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Vectors For Safety - September 2021

Safety Initiative Update

New Course Platform!

For the past few years, since the demise of Flash, I have been forced to produce courses with very little or no interaction. A few months ago I discovered a new course platform called InstructSuite. As it turned out, the platform was not quite ready and I had stumbled upon it before the developer had intended to be discovered. But it promised to deliver what I needed which was the ability to add interactions. As I found needed features or glitches, the developer (who also happens to be a pilot) quickly delivered what I needed. I am excited to announce that first course has just gone live on InstructSuite. In full disclosure, I repurposed some material to create a course for beta testing. But, since it was up and passed all the tests, I decided to make it valid for Wings credit. Since it only takes about 40 minutes or less to complete, it is valid for only one-half Basic Knowledge-3 credit. I would be happy to hear your comments on the course and the new platform. My intent is to move existing courses, with some added interactivity, to this platform over the next few months and to host all new courses on InstructSuite. Click here to enroll in "Caution! Wake Turbulence."

New "Shorts" Video on YouTube

YouTube has recently released a new feature called "Shorts." These are videos in vertical format, primarily designed for viewing on a smart phone. The maximum duration is 60 seconds. I decided to try one and I learned that I am much too long winded to make a 60 second videos. But, if it will attract some of the younger pilots who are accustomed to rapid-fire, abbreviated content, that would be good. This one is on the before takeoff briefing. Please let me know what you think. Click here to view the video.

Looking Ahead

If our Safety Initiative is to remain viable, we must constantly look for ways to improve. I have included my ideas along with ideas submitted by my subscribers. It is time for Safety Initiative 2.0 to be launched, but nothing is set in stone, so please continue to provide feedback. The plan for Safety Initiative 2.0 is too long to include in this publication, so please click here to see it.

Golden Anniversary

I just celebrated the 50th anniversary of becoming a Certificated Flight Instructor. It is true that time flies when you are having fun. I am sure that I have learned more from my students than they ever learned from me, but I hope that I have made some contribution to each one's aviation life and to safety in general. I continue to enjoy good health in body and mind (some would question the latter) so I intend to keep sharing what I have learned in the hope of helping pilots to be safer.

Gene's Blog

Armchair Proficiency

Aircraft crashes will never be eliminated. That is unfortunate, but true. Our mission therefore becomes the reduction in the number of those accidents. A good beginning is to address the most easily avoidable accidents. In other words, let’s pick the low hanging fruit first.

A rather high percentage, and I would argue that it is the vast majority, of general aviation crashes result from a lack pilot proficiency in some area. So why don’t pilots maintain their proficiency at a higher level? After having several decades of working with aviation safety, I believe there are three primary reasons. First, human cognitive biases cause some pilots to believe that they are as proficient as they need to be and no additional work is needed. Second is available time to devote to maintaining proficiency. Third, but not least important, is money.

The first group, the illusory superiority group, is very difficult to reach for any safety recommendations. Though they are a significant part of the problem, they are not part of the low hanging fruit. The second and third groups are largely aware of the importance of maintaining proficiency but have time, money, or both as constraints. So, what if we could propose some ways to enhance pilot proficiency that do not consume large chunks of time and cost little or no money?

Allow me to introduce “Armchair Proficiency.” Though the concept is not new, a bit of formalization and a proper name can, hopefully put it into the mainstream. We now have a name, but before we begin the process of formalization, please allow me a bit of reminiscing.

I honestly cannot remember a time when I was not totally infatuated with airplanes and the idea of flying them. Probably around the age of six or maybe 7, I obtained an “airplane cockpit” by sending in a couple of cereal box tops and a quarter to some cereal maker. I set up the flimsy cardboard “cockpit” in my room. In front of it I placed a small chair and I liberated a croquet mallet from a set in the garage. The mallet was positioned on the floor and it became my control stick. I added imaginary rudder pedals and an imaginary throttle and I was ready to fly. I spent hours flying all sorts of maneuvers and going all over the world, virtually of course. Little by little I gained more knowledge of how an airplane was controlled. That information probably came from library books. I tried to practice the way I thought an airplane would be controlled. I think I continued to spend time in my imaginary cockpit well beyond what most people would consider to be age appropriate.

Fast forward to the age of 14 when I took my first official flying lesson in a Piper J3 Cub. I remember that flying the airplane was just as I had imagined it would be. At the end of the lesson, my instructor asked my parents how much flying I had done. He was very surprised to learn that this had been my first lesson. I firmly believe that my imaginary cockpit and my croquet mallet had helped me develop some flying skills.

I do not propose that pilots try to find an antique cardboard cockpit for sale on the internet nor that they sit in a chair with a croquet mallet. Being hauled off to a happy place by nice folks in white coats would be counterproductive. But I do believe in the benefits of mentally flying.

My vision of modern Armchair Flying involves a comfortable chair and plenty of imagination. It also involves having all the airplane’s checklists handy. It would not hurt to also have the Pilot’s Operating Handbook or Airplane Flight Manual handy. Make sure you can have at least a half hour without interruption and decide on some basic maneuvers to practice. It is fine to talk out loud to yourself. Run the appropriate checklists by moving imaginary switches or levers. Avoid just saying “flaps up.” Reach out and move an imaginary flap handle just as you would in the airplane. Do the same with the throttle, prop control, landing gear, fuel selectors, avionics, etc.

Take the time to do a few of these thirty-minute sessions each week. Be sure to practice maneuvers that are not frequently encountered such as a go-around or the engine out for multiengine airplanes. Each time you practice a maneuver, you are resetting it in your memory. Be creative in building scenarios that might be encountered. As questions arise, and they will, take notes. The learning can continue after the armchair session by researching what you discovered you do not know.

Give it a try. It's free!

I am not proposing this as an alternative to proficiency training in a simulator or an airplane. But, as a supplement, this method can provide substantial benefit to a pilot’s proficiency with little impact on time or financial resources.

broken image

Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the misfortune of others and perhaps avoid an accident. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or as a dumb mistake. But let's remember that the accident pilot did not get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go have an accident today." Nearly all pilots believe that they are safe. Honest introspection frequently reveals that on some occasion, we might have traveled down that same accident path.

Our theme this month is proficiency. This crash is the perfect example of the importance of maintaining our proficiency or recognizing that we are not proficient and declining the flight. It also clearly illustrates the difference between being legal and being safe.

The crash involved a Piper Comanche and occurred in California in January of 2016. The 69-year-old pilot had 1291 hours total flight time, including 133 hours in this make and model. He had logged to hours in the last 90 days and 1.2 hours in the last 30 days. He had a current Class 2 FAA Medical Certificate, a current flight review, and a current instrument proficiency check.

The NTSB accident report includes the following: "The commercial pilot and his wife departed on a visual flight rules cross-country flight to their home airport. About 46 nautical miles from the destination airport, the pilot requested an instrument flight rules clearance and was subsequently cleared for an instrument landing system (ILS) approach at the destination airport.
GPS data indicated that the airplane followed a straight course with minimal variation during its cruise
flight in a manner consistent with use of the autopilot. The airplane's course movements became more
erratic when the airplane neared the destination airport, which suggests that the pilot began to hand-fly
the airplane. A combination of radar data, GPS data, and air traffic control audio showed that the pilot
complied with the controller's instructions. After the pilot intercepted the glideslope, he maintained a
shallow descent rate until the final approach fix. The pilot subsequently crossed the final approach fix
1,000 ft above the intercept altitude on a heading track to the right of the localizer. The tower controller
reported multiple deviations over the radio to the pilot, but the pilot did not make appropriate corrections. Radar data showed the airplane enter progressively steeper descent rates after passing the final approach fix, and the airplane began to deviate to the left of the localizer. In the final moments of the flight, the airplane turned to the right about 50°, crossed the localizer, and then immediately began a
60° steep left turn at an approximate 1,200-fpm descent rate. Debris path signatures indicated the airplane was in a high-speed, steep left turn with a nose-down attitude when it impacted a field about 1.5
nautical miles south of the runway approach end. The proximity of the accident site to the final GPS data point and the similarity between the impact signatures and the track shown by the last few GPS data
points indicates that the last data points closely represent the airplane's final movements before impact."


Photo Source: NTSB

The NTSB report also contains the following regarding the pilot's proficiency: "Two months before the accident, the pilot completed an instrument proficiency check and made a night flight to fulfill the night currency requirement. Other than these two events, the pilot had no recent instrument or night flight experience. Further, the pilot's flight records did not show any evidence that he had completed a flight in night IMC in nearly 3 years. Given the pilot's lack of recent experience in night IMC, he was most likely overwhelmed by the complexity of hand-flying the airplane on an ILS approach in night IMC. Once the pilot crossed the final approach fix, he doubled his descent rate to correct for his high crossing altitude and then deviated from the localizer course line. The airplane's final movements suggest that the pilot likely lost control of the airplane during the large heading adjustment he made to correct his course and was not able to regain control."


Photo Source: NTSB

The NTSB Probable Cause Finding states: "The pilot's failure to maintain airplane control during an instrument approach in night instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in a collision with terrain. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's lack of recent experience in night instrument meteorological conditions."


Photo Source: NTSB

We can see that the pilot was legal to make this flight. He had completed an instrument proficiency check and he had fulfilled his regulatory requirement for night flight. But the pilot had not flown in night IMC conditions in nearly three years. He most likely became overwhelmed. In other words, the task requirements exceeded the pilot's capability. (For more on that, see a video on task load versus pilot capabilities, click here.)

We must remember that being legal and being safe are not the same. Our humanness works hard to convince us that we are competent and capable. Making sure that we are legal for a flight is commendable, but it also helps to fuel our confidence, sometimes falsely. We can fight the negative influence of our humanness by using a tool such as a personal minimums checklist or a flight risk assessment tool. For more on these, please visit the Safety Concepts Section of the website and scroll down to the "Decision Tools" article.

Click here to download the accident report from the NTSB website.

broken image

Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the misfortune of others and perhaps avoid an accident. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or as a dumb mistake. But let's remember that the accident pilot did not get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go have an accident today." Nearly all pilots believe that they are safe. Honest introspection frequently reveals that on some occasion, we might have traveled down that same accident path.

Still continuing this month's theme of proficiency, this crash further makes our case of how critical pilot proficiency is.

The crash involved a Mooney M20J and happened in New Jersey in 2016. The 188-hour private pilot and his passenger died in the crash. The NTSB accident report includes the following: "The private pilot rented the airplane for a personal flight, flew to another airport, and picked up the passenger. The pilot and the passenger then flew to the airport where the accident occurred. During the first landing attempt, the airplane appeared to be traveling too fast on the final approach. During the touchdown, the airplane bounced, and the pilot aborted the landing, climbed out, and joined the traffic pattern. During the second landing attempt, the airplane was again fast on the approach, and it touched down about halfway down the runway on the nose wheel, then touched down on the main landing gear, bounced, and became airborne. The airplane bounced twice more, then touched down about 400 to 500 ft before the end of the runway and stayed on the runway surface. As the airplane approached the end of the pavement, witnesses heard the engine power increase as the pilot aborted the landing, and the airplane began to climb. According to some witnesses, the engine was not producing full power. As it approached a row of trees off the end of the runway, the airplane appeared to climb steeply, cleared the row of trees, and then abruptly banked steeply to the left, pitched nose down, and descended in a steep, nose-down attitude to ground impact."


Photo Source: NTSB

Regarding proficiency, the NTSB report also includes the following: "Although the pilot had 36 hours of flight experience in the accident airplane make and model, his most recent flight in this make and model was 10 months before the accident. Further, his most recent flight before the accident flight was in an airplane of lesser performance equipped with fixed landing gear and a fixed pitch propeller, and was about 8 months before the accident. According to his logbook, he did not meet the Federal Aviation Administration recent experience requirements to act as a pilot in command of an airplane carrying passengers."


Photo Source: NTSB

The NTSB Probable Cause Finding states: "The pilot's improper landing touchdown attitude, which resulted in a propeller strike, and his inappropriate decision to abort the landing after the propeller had contacted the runway, which resulted in a loss of thrust and led to an aerodynamic stall during climb. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's lack of recent experience in the accident airplane make and model."

So again we see a lack of proficiency as a primary cause of a fatal accident. In this case, the pilot was neither legal nor safe. Maintaining our proficiency is important. But even more important is our ability to recognize when we might not be proficient and then either put in the effort to become proficient or to decline making the flight.

Click here to download the accident report from the NTSB website.

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Books by Gene Benson

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