Hobby Flight

Topic Progress:

The Flight

After being airborne for nearly 3 hours, N4252G approached the Class B airspace of Houston Hobby Airport.  Given the large speed difference between a SR20 and a Boeing 737 on approach, the approach controller had told 52G to maintain maximum forward speed if possible just before being handed off to tower.  Once on with tower, ATC reminded 52G to proceed direct the numbers, and advised the 737 behind her had a 80 knots overtake (SR20 approach speed is 75knots, B737 approach speed is 145-155 knots).  Take a look at the video below to see how the first approach to the airport goes.  Try to identify all of the clues possible that things are not quite right, and start to identify the links in the accident chain.

The First Approach

What are the warning signs on the first approach into the airport?  Is 52G on a stable approach, is 52G in a place you would want to be?

Signs things aren’t quite right:

  • Had not kept the speed up when on a long final to ensure spacing between her and faster jet traffic
  • ATC queries 52G with an aggressive tone implying she did something wrong (did not comply with approach’s instructions to proceed direct the numbers and keep the speed up).
  • Reads back clearance to enter right downwind for RWY 35 incorrectly, indicating she did not fully understand the entire transmission from ATC.

The Second Approach

Now if you decided to hang around with tower and give it another shot landing at the airport that is understandable.  While I might strongly encourage you to go back over to Approach and get re-sequenced for a stable approach RWY 4 or 35, I think a lot of pilots would fall into the trap of wanting to save time and not fly out “unnecessarily” and be vectored back around by approach.  Let’s see how that decision to stay in the pattern and not be vectored back around plays out in the video below on the pilot’s second approach.

You Reap What You Sow

For making the decision to stay in the pattern rather than assert PIC authority and request to be handed off back over to approach our pilot gets rewarded with this:

  • Lost situational awareness of where she is in relation to the runways
  • “Tight” maneuvering at low altitude
  • Confusing instructions and runway changes
  • High workload environment
  • Falls into a place where she feels like she has done something wrong due to the confusing instructions from ATC
  • Receives ATC instructions that are clearly more than the pilot can understand while hand flying the airplane at low altitude during critical phases of flight
  • Seems to accept that ATC is somehow more capable than her at flying the airplane, and allows them to “fly the airplane for her” rather than assert her PIC authority and tell them exactly what she wants and what she needs.

FAA Order JO7110.65 states ATC will provide services on a “first come, first served” basis.  Dana was no less important than the Southwest 737s arriving that day into Hobby Airport.  Assertiveness is a recurring theme you will hear mentioned as we move through this case study, and noted by the NTSB in the final report as a contributing factor to the accident.  I would hope every pilot understands this, but as I see all the time with GA pilots interacting with ATC and Airliners, it is not the case.  YOU ARE THE PIC.  YOU ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT OF THE PIC (captain) OF ANY AIRLINER (whether it is a B737, 747, or A380).

So we elected to stay in the pattern and make that second attempt.  Our reward for that (poor) ADM was confusion, resignation, loss of situational awareness, and a vastly increased workload.  Let’s recognize this for what it is at this point, and get out of the traffic pattern and back over to approach control.  Talking to them we can either be vectored back around, or find a less busy airport to land at.  REMEMBER: At this point, getting out of the traffic pattern is the priority.  You’re not in a good place to do anything, but get the heck out of there.  Off hand, I don’t recall a single stall/spin accident of an aircraft flying along in cruise flight in VFR conditions and the pilot spontaneously spinning the airplane into the ground.  I can, however, recall countless stall/spin accidents that occur in the traffic pattern, and they generally do not end well.  I’ll give one vote for getting the heck out of the traffic pattern at this point, getting somewhere you can think for a minute, and then re-evaluate your plan and where you want to put your airplane.  What say you?

n4252g approaches into khou

The Third Approach

Now remember that on the first approach Tower told Dana to “Go Around” due to faster traffic behind her.  She was making a safe, stable approach to the runway, on glide path and on speed.  There is nearly a 100% that if she was not told to “go around” on the first approach, she would have made an uneventful landing, taxied to parking, and we would be having this discussion about a totally different flight today.

After going around twice, wouldn’t you want to fly out and be re-sequenced by approach to come back and make a stable approach back to the runway?  Well, I think that while sitting at our computers we might say “yes, I want to fly outbound and then come back to make a safe, stable approach”, the reality is that when flying in an airplane with passengers and trying to perform to get to where you want to be, I think the vast majority of us would fall into this trap and play the game of “keep it tight” and “make it work” for ATC to get us into to the airport quicker rather than safer.




  1. mrskeeter

    This is so sad. Class D KSGR is approximately 20nm due west of KHOU and would have been much less stressful for the PIC to navigate, and probably even closer to the Memorial Cancer Facility where they were most likely heading. Alternatively, 8nm south of KHOU is KLVJ, an untowered airport that also would have been a good alternative.

    I think she became hopeless and discouraged from her interactions with ATC. Who knows what Dana’s husband and brother-in-law were doing throughout this as well? It could be that they were communicating with her as well and adding even more stress.

  2. Lolis

    at the beginning of my flight training I was really scared of talking to atc. there are a lot of misconceptions about atc’s job. when I started doing time building, I remembered I was flying with a friend at night over the everglades (really dark night) and we had false horizon and couldn’t distinguish if there were clouds ahead. (vfr) so I told my friend, who was pic at the time, to ask atc if they had any weather reports ahead. he answered that we couldn’t do that, because he talked to his brother who was a former cfi and currently an atp, and he said that our private pilot license doesn’t give us any privileges, that we shouldn’t “bother” atc and we had no rights.

    I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I told him he was wrong and that we had to contact someone because it wasn’t safe if we entered accidentally into clouds because we both weren’t instrument rated.
    like him, I’ve encountered several p.pilots who have the same idea and don’t exercise their authority while flying.
    that is something we need to spread and let everyone know that atc is there to help us.

    1. Floyd

      There are several airports nearby Hobby. KEFD is east a short distance and easy to access could easily get to medical center from there.

  3. wilcom

    I have been involved in dealing with busy airports in the past that necessitated circling away from the field for a period of time. Repeated attempts to land would have led me to look for an alternative airport.

  4. scott1091

    PIC weather a man or woman truly needs to understand that they are the only one responsible for the safety of the plane and the precious cargo in their charge

  5. LOLA

    This happened because she was a woman. Plain and simple. All the Ma’am-ing and exasperation in ATC ‘s voice…probably even rolling his eyes! ATC totally checked her off as just another woman driver. ATC put her behind other planes because they didn’t take her seriously as a pilot. Had nothing to do with the size of the plane. She couldn’t be assertive … probably for fear of being called a dike or something (personal experience). Men have that luxury of being assertive. No matter what anyone says… women still have a tough time out there.
    AND I think it stinks that this is used as an example for crashes. The majority of the other videos put men out there as examples. You have to put a woman crashing a plane as an example here? Seriously?

    1. Lolis

      hey Lola, being a woman in aviation… I think no one can deny it, its tough!
      people don’t take us seriously and even when we try to ask for help there will always be people trying to get something out it… but I really don’t think this is the case, Ive being doing the IFR course and none of the accidents showed in the course (at least the ones I’ve seen) are by women.
      and actually this case and this tape would be a perfect example to let everyone know how people treat us in aviation.

      I told my instructor I wanted to do some emergencies in the sim because I want to be aware and have at least that practice in my mind in case something happens during my time building and he literally started laughing , saying no one is ever going to ask that on a check ride. still, that wasn’t the answer I was expecting and it was worse coming from the person who is “teaching” me….

  6. Seagull

    When ever in a situation that is becoming too complicated it is best to step away or back off and even stepping down in some cases. Take time to regroup, and come back prepared, organized, communicate, execute the plan to complete mission with a clear goal that everyone understands. On the ground or in the air, even in life, clarity and doing things by the numbers works best. This is where training and repetition puts you into a mindset you can count on ! Don’t let yourself be put in situations that you know will not turn out well. When you start pushing limits, is when you start opening the doors and windows for bad things to come into play. Never be in a hurry, never have to be anywhere, if it isn’t safe to do so. Stay home, instead of wishing you did!!! Be calm, collective, and precise in all you do but above all clear . Set limitations and know them well. Very sad when people die unnecessarily . I can only imagine the pressure inside that small plane with three anxious people in a hurry to land, plus all those fruitless attempts to land. The pilot must have felt like if she was in a pressure cooker!!! Getting it from all sides ……. RED FLAGS EVERYWHERE!! Don’t know if my CFI would concur with my thinking but, that is just what I have learned in life. I feel I can apply it to just about anything I do for best results.

  7. labrat4jafmc

    Wow. That shows a lot of the problems with ego on the part of the tower and PIC. The tower had me thoroughly confused. I could feel the stress and embarrassment in her voice. Getting out of that system seems like a prudent idea. Check your ego.

  8. AndyLee

    Good topic. Once I earned my IFR ticket I make it a rule to fly a full instrument approach into an unfamiliar airport IMC or VMC. Some airlines are not allowed to accept visual approaches. When first put in contact with Approach and they tell me to expect a visual (whether it is towered or nontowred I just tell them I am unfamiliar and would like to fly the full approach. If VMC, untowered and the winds favor the opposite direction for landing I will plan to break off into a downwind leg 5 miles out. Last time I violated my personal rule I found myself in a single engine 4 miles from the field only 700’above the pattern on parallel heading being handed off to the tower. On first contact with the Tower when they asked if I had the field in site I responded negative. Long story short the Tower was a great help including advising an aircraft on final approach to slow down or prepare to go around as there was an aircraft in the pattern unfamiliar with the airport. No near misses, no crowding, no bent metal just a bit of a bruised ego…and a reinforcement to stick with the personal minimum and rules. In this scenario after offering runway 35 (with a quartering gusting tail wind) and the confusing clearance of 4 or maybe 35 we’ll advise I have to admit I was a hit confused and all I was flying was my keyboard. Sad ending.

  9. Garrick Pattenden

    At this point on the First Approach, should I had a 737 behind me with an 80 kt overtake, I would had contacted the tower and let them know that I want a go-around with a right turn out to allow the 737 to land and then be vectored back to line up for the approach. Or to join a holding pattern to review my options while monitoring the Tower Frequency for other traffic in the approach for landing. When it is safe enough, I would have requested another approach to land for Runway 4.

    On the Second Approach, I would have contacted the Tower and told them that I am Unable to make the approach. And then go to a an alternate airport that is less busy.