Add Safety (Awareness) *Before* Flight!

Takeoff and initial climb are very simple operations in most GA planes. But surprisingly, this area of flight is statistically quite dangerous. The considerable risk here is under-appreciated due to the lack of challenge and obvious threat. That ILS to minimums or a gnarly crosswind more naturally grab your attention!

Pilots are usually in their “happy place” during takeoff, doing what they love. There is not much challenge – or awareness – on the usual takeoff. Adding intentionality and awareness to our preparation and takeoff is a simple (but necessary) step that creates a much safer flight.

Hopefully, every pilot performs some personal mantra before adding power on the takeoff. My current personal version is “H-A-L-T-T.” This enforces an extra moment of mental focus to assure “Code Yellow” before applying power. This thoughtful pause also assures Heading, Altimeter, Lights, Transponder and Time are completed. Inserting greater awareness into your personal “runway recipe” (habit stacking) brings your awareness into a “normalized” activity. As CFIs we are guilty here. Better training during every dual takeoff is a CFI mandate to increase safety (training the killers). It is hard to “surprise” yourself as a pilot, so CFIs need to create these “learning opportunities.”

All humans continually “normalize” daily experiences for efficiency. This down-regulates our neurological response to a level of “automatic processing” though. The first time for any new complicated procedure is stressful. Very quickly repeated actions become familiar habit patterns that do not engage the conscious mind; we are on autopilot – sleepwalking through life. This mental level of awareness is dangerous in any phase of flight, but especially on takeoff. The red key fob above – not the usual “remove before flight” but rather “add safety” – is designed for your airplane key to inspire greater preparation and awareness before every takeoff. As pilots, we need to be “code yellow” on takeoff; ready for anything! Stop by our Sun ‘N Fun booth (C-19/20) for one of these and commit to greater preparation and increased awareness during take-off. It is designed to be attached to your aircraft keys: Add awareness because risk hides in the familiar! The “Cooper Code” above is from military firearms training; a similarly dangerous sport where risk can easily be normalized. Most pilots are “Code White” on takeoff; happy and unprepared. The correct awareness level is “Code Yellow;” prepared and vigilant. The weapon is loaded and the safety is off.

Situational awareness is a mindset that you have to purposefully cultivate. You want to get to the point that it’s just something you do without having to think about it. To get to that point, you have to practice it regularly…Don’t be paranoid, just mindful.

If you remember your first flights, fear is the most common reaction during early take-off experiences. Those early takeoffs are terrifying for most people. Every experienced CFI is familiar with that sweating blank look in the left seat. A new pilot-in-learning is unfortunately often “Code Red” during the first few takeoffs and only starts breathing again at pattern altitude. In this state, the human senses are narrowed with fear, and learners neither see nor retain/understand very much from these first few experiences (note to flight instructors). This is the hazard of the startle response; overwhelming fear.

“Fat, dumb and happy” is a sure recipe to turn a shiny aluminum plane into beer cans; a little fear is a good thing. Mario’s Rules

One thing is certain here. More time spent on preparation before takeoff, with appropriate checklist usage and briefing, would go a long way toward increasing safety. Aviation is a high-consequence activity that requires respect for the embedded risks. Please stop by our booth at Sun ‘N Fun to say “hi” and pick up an “Add *Safety* Before Flight” keyfob for your plane keys. See you at the show!

Enjoy the new courses available to members on the new safe website. And please download and use the (free) SAFE Toolkit App. This contains all the references a working CFI needs plus provides continuously new safety content.

See you at Sun ‘N Fun 2023 at “Charlie Hangar” Booths #19/20. SAFE spnsors and members please join us at Sunset Cafe for a free SAFE breakfast Thursday (March 30th), 8am. (Get your free ticket here)

SAFE developed an insurance program just for CFIs! When you are an independent CFI, you are a business (and have legal exposure). This program is the most reasonable but also comprehensive insurance plan you can have (and every agent is a pilot!)

Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

5 thoughts on “Add Safety (Awareness) *Before* Flight!”

  1. My favorite subject : Emergencies.
    Preparing for the “unknown” hazards makes a pilot proficient / mindful of what is ahead, what if….
    Simulating an engine failure T/O -Climb phase and exploring the possibilities for a safe outcome with students is priceless. Great point mentioned here is the “startle effect – fight or flight”. Repeated realistic training scenarios can neutralize threats. Dealing with an emergency without fear because you know what to do is giving you the benefit of dealing with a single threat, fear is an extra threat you do not need at such an event.
    Fly informed with safety being your second nature, that state of calmness is very enjoyable during all phases of flight.
    Enjoy Sun ‘N Fun 2023 !!!

    1. Thanks Chris! This was our focus at the Pilot Proficiency Center OSH 22; Takeoff threat is underappreciated…

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