Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Wonder Now More Than Ever, How Prepared Some Pilots Are....

I wonder now, more than ever, how prepared some pilots are for what they are about to encounter, whatever that may be. A difficult instrument approach, landing in a crosswind or just starting up and taxiing are some examples. If you check the FAA accident sites as often as I do you, you will understand my concern. Another stimulus to these thoughts occurred to me when observing the irrational and totally dangerous things that pedestrians and drivers can do at times. I wonder whether that impatience or inconsideration has worked its way into the cockpit.

For example, while waiting to cross a street on foot in Charleston, SC, the blaring sounds of a fire truck horn and siren stopped us dead in our tracks. Watching anxiously for the truck, here came a stretch limo turning directly unto the road in front of the oncoming fire engine. Luckily the engine could get by the unfazed limo. Not only that, a pedestrian stepped off the curb without looking, almost getting hit by an ambulance racing close behind the fire truck. So what gives?

Are people too engrossed in their lives to pay attention to what’s out there? Is it that they just don’t want to follow or play by the rules? Or, more cynically do they just not give a damn? Now for the common man that’s one thing, but for a pilot to think like that, it becomes personal for me. OK, look at some of the reported accidents. Here are some examples seen on a daily basis. Planes land long ending up in the water, or land short and suffer major damage. How hard is it to remember to lower the gear and to check for three green (or maybe just one) light? Flying into weather conditions that one is not able to handle is another often fatal error. Starting the engine before having done a good pre-flight and forgetting to pull the chocks or check the gas caps are more examples.

In my last article I reviewed some flights into heavy IFR resulting in fatal crashes. These were flown by very experienced pilots. Maybe experience isn’t always the best teacher after all. Just maybe it leads to complacency and the attitude “it can’t happen to me”. Oh yes it can and will if you don’t play by the rules. It requires discipline among other things such as knowledge, to safely fly an airplane. Not only to follow certain rules, but to understand basic aeronautical physics, as well as to have an understanding of the correct parameters such as airspeeds for all the flight configurations one might encounter. Such as: stall speeds at different bank angles, proper climb speeds and approach speeds under various flap/gear configurations. Wow, there is just a lot to know isn’t there?

I think back to my earliest flying days and realize just how much I didn’t know. But then I wasn’t flying complex airplanes in complex environments in rotten weather. Flying the J-3 Cub out of a small airport was a way for me to learn basic flying skills without the encumbrance of radios, sophisticated navigation or even an electrical system. I just had to FLY the airplane. If it was uncoordinated flight a little string would dangle off kilter below the compass. The needle and ball wouldn’t be centered. If instead I had taken my training in a complex airplane, maybe I would have let the autopilot do most of the work. If more pilots had more basic flight training, then perhaps they would know how to crab into a cross wind when needed on landing. Or, they might just pay more attention to correct approach speeds, as for example for a short field landing over an obstacle such as trees. Several landing accidents in high performance Cirrus type aircraft would attest to that.

So, as more distractions present to those in the cockpit, it will take more effort to just fly the airplane. The gadgets are great at times, but really do nothing for the thrill of flying. Also, try to leave some of the anxieties of modern life behind on the runway, you might just enjoy the flight that much more.