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Planning for Safety

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Tags: flight training, emergencies, currency, planning

Planning for Safety

We know that technology waits for no one and it takes constant study to remain sharp to safely fly the new sophisticated equipment. Any aircraft can safely carry you to your destination or complete the mission if flown correctly, but it can hurt you as well. It really doesn't matter what you fly. You must maintain currency and having a plan will help.

Planning for Safety

Written by: Marc Nathanson 
retired Lt. Colonel USAF, CFI, CFII, MEI, DPE

The E6B wiz wheel is now Sporty's electronic navigation computer and the sound of the spinning gyro has been replaced with the noise of fans that cool electronic components that send information to the PFD (Primary Flight Display) and MFD (Multi Function Display). Does anyone ever look at the standby "Whiskey" compass and figure in the compass deviation anymore? FADEC replaces engine controls in some aircraft and auto-coursen drives some turboprop multiengine propellers to a position of least drag rather than the feather position in the event of an engine failure, the Saab 340 in particular. The FAA continues to change the rules then their lawyers interpret them (the FAA is not happy unless you are not happy). What has the world come to? Once I learned how to use a piece of equipment or how a system worked, or memorized the rules, someone goes and changes everything!

We know that technology waits for no one and it takes constant study to remain sharp to safely fly the new sophisticated equipment. Any aircraft can safely carry you to your destination or complete the mission if flown correctly, but it can hurt you as well. It really doesn't matter what you fly. You must maintain currency and having a plan will help.

The Plan:

Consider the pilot who flies every 90 days. Proficiency depends on the pilot’s commitment to prepare for the flight. Instructors are taught that recency of experience goes a long way. Practice a task several times over a short period of time and proficiency is high. Flying less and practicing tasks only occasionally results in the feelings (Kinesthetic), sounds, and situational awareness all suffering resulting in the pilot being behind the aircraft. I've heard fellow pilots admit that they were "50 feet behind the aircraft from takeoff". So, do you think you would be able to maintain currency (read safety) if you flew once every 90 days or less often? It is possible if you have enough previous experience and are considered by those who evaluate you to be an experienced and competent pilot, but it is still a bad idea. Those who are experienced will admit to this. Experienced pilots stay current and seek instruction when they need it.

Long Time Gone:

Now let's look at the pilot who flies every 2 years only to pass their Flight Review. Common sense dictates a flight with a flight instructor or at the very least, someone who can save a bad maneuver, the takeoff, landing or stall in particular would be a good thing to do prior to flying the review. Flight instructors are charged with not signing a pilot’s logbook if they do not pass a flight review. Instructors must discuss how to correct deficiencies and convince the pilot that they need more training to be safe.

It's Your Life Too:

This brings up an interesting point. I was being flown to an airport to pick up an aircraft. Two of my friends offered to fly me there so I sat in the back as one friend, who was current, but had not flown this particular make and model aircraft, handled the controls. My other friend operated the GPS and made sure we were headed in the right direction avoiding class B airspace and talked with ATC while they provided flight following services. This friend had been flying this make and model aircraft on a regular basis so he was not only current, but well practiced to boot. I administered all 4 of his FAA certificate practical tests (Private, Instrument, Commercial, and Multi) and can attest to his excellent piloting abilities. His flying and aeronautical decision making skills were well above average so I felt comfortable letting my friends fly in the front and felt confident they would be able to handle any bad situation. The flying pilot did a great job getting us there, but flew the final approach too high to the 3496 x 75 foot runway with trees just off the approach end we planned to land on which, in my estimation, would have resulted in a very long landing. He was late slowing to approach speed and deploying the flaps and was too high for a safe approach. I was convinced that the landing would have landed long, with the possibility of us going off the far end of the runway. I waited for my other friend, the non-flying pilot, to say something, but not a word was said. My comfort level was broached and I directed the flying pilot to execute a go-around. I never feel badly if my intervention keeps me in one piece. We went around and set up for a much better approach and teased on landing. To his credit, the flying pilot admitted that he flew a poorly executed approach and appreciated my intervention.

The next day, my friend, the non-flying pilot, called and asked my opinion concerning the previous days events. He admitted that he was uncomfortable saying anything to the flying pilot as he was not a flight instructor and did not feel it was his place to intervene. I reminded him that he was in as much jeopardy as the rest of us and that remaining silent is not prudent when one sees something that could cause an accident or incident if not corrected or, at the very least, brought to the attention of the person flying the aircraft.

The Dilemma-What to do:

You must speak up when safety is in question. I've flown with many pilots who made flights both in the military and the airlines lots of fun and safety was always foremost. And, I have flown with pilots who make the flight harder than flying by myself. However, all of the flights were made safely by simply briefing who did what and when.

The Contract:

Think of a pre-flight briefing as a contract. The contract is based on Crew Resource Management or CRM (sometimes referred to as Cockpit Resource Management or, when solo, Single Pilot Resource Management). It is imperative that you make a firm contract with the person you are flying with so there is no question as to what each person is to do when safety is in question-egos are not welcome. Establish who is Pilot in Command (PIC), who will handle the radios, how will the non-flying pilot (NFP) communicate with the flying pilot (FP) when the pilot handling the controls is not flying safely, and who does what in an emergency.

How to Handle Emergencies as a Crew:

Airline and military pilots are required to learn and are tested on emergency procedures on a regular basis. As a result, accidents per every 100,000 hours (this is how accident rates are determined) are less. Many years ago the Air Force had such a high accident rate, that safety officers were sent to a new safety-training course taught by the University of Southern California. They reported directly to the Wing and squadron commanders and had a tremendous impact on the safety of military aviation. The Air Force got serious about safety and it paid off with a significant drop in accidents both in combat and urging peacetime during peacetime. Each flight begins with a briefing covering how the flight will be flown, but not the emergency procedures. Why? Because emergency procedures are considered to be standard with the understanding that each crewmember must remain flexible when an emergency is not one described in the training manuals. However, the military briefs an "Emergency of the Day" which is a springboard for crews to think about other emergencies.

Your Crew Safety Briefing:

So, what should we brief when we fly our Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft, Decathlon, or any light aircraft? Here are some suggestions:
  1. Establish who is PIC.
  2. What will the FP do in case of an emergency such as a fire on start, engine failure or other reason to abort the takeoff while still on the runway, airborne with runway remaining or when beyond the point that the aircraft can be landed straight ahead on the runway.
  3. How will the NFP back up the FP during an emergency.
  4. Who will change radio frequencies and the transponder code, brief the approach and how will the NFP back up the FP during an approach.
  5. And most important, how does the NFP communicate their concerns about the way the FP is flying the aircraft. Work together. Decide who does what and when and establish that the flight should be fun, but above all, safe-the number one priority.

The Single Pilot-Prioritize:

When solo, you don't have the luxury of the assistance of another pilot so you must decide what is important and the order that it must be done. Whether or not you solo or with another pilot you must periodically review the aircrafts' emergency procedures and memorize the steps that are printed in bold face. Older aircraft Manuals may not have the important items that must be performed immediately typed in bold print. Work with an instructor who teaches in that aircraft to help you determine which emergency tasks should be memorized. Don't stop there. Be familiar with the chapter(s) that describes the aircraft systems. Knowing how the aircraft works is how airline, military, and other professional pilots are able to deal with situations not covered in the book. Systems knowledge is as important as knowing the emergency procedure. Final Words: Have a plan every flight. Think about contingencies and plan back ups. Be prepared for changes of such things as winds and weather, system problems or situations you had not experienced before. What do I do when I don't have time to handle an emergency such as on takeoff, landing, while practicing stalls, or while flying aerobatics? Speaking of aerobatics, I have taught those who are compulsive and do a maneuver without thinking about it, they just do it without thinking about the consequences if the maneuver goes bad, not to mention the g forces I was not prepared for-it hurts! Don't do anything that you have not thought about. Have a plan, brief with the other pilot; make sure you give non-flying passengers a proper safety brief (required by the regulations) to include what you want them to do to help you such as looking for other aircraft and how to work the fire extinguisher. Ask a spouse to take a Pinch Hitter course so that they can contribute to the safety of each flight-and become involved, which makes the flight more interesting and fun.

My wish for you-fly safe and have fun.

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