuel is in the wings).

        The article doesn’t mention anything about the landing gear and its manual hydraulic pump, so we are left to speculate. Any pilot who is rated for high-performance aircraft should be thoroughly familiar with the manual operation of landing gear, so we can safely assume this pilot was as well. Therefore, the likely reason was that, if he was of an advanced age, he lacked manual dexterity and/or strength to operate the lever; or (less likely) the gear ended up stuck in the gear well and he couldn’t dislodge it from its locked position. Or, the most likely reason, since they were flying at night, the emergency of the situation didn’t allow him to divide his attention between flying the aircraft and pumping the landing gear at the critical final approach phase of the flight, when things are happening quickly. He may have made a decision not to attempt to extend the gear (which might take a few minutes manually, but to just land gear-up. Not an easy decision (damage to the plane is not negligible, and is unavoidable), but the alternative option would have meant loss of spatial awareness (due to shifting attention to pumping the gear lever, rather than flying and navigating), or landing with partially extended gear, which could cause significantly more damage, possibly rupturing fuel tanks and sparking fire.

      2. “If he was such a good pilot to belly land it, why didn’t he land it on the grass to minimize the damage and spark hazard and risk of fire?”

        1. It was night. Which would make it dark outside. And while runways and taxiways may be lighted, unpaved areas between them usually are not. For he could tell, there might have been trucks or paving equipment parked out there.

        2. Pilot in Command has the absolute responsibility in flight. He was there, you weren’t.

        “Or better yet, why didn’t he use the manual hydraulic pump lever and manually lower the landing gear?”

        1. An aircraft with electrically-actuated landing gear usually doesn’t have a manual hydraulic pump lever… the article doesn’t state the aircraft type, so we don’t know whether it was hydraulic or electric. Even if it was hydraulic, the backup system might have failed; hydraulic systems are usually electrically-driven, and you’re only going to have a limited amount of pressure for a limited amount of time.

        This smacks of “why didn’t the office just shoot the gun out the criminal’s hand?” sort of comment. Which reminds us once again that “everything you learn on tv is probably mostly wrong”.

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