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Land Safely, Forget “Super-Smooth!”

I remember distinctly discovering the secret of obtaining a super-smooth landing in a PA-28; just carry extra speed and “drive it on.” Eliminating the flare made landing amazingly simple – why had my CFI not figured this out? This occurred during the solo cross country phase of my flight training (50 years ago) after suffering through the usual first solo commands – “hold it off, don’t let it land!” Needless to say, my instructor disagreed with my new “smooth landing” technique and righteously explained, that a smooth landing was not the objective, safety was. Extra energy on touchdown and the three-point attitude were, he said, an invitation to disaster (something about square root functions and porpoising).

You may be surprised to learn that “smooth touchdown” is nowhere to be found in the FAA test standards (the closest is “minimum sink rate” in the soft field section). The more important objectives of a good landing are clearly described: an accurate touch down on the centerline (aligned with no lateral drift) and properly configured and stabilized. Also, arrive as slow as possible touching in the “landing configuration.” For a pilot, “smooth” is a reward, but not the sine qua non. Make your landings proper and safe first and after some practice, “smooth” will be easily achievable. Many smooth landings are actually not safe at all.

But of course, it’s the *passengers* who disagree. The *only* tangible non-pilot standard to judge piloting skill is a super-smooth touchdown. Pilots really need to push back here and get over this imposed illusion for the sake of safety! Smooth landings can often involve extra speed and improper technique. It is much safer to stabilize, control the centerline and land in the proper attitude, even if it touches with a little bump.

The “smooth landing mandate” naturally carries onward into professional jet operations – something about “primacy?” We all want to be the “hero pilot,” and it’s easy to consume a mile of runway milking the last few feet to touchdown in search of the “super-smooth” arrival. You will indeed impress their clients in back when you run off the end of the runway? Not surprisingly, overruns on landing are the #1 cause of accidents in turbine aircraft.

Whether trying to minimize the “bump” felt by passengers or lulled by landing often on runways much longer than needed, business aviators tend to carry excess speed and float into long landings. The average business jet touch down point is about 1,600 feet from the threshold, and nearly 20 percent touch down beyond 2,000 feet, well past the aim point that is the basis for predicted aircraft landing performance

Admittedly, there are a variety of causes of overruns in turbine landings, most notably the extreme weight and energy at play and contaminated surfaces. But ironically, the solution to hydroplaning is actually a “firm touchdown” to create positive contact with the runway surface.

And to be very clear, I am not condoning (or recommending) hard landings. I am just advocating for less of a focus on “super-soft” touchdowns as an end in themselves. Go for “safe” first (as described above) and smooth will follow after some practice. Fly safely out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

ATC Assist in Florida Landing!

Controller Robert Morgan, pictured above, was the calm voice that guided a non-pilot, Darren Harrison, from over the ocean to a safe landing recently in Florida. Fortunately, Robert is a CFI  – and was available to help [MORE] Congratulations on another “first solo” Robert – you made every CFI proud! This success also clearly highlights the importance of ATC assistance during an emergency.  Air traffic controllers can provide amazing resources. Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM) was recently featured in the SAFEblog and is required in the FAA certification standards. One important point to remember, however, is that not all controllers are CFIs – or even pilots (more on this below).

The availability of ATC as a resource should be emphasized in all training and should be part of every flight review for safety. Both Sullenberger in the “Miracle on the Hudson” and Al Haynes in the United 232 Sioux City crash, emphasized the importance of a calm and efficient air traffic controller as a key component in their successful emergency landings. Many applicants on flight tests forget to “call a friend.”

“We worked together seamlessly in one of the most dire situations anyone can imagine to try to save every single life.

Every year, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) awards the coveted Archie League Medal of Safety to controllers who go above and beyond the call of duty to save pilots in distress.

“The ability to think quickly and remain calm under pressure while maintaining situational awareness are all unique qualities that air traffic controllers and flight service station employees possess.

They all have a willingness to jump right in to resolve complex situations, offer a reassuring voice to those on the frequency and coordinate their efforts with other controllers.”

SAFE member Dean Brown is a committed educator – Indy Center Controller and CFI – working to improve both controller training about emergencies and pilot understanding of how ATC can best help during emergencies. The correct initial (and continuing) response is critical to a successful outcome during emergencies. Frequently, a controller lacks a full understanding of how busy and disorienting emergencies can be for a pilot. Dean is working on rolling out a comprehensive training course for controllers covering a wide variety of emergency situations. If you have suggestions or are a controller wanting to collaborate in this important work, reply in the comment section please (we will get in touch). Fly safe out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

Velis Electro Trainer

In full disclosure, I’m really new to the world of aircraft that have a lighter empty weight than my motorcycle. And I’m used to having at least a couple of seats behind me. I recently had the opportunity to join a small group of pilots – those that have flown electric airplanes!

The Pipistrel Velis Electro – is the only certified electric aircraft. This was a full-up, ready-to-buy, take-home and start flying in the national airspace system, not a prototype of something that may be ready and certified in the future.You can find the specs and details on the Pipistrel website but that doesn’t tell you about the experience. Simplicity – the most accurate description of what its like to get started and go. Four switches, some self-tests, a check of available battery charge and spin the prop to make sure all is good and you’re ready. No waiting for the oil to warm, no run-up/mag check /prop manipulation – you get the idea. It was a bit strange sitting at the hold line checking for traffic and getting set to go with no prop spinning out in front. When ready, push the throttle forward, and the prop spins propelling you forward. The application of power is smooth and instant. Airspeed is alive and you notice a little motor whir and the ground passing underneath. It’s quiet! Not silent, but very quiet.

Liftoff comes at about 45kts, climb rate is around 700 – 750 fpm with 1 pilot. Your results may vary – I have only had one flight. Controls are smooth and quick but not twitchy. Small control movements and the aircraft goes where you point it. The wind was a little blustery (central Florida acting like summertime), so I kept it below VA which was 100kts. Stalls were docile as you would expect, recovery straightforward – lower the nose, pick up airspeed, and fly level. The landing was gentle, keep the airspeed under control or you float down the runway. From taxi, out to shut down my flight time was about .8 and consumed 50 -55% of battery power.

Impression: Fun to fly!! If you are close to the practice area, would make a respectable trainer. Obviously, loiter time is limited. I’m looking forward to making more flights and push it a little harder.


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

Gut Check: Caution Vs “Courage!”

Confidence is a necessary pilot attribute and timidity can be a hazard. If we did not dream big and overcome reasonable challenges, we would never succeed in aviation. But carrying this too far is often the root cause of accidents. “Over-reaching” our skills creates operations whose success depends on luck. The correct balance of caution and confidence goes back to the ancient Greek “Golden Mean.” 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 and actual abilities? Without honest reflection and revision, we all can slide down the slope of normalizing these dangerous activities. “Experience” is often defined as “learning that occurs when the test comes before the training.” But just because we survived does not validate your (sometimes overconfident) decision.

How can we more reliably achieve the correct balance of confidence and caution? Can we even accurately assess our own skills without the assessment of others? Maybe this is the primary reason crewed flights are 8X  safer than solo flights and pro pilots require recurrent training? Skill obviously plays a big role and accident data reveals we all could use more practice in the landing phase of flight:

The first necessary step when facing a challenging situation is the calming ability to say “no” to impulsivity and create a pause between action and reaction. Once we have stopped the impulsive inner child, we must honestly appraise and reflect on all options and consequences, weighing the risks. Merely visualizing the worst outcomes (the stoic philosophy) sometimes is all that is needed to move more slowly and choose sensibly 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 past these psychological barriers immediately makes every pilot safer.

The reasonable “sounding board” of a trusted advisor is a sure way to add safety to any decision and one reason Part 135 and 121 usually require two pilots. So if it’s a tight decision, expand your resources and solicit some advice from a trusted pilot friend. A worthy motto, borrowed from MADD, is “friends don’t let friends fly stupid.” This requires both seeking and listening to the opinion of others but also advocating to prevent “the 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; “safety culture.” 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!


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

 

Landing or Buzzing? Know CFR 91.119

Flying Cowboy Trent Palmer got a 60 day suspension for low flying. Understanding 91.119 is critical to avoiding this outcome; read SAFEblog.

The legal precedent for FAA violations under CFR 91.119 for low flying (buzzing) is long-standing and well-established. A quick search found 81 cases in the NTSB files over a 20-year period (guilty as charged). You will probably never be violated if you are operating at a charted airport (in a normal manner). The Anderson Letter of Interpretation is pretty well established on this point.
But if you are not near a charted airport in the backcountry, you could easily be sanctioned if what you are doing looks like a “buzz job” (and it will stick). This current interpretation is a problem for a pilot assessing a landing site with the (FAA recommended) high, intermediate and low-level recon passes: “Make at least 3 recon passes at different levels before attempting a landing.If you have not seen, Flying Cowboy Trent Palmer is appealing a 60-day suspension for low flying with the classic 91.13 (careless and reckless) and 91.119 (low flying) violations.

The mistake many pilots make with the current interpretation is assuming that CFR 91.119 is a “get out of jail free card” e.g. just say I was in the “take-off and landing phase of flight” and you will be absolved; wrong! This reg does not work like that. The exact words are: “Except when necessary for landing or takeoff” (emphasis added). Here is the Trent Palmer YouTube:

SAFE member Mike Vivion shared this article he wrote for Water Flying in 2010. Mike has over 30 years flying floats, wheels, and skis in the Alaska bush country for US Fish & Wildlife and Department of Interior. He is very familiar with these cases and also the common misconceptions most pilots hold about the “approach and landing.” The current FAA interpretation of 91.119 can easily get you in trouble:

Most pilots understand that they are required to maintain 500 feet separation between their aircraft and persons or property on the surface, and at least 1000 feet above a “congested area”.  But, in my experience, many pilots assume that during landing or takeoff this distance requirement no longer applies.  But the first line of 91.119 reveals the specific verbiage which can get you in trouble:  “Except when necessary for takeoff or landing…”
Pilots of wheel-equipped airplanes rarely cross paths with the FAA on this point, because they are most often landing on established runways that have specified approach and departure paths.  If a photographer, for example, stands near the approach end of a runway while my airplane is on approach to land on that runway, am I expected to go land somewhere else?  Not unless to continue the approach would constitute a hazard to the photographer or my aircraft.  In that case, it may be necessary for me to approach closer than 500 feet to the photographer during the landing approach because of the layout of the airport and its operating surfaces.
If nobody complains, and there’s no FAA Inspector around, more than likely nothing will come of this event… More and more, the recreating public sees airplanes as some sort of insidious threat, and nearly everyone has a cell phone with a camera these days.  The likelihood of a violation ensuing [during non-airport operations] is pretty good if someone gets their underwear in a knot about us landing a seaplane near their boat/jetski/dock/etc.

There are more good comments on the Super Cub Forum if you want additional perspective on the challenge of off-airfield operations. One important pro tip for talking with the FAA during an inquiry; don’t! Get a lawyer right away if it is serious. This is when your AOPA pilot protection plan is very handy. Aviation administrative law is entirely different from our familiar civil law (no jury of your peers, fewer rights, etc). Unfortunately, many pilots incriminate themselves immediately when talking with the FAA by admitting everything – and you made their case for them. Even proving you were the pilot of the plane is often a problem in these cases (a blurry video). Also, remember to file a NASA (ASRS) Form if you ever even suspect a violation (it’s free). This is your real “get out of jail free” card.
Hopefully, you will never need this detailed understanding of 91.119 (stay out of the weeds). Fly safe out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

*Practical* Aerodynamics; Facts Every Pilot Must Know

Pilots don’t need aerodynamics at the level of Greek Letters and many decimal places to be safe in flight. But understanding the basic physics of flight is essential. F-16 pilot and good friend AF General Mike Hall calls this “fighter pilot math;” a practical working knowledge ready for immediate use. Remember, gravity works tirelessly, day and night all year long. We are continuously using physical forces to safely stay aloft.

 I recommend the Essential Aerodynamics course from AOPA to all of my students (and many new CFIs) since there seems to be a general ignorance that can cause accidents. At my #SnF22 forums (and most previous pilot seminars) I always give a short 5-6 question quiz on aerodynamic basics and the results are the same; pilots need better knowledge to be safe. (Try the quiz here if you haven’t, then re-engage for the answers below) Thanks to everyone for participating🙏

BTW: I am only a pilot CFI/DPE so I checked my answers with a much more qualified guy; Ron Blum. He supervised/created Flight Test and Aerodynamics departments at Cessna, Honda, Beech & Kestrel before being Chief Engineer for Mooney’s M10. I learned a lot talking with Ron!

1) Misunderstood Angle of Attack

These two photos depict a C-152 in climb and descent. Photo A shows a Vy climb in the “clean” configuration. Photo B shows a reduced power (pattern) descent with flaps deployed (same plane, same loading). Both have approximately the same angle of attack (notice the same airspeed of 60K). Why does this matter? Pilots seem to universally fear the nose high flight attitude and often do not pitch enough for maximum performance when they need to (timid pilot). Additionally, many pilots mistakenly believe a nose-low attitude guarantees safety, when in fact this aircraft is just as close to a stall as the nose-high aircraft. Pilots practice “predictable stalls” in training and are not ready for “surprise stalls” encountered in an upset.

Flaps deployed dramatically change the wing shape and effect, requiring a lower flight attitude. Though you cannot determine AOA from an external snapshot of a plane in flight (you need trend), internally the amount of chrome showing (how far back you have the yoke or stick) is a pretty close approximation of AOA. Watch this AOPA video of a stall with the nose pointed straight down.

2) Where is the CG (and why does this matter)?

In a conventional, properly loaded aircraft, the CG is forward of the center of lift yielding stability and control. This means for an average pilot, the nose is the “heavy end” of the plane (in flight the tail provides downforce). Why does this matter? Stability is designed into every airplane (see CFR Part 23) during certification and testing; “planes don’t stall, pilots stall planes” (by pulling too much) – unload to recover!

3)Lift is Equal on the Wings in a Stabilized Turn

In a stabilized turn, lift is equal on the wings (or your plane would still be rolling). In a 30-degree banked turn, trim the nose for hands-off level flight and fold your arms. A well-rigged plane will continue to turn happily with no input until you run out of fuel. (this is a great CFI demonstration for early learners to dissipate their fear of turns)

Why is this important? If pilots fear turning and stalls  they become timid pilots, skidding their plane instead of banking. (I would guess ~50% of PPL test applicants have never done a turning stall). The nose simply falls away from the lift vector and the real takeaway is that there is usually even fewer real aerodynamic signals (no “break”). Most trainers simply start to mush and their pilots fail to realize they are even stalled!

4) The “Active Control” in a turn is the elevator.

See the above demonstration of trimming a stable turn, ailerons and rudder should be neutral in a medium-banked turn in a well-rigged aircraft. The elevator is turning the plane. Rolling into and out of a turn obviously requires the coordinated use of ailerons and rudder (and differential lift). Turning with just the rudder is a skid…not conducive to long life and health.

5) No Spin From a Coordinated Turning Stall.

See #3 above, but “stall break” in most planes is even less pronounced than level. The aircraft nose falls away from the lift vector (nose to toes). Most planes have built-in dihedral stability so many planes roll out of the turn. (No “excitement” if you are coordinated – the “big if!”). A demonstration of a stall in a slip or skid is useful for advanced pilots (try this only with a CFI please – required on the CFI initial). Pro tip: Most trainers just mush in a power-off slip when brought to a stall; yaw and roll balance out nicely.

6) Stall speed only increases by 19% in a 45-degree banked turn!

This seems to be one of the most misunderstood aerodynamic nuggets. Ignorance here can create timid pilots who do not bank effectively and fly the pattern way to fast. Pilots who do not bank enough also tend to skid the plane (turning flat with the rudder) and *this* is a dangerous pilot action. Unfortunately, we all normalize this kinaesthetic feeling daily driving cars.

Maintaining 1.4 Vso in the pattern actually provides a 20% margin over stall even in with a 45-degree bank (just sayin, not recommended). For a deeper analysis of turning flight see Rich Stowell’s (free) course on Community Aviation. And try some Extended Envelope Maneuvers with your favorite MCFI to tune-up your “Practical Aerodynamics.” Fly safely out there (and often).


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education. Our SnF22 sweepstakes will run until Easter so join/renew/or donate to enter for a chance to win a Lightspeed Zulu Headset, a Sporty’s handheld radio or an Aerox PrO2 oxygen system.

Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

“Pilot Smarts” (From #SnF22)!

Thanks to all that visited the SAFE booth at #SnF22, it is wonderful to connect again and put faces with the contacts we have developed online. It is also wonderful to present forums at the show and see so many passionate learners trolling the high school eagerly gleaning new ideas and techniques. We know “passionate learners” (FAA WINGS anyone?) are safer pilots – try the basic aerodynamics quiz (and course).

 

These six questions are from my “Advice From the Right Seat” Forum (thanks to all of you who were able to attend). I find that asking questions is one of the best ways to generate cognitive dissonance (mental confusion) that inspires learning. A person comfortable with their own worldview (and pilots are often “super confident in their worldview) is closed to input and learning. Of course, after the presentation, I had to defend my views also with a few PhDs and aerodynamic engineers, so I learned some things too! Try this quiz and I will give you my answers next weekend in the blog. These are derived from similar questions “spin doctor” Rich Stowell has asked in presentations for years. If you are a CFI, inspire some deep thought in your educating. Understanding the basic physics of flight (see AOPA course Essential Aerodynamics) is critical to safe flight. Enjoy the spring weather and fly safely out there (and often)!


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education. Our SnF22 sweepstakes will run until Easter so join/renew/or donate to enter for a chance to win a Lightspeed Zulu Headset, a Sporty’s handheld radio or an Aerox PrO2 oxygen system.

Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

Increasing Experience = Safer?

Think back to when you first learned to fly. Everything was new and exciting. We didn’t know anything about flying an airplane and we knew we didn’t. Then after we got our private pilot ticket our adventure continued but as our instructor told us “you now have a license to learn”. Eventually after many hours and maybe a few questionable decisions we became more skilled, proficient and safe. Maybe!

As it turns out the data shows that pilots actually become MORE likely to have an accident with experience at least to a point. It requires several hundred flight hours before that risk goes down. In 2015 the FAA published a paper titled Predicting Accident Rates From General Aviation Pilot Total Flight Hours. The paper looked at flight hours of pilots involved in accidents. It then compared that to the total number of pilots with equivalent flight hours in order to create an accident risk ratio. The paper describes a “killing zone” of greatest risk. For VFR pilots the zone is around 500 hours and for instrument-rated pilots about 800 hours. Below is the graph from that paper for non-instrument-rated (NIR) pilots. Notice the peak risk is almost 3X greater than when pilots first earned their PPL!

The author acknowledges the far right side of the graph above is probably inaccurate due to the small number of pilots with high hours in the FAA database. But the overall message is clear. Pilots get more dangerous with experience before they get less dangerous. How can that be? The FAA paper does not attempt to answer but I have a theory. And it has to do with us humans and our perceived skill vs actual skill. There is a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger found that people who scored the lowest on tests of learned ability like logical reasoning, grammar and a sense of humor had the most inflated opinions of their skills. In a sense when we lack the knowledge and skills to achieve excellence, we also lack the knowledge and skills to judge excellence.

The graph below is from the book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. It suggests that people follow a trend over time as they learn something new. We start where we know nothing and know we know nothing. Then as learning occurs we get ahead of our skis and our perceived knowledge becomes much greater than actual knowledge peaking at “Mount Stupid”.

Eventually, we develop a deeper understanding and realign our knowledge with our perception. This pattern was seen across many areas of learning including basic (children learning to read) and complex (doctors diagnosing patients). It certainly seems it could happen to pilots.

In aviation, “Normalizing” bad behavior would seem to contribute to this type of risk. A recent SAFEBlog discussed “Cautious to Cocky: the 6C’s” where pilots can progress to a comfort level beyond their or their airplane’s ability. If I get away with it and nothing bad happens then it must be OK.
So how do we as flight instructors make pilots aware and protect them from Mount Stupid? One is to just educate them on this concept. Maybe when we work with a pilot in a BFR or airplane checkout when their hours are in the “killing zone”, point out the risk and the many resources to mitigate it.
One resource is FAA’s 5 hazardous attitudes. 4 of the 5 (Anti-authority, Impulsivity, Invulnerability and Macho) are clearly tied to ego and would be prime risks for moderate time pilots.
Another example is FAAsafety.gov. There are several videos of moderate time pilots who get themselves into dangerous or even deadly situations. Here is an AOPA analysis of a Cirrus accident at Hobby Airport where the pilot had 332 hours total time, and another Cirrus accident with a pilot at 227 hours. Both are clearly preventable accidents and both involve a pilot who appeared to get in over their head.

Lastly, a thought about instructor experience. It would certainly seem plausible that as new instructors accumulate instruction time they might also experience Mount Stupid. When I became a CFI in 2018 more than one fellow instructor warned me that at around 200 hours of instruction given I would have a customer do something very surprising (and maybe dangerous). Maybe new CFI’s start to let their guard down believing they can anticipate what a customer will do. So new CFI’s be alert!


See you at Sun ‘N Fun A-85/6. For SAFE members, enjoy a free MCFI breakfast for SAFE members on Thursday at 8am; at the Sunset Cafe.

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

Don’t Turn A Blind Eye on Risky Pilot Behavior

This is (gratefully) reprinted from the NTSB Safety Compass Blog. Author Leah Read is a senior air safety investigator in the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety. 

When air safety investigators arrive at the scene of a fatal aircraft accident, we meet with law enforcement officers, witnesses, friends of the pilot, and family. During these critical interviews, we start to get a bigger picture of the circumstances surrounding the accident and those involved. It’s very common to hear almost immediately that the pilot was very “conscientious,” “thorough,” and an “excellent pilot.”

But there are also times when no one seems to be saying anything much at all about the pilot…until we dig deeper. That’s when we hear things such as, “The pilot never maintained his airplane right.” or “Everybody knew he was going to crash eventually.”

There are also times when the investigator will get a call via our communications center that a witness must talk to someone “right away.” The witness then tells us that the pilot had a LONG history of “maverick-like” behavior, was known to “buzz” a friend’s house, or used illegal drugs—as just some examples. In these situations, we will ask the witness if they had talked to the pilot about this behavior or contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They sometimes tell us, “I tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. He was too prideful.”

See Dr. Bill Rhodes “Warning Signs In PilotsSlideShare and also Comments on how rogue pilots persist HERE

Dr. Tony Kern HERE on his book “Rogue Pilots”

But more often, they tell us that they didn’t say anything to the pilot or FAA. Sometimes, the pilot was a friend whom they didn’t want to embarrass or cause any trouble. Personally, as a fellow pilot, I can understand the concerns.

But what if you see something, and don’t step up and say something? The reality is that nonreporting can put people at risk.

Many don’t realize that there are actions the FAA can take if risky pilot behavior is reported. The FAA has established a hotline for confidential and anonymous reporting. As noted on the FAA website, “The FAA Hotline accepts reports concerning the safety of the National Airspace System, violation of a Federal Aviation Regulation (Title 14 CFR), aviation safety issues…. The FAA Hotline provides a single venue for…the aviation community and the public to file their reports.”

As one FAA inspector told me, “We can’t investigate what we don’t know.” If a complaint was made via the FAA Hotline, the FAA would be obligated to investigate. Remember, you may not only save the life of another pilot but also an innocent passenger or bystander.

The NTSB, unfortunately, has seen the tragic consequences of turning a blind eye to a known hazard. I have seen accidents that have occurred in someone’s front yard, skimmed the roof of an apartment building, or crashed near a school. If the airplane had impacted just a few yards in either direction, the damage and loss of life could have been so much worse. This was the case in an accident I investigated where the pilot lost control of the airplane, crashing into a front yard just feet from an occupied house. Thankfully, there was no fire, and no kids were playing in that front yard.

Within moments of arriving on scene and being debriefed by law enforcement, I was handed a witness statement. Very quickly, I realized the witness was quite credible—and what he had to say about the pilot was alarming. The pilot had a known history of reckless behavior. Further investigation revealed that people knew of the pilot’s behavior but didn’t want to report him for several of the reasons I mentioned above. Not surprisingly, the FAA had no negative history on the pilot. He had a clean record and was never on their radar.

Sadly, in this accident, the pilot and his innocent passenger died. But what if he had other passengers onboard? What would have happened if he had crashed into the house, or, worse, a crowd?

A colleague of mine investigated an accident where a pilot was flying an airplane he was not rated to fly, in instrument conditions without holding an instrument rating. The pilot had recorded numerous notes in his logbook that provided compelling evidence of his own unsafe flying, by his own admission. The pilot noted landing on a major highway and flying low over a crowd during parades. He was also known for unsafe low-level flights over airshows and having a general disregard for proper communication procedures. Yet nothing was done about his behavior; people turned a blind eye to it. Tragically, the pilot and three occupants died in the accident when the airplane encountered instrument meteorological conditions and impacted terrain.

In the big scheme of things, we need to ask ourselves, who are we really protecting by keeping quiet? As active pilots, mechanics, airport personnel, friends, and family members, you are the eyes and ears to what’s going on out there. You know your airport and the people who use it. You know when your friend or family member seems risky or unsafe. If you identify a hazard, then speak up. Or, file a report with the FAA Hotline. Just remember, we all share the same airspace or may be nearby if their plane crashes.

Stay safe and don’t turn a blind eye!


See you at Sun ‘N Fun A-85/6. For SAFE members, enjoy a free MCFI breakfast for SAFE members on Thursday at 8am; at the Sunset Cafe.

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

The Dangers of Timid Piloting

During a recent airplane owners’ gathering in Florida, I did a short poll of the audience on basic aerodynamics. One result reflected a common pattern: pilots fear banking past 30 degrees (especially in the pattern)!  Pilots at all levels erroneously believe 45-degree bank turn has much more “aerodynamic threat” (raises the stall speed much higher) than is actually the case. 70% of the pilots here thought a 45 degree turn added >40% to the stall speed (that is more than double the actual answer of 19%). And since most pilots fear banking and maneuvering in general, they are not confident enough for safe aircraft control. Generally, gentle and trimmed is a great idea for passengers and daily comfort, but timid piloting makes flying unsafe for many important reasons.

Like continual use of autopilot, super-gentle timid flying makes a pilot unwilling and unable to take accurate and decisive control when necessary (unpracticed skills are unavailable). Secondly, timidity in turning leads to pilots “turning the plane flat”- skidding the plane with rudder. This is much more dangerous than coordinated banking, and the real threat in the base to final phase of flight. A timid pilot’s brain is saying “danger: low and slow, don’t bank too much” due to gross misunderstanding of the real threat. The third problem with timid piloting adds more “airspeed buffer” and flies way too fast in the pattern. This leads to being unable to slow down and stabilize the final approach for a normal landing. All the accumulated energy gained through aerodynamic ignorance creates a much more dangerous landing. Most high-performance pilots fly final much too fast into the landing leading to porpoising and prop strikes. Other related problems are landing long and LOC on the runway. These are usually not fatal but regularly wreck expensive planes. 1.4 Vso on base to final yields almost 20% margin above stall even with a 45% bank (which is admittedly excessive). But most (timid) pilots get uncomfortable with even 30% of bank angle in the pattern.

Here is one more related point. Historic pitch/power dogma might lead to all kinds of pilot actions (depending on initial training) to attempt a correction in airspeed. Some pilots might simply add power (and often too much) to recapture lost airspeed. In a left-hand pattern the resulting uncompensated yaw might cause a further skidding force. A more nuanced approach to energy management (see new AFH Chapter 4 on energy management) would recommend a little power and a lower nose attitude (unload) and yield a better result. Practicing Envelope Extension Maneuvers at altitude makes a more confident and knowledgeable pilot. Fly SAFE out there (and often)!


See you at Sun ‘N Fun A-85/6. For SAFE members, enjoy a free breakfast for SAFE members on Thursday at 8am; at the Sunset Cafe.

Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

 

 

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