Safety=Caution Vs Courage!

Confidence is a necessary but slippery pilot attribute. If we did not dream big and try hard we would never succeed in aviation. But carrying this too far is often the root cause of accidents “over-reaching” our skills. Please listen to this brief YouTube audio and tell me honestly if you have never “bit off more than you can chew?” in terms of your perceived vs actual abilities? And though experience is often defined as “learning that occurs when the test comes before the training,” luck is often our only savior in these cases.

Nicely on the center line! This kind of accident is not even necessarily reported…

So how can we more reliably achieve the correct balance of confidence and caution? Can we even accurately assess our own skills without others? The first necessary step in all situations is the calming ability to say “no” to impulsivity and create a pause between action and reaction. Once we have stopped the inner child, we must appraise and reflect on options and consequences, weighing the risks. Merely visualizing the worst outcomes sometimes is all that is needed to move more slowly and cautiously in a better direction. Two huge forces in aviation that actively collide with fight safety are perceived time savings (efficiency)  and pilot ego; “how will I be perceived by others.”  Getting over these makes you immediately safer.

The reasonable “sounding board” of a trusted advisor is a sure way to add safety to any decision; one reason Part 135 and 121 usually require two pilots. So if it’s a tight decision, expand your resources and solicit some advice. A worthy motto, borrowed from MADD, is”friends don’t let friends fly stupid.” This means both seeking and listening to the opinion of others but also speaking up to prevent “an accident waiting to happen.” As pilots we are often so reticent to intervene we allow others to unnecessarily come to peril.

Let’s agree to work together cooperatively and prevent accidents. The pilot above ignored the wise counsel of ATC; “how about a different field with less wind and a more favorable alignment?”  It takes more humility and less “courage” to fly safely but that way we will be around to enjoy more flights!

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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI, 141Chief Instructor, FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently flying 135 charter (again)

3 thoughts on “Safety=Caution Vs Courage!”

  1. David – Very thought provoking post! Wind is a tough one because it is different than nonlinear hazards like thunderstorms and 0/0 Fog. Wind is a sliding scale and where it becomes impossible is hard to say. I started using this technique years ago as a flight instructor; a front came through when we were airborne and we had few options. My instrument student asked what we should do. I said; Plan A is to fly down to a rejected landing point, and then go around. Plan B is to continue below the go around point, if we are in full control, aligned with the runway heading and straddling the center line – without full deflection of any control surface. If any of these conditions cannot be maintained while executing plan B, we will revert to plan A.

    And, oh, yeah, we padded our airspeed for the gust factor, and flew a zero flap approach with appropriate speed adjustment. This worked out well on this and other days.

    One oddity about wind, and I’m sure you have seen this as DPE, is that some people can do a great job with really extreme winds, and some can’t handle a 12 knot quartering crosswind. The difference, by and large, is those in the first group have excellent attitude flying skills using outside visual references. Those in the second group generally don’t grock the concept of “Attitude Control for Aircraft Control”.

    1. Wind is also unique since it seems to >require< confidence to enter the game (rather than run away). At some point the new pilot has to face it alone and the concepts you mentioned (margin and go-around point need to be ingrained) As a CFI it is also the closest I have come to disaster. It is all working until suddenly it is NOT!

  2. Human ego is one of the biggest factors contributing to aircraft accidents. Just like the article said; ” How will I be perceived by others”.

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