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Aviation Learning Center Document AC 61-134 - Controlled Flight into Terrain Awareness
Author: Federal Aviation Administration Date: April 1, 2003
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10. Low-Flying Aircraft Operating in VFR Conditions.
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Although many of the factors listed previously apply to low-flying aircraft operating in VFR conditions, this is a special category for those pilots flying below minimum safe altitudes. Such operators include agriculture applicators and helicopter pilots who routinely operate near trees, telephone lines and power lines, or other such obstacles. In many cases, the pilot was aware of the obstacles but environmental factors such as time of day, minimal light, shadows, darkness, sun glare, cockpit blind spots, fatigue, or other such factors resulted in the pilot losing situational awareness and hitting an obstacle or impacting the ground. In some cases, pilots may have been aware of an obstacle, but because of some of these environmental factors, they were unable to avoid a collision because they did not see the danger in time or they saw the danger but failed to react in time to avoid an accident. Density altitude and aircraft performance limitations may also pose risk factors for such flights. These same factors can also result in a CFIT accident for someone flying in mountainous terrain. Some common low altitude CFIT factors are:

  • a. Windshear and loss of flying speed.
  • b. Density altitude.
  • c. Failure to operate aircraft within operating limitations.
  • d. Failure to check an area from a safe altitude before descending into it (high reconnaissance and low reconnaissance).
  • e. Flying between hills or over rivers below hill tops can result in a CFIT accident if a power line or cable is strung between the hills. Not all such lines are marked or charted.
  • f. Flying up a box canyon and not being able to fly up and out of it before impacting terrain.
  • g. Flying over rising terrain that exceeds an aircraft's ability or performance to climb away from the terrain.
  • h. Errors in pilot judgement and decision making.
  • i. Diversion of pilot attention.
  • j. Buzzing.
  • k. Crew distractions or a breakdown in crew resource management.
  • l. Operating in an unsafe manner.
  • m. Failure to maintain control of the aircraft when taking off or landing.
  • n. Failure to properly pre-plan the flight.
  • o. Operating in unfamiliar areas or depending upon untrained people to provide important flight data.
  • p. Not having an objective standard to make go-no go decisions for launching.
  • q. Failure to review all available data for the flight (particularly applicable to medical evacuation flights).
  • r. Lack of terrain knowledge and elevation of the highest obstacles within your immediate operating area.
  • s. Failure to properly plan your departure route when departing from unprepared areas such as helicopters or aircraft operating off an airport. Such factors include weight and balance, aircraft performance, height of obstacles, wind direction, trees, density altitude, rising terrain, length of takeoff area, and safe abort areas.

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