What it takes to be one sharp pilot, part four: realistic

In this off-again on-again series I have touched on awareness, intelligence and coordination. Those are all important. Being realistic also sounds like part of a plan for flying. The first thing that comes to mind is the extremely tired old saw about knowing your (or your airplane’s) limitations. In fact, that has been said with evangelical zeal so many times that, with this mention, I am going to leave it behind.

Flying on edge – getting down to the nitty-gritty

Margins are a basic in safer flying. Maybe that’s just another way of saying to always cut yourself a little slack, and what it means is to stay away from the edges of the envelope. Where this often becomes critical is when the airplane is being asked to do something it either won’t do, or will just barely do. That is when precise flying is required and to use an old term, it often has to be done by the seat of your pants.

Mayday! What is an emergency?

If you read through the available information on emergencies, there is but one conclusion. Everything is covered, several times, in the millions of words written about this but much, even most, of it revolves around the legalities. Logic suggests that if you are up to your ears in gators, what counts are results and if you get a good result you can think about the legal part later.

Is pilot interest in weather waning?

I am convinced that screens full of information are not a key to operating an airplane safely. The most important picture of all is not on a screen, it has to be in the pilot’s mind. A mental picture of where you are, where you are going, and how you are going to get there simply can’t be replaced by a picture on a screen. Nor will a screen show the churning inside a cumulonimbus.

8-3-1981: the day the FAA disappeared

The recent discussion about the ill-advised privatization of the air traffic control system sent my thoughts twirling back to a day and time when the system actually came to a screeching halt and we had no system, public or private.

Deep dark weather secrets about fog are really no mystery

It’s not accurate to say that Mother Nature keeps secrets. However, it is spot on to say that Mother Nature harbors all manner of surprises for pilots who fly on without making an effort to develop some personal weather wisdom. One key is in understanding that what you see and feel is what you get, regardless of what is forecast.

The devil is in the deadly details

Careful pilots use checklists. One item on all checklists calls for the controls to be free. After studying two accidents, one in a new production twin on a first flight and one in an experimental jet, because the ailerons were reversed, I paid extra attention to controls free and correct. I looked at the ailerons when I deflected them, every time, and made sure they moved correctly.

BasicMed: a cruel hoax?

Was 05/01/2017 a day that changed the life of a lot of pilots or was it just another Monday down on the farm? The first attempt to do away with aeromedical certification for pilots started about 70 years ago and the beginning of BasicMed on 05/01 seems to be all the progress that was possible on this sticky subject over all these many years.

Turbulent flying lessons: windy tales

The potential for turbulence should be an integral part of pre- and in-flight weather study. And I found over the years that experience is the best teacher because with turbulence what you feel is what you get. If flying IFR in clouds, the fact that turbulence there makes many riders uneasy and uncomfortable has to be acknowledged, and even some pilots riding as passengers get antsy in bumpy clouds.

What’s wrong with piston twin pilots?

Back in the heyday of piston airplanes being used for personal and business travel, one question was most often asked of owners of high-performance singles: When are you going to step up to a twin? It was automatically assumed that everyone wanted to and all would when they could afford it. In the history of private aviation, though, new piston twins were not a big factor.

What about those spins?

The low altitude, low speed loss of control has always dominated and back in the good old days this was often dismissed with the comment: he ran out of airspeed and ideas at the same time and he spun in. Do pilots know enough about spins?

Was it really pilot error – or was it something else?

The oft-quoted statistic is that about 85-percent of the accidents in private aviation are caused by pilot error. I always had the nagging suspicion that what that really means is that in 15-percent of the accidents they can find cause with something other than the pilot so that just naturally means that the rest get blamed on the pilot instead of on some failure or fault in the training and regulatory system.

The complex art of finding the IFR Sweet Spot

There’s a big difference between finding the VFR and the IFR sweet spot on an arrival. Weather doesn’t play much of a role when it’s really VFR and it plays a humongous role when it is IFR. In fact, weather determines the location of the IFR sweet spot. Sweetest of all would be when the runway pops into view at minimums with the airplane speed and configuration in perfect order.

Arriving at the VFR sweet spot – without colliding or spinning in

To me, the sweet spot on a VFR approach is when 500 feet above the ground and descending toward the runway. Here, if the sight picture of the runway is correct and the configuration, speed and rate of descent are right on, the fun part, the landing, should be a piece of cake. The question is, how do you get to that sweet spot with the least possible risk?

They didn’t follow the magenta line in 1942

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that magenta lines are the only reason that airline flying is so much safer today than it was in the 1940s. Today’s airplanes are far superior in performance and reliability, and training and operational procedures are far better. However, in looking at the five DC-3 accidents during those war years, it is apparent that today’s high-tech stuff could have prevented most of them.

Crash history: Cessna 182 and Bonanza 36

In doing safety studies over the years I, a dedicated single-engine advocate, have always been encouraged by the almost complete lack of engine-failure related fatal accidents in singles. That appears to be changing, by at least a bit, and I fear that the trend will continue as the airplanes age and the price of overhaul or replacement goes up as the value of the airframe goes down.

Bob Hoover: the one and only

Many words will be written about the legendary Bob Hoover who died on October 25, 2016, at age 94. His flying exploits have made news over the years and his accomplishments and talents have been well celebrated with countless awards and accolades. I spent time with Bob off and on over the years and a couple of things really stood out that set him apart.

Famous last words… or thoughts

It wouldn’t take three guesses to come up with the one word most often heard on cockpit voice recorders before a crash. In private piston airplanes we don’t have recorders but that word likely wins hands down when a pilot realizes he has lost the battle. More important than that last word is the thought process that led to it. Some famous last thoughts have stood out over the years.

Seeing and flying: how good is good enough?

Despite the requirement for a medical, we have been self-certifying all along once leaving the AME’s office. Do I feel well enough to fly? You bet. Have at it. To me, vision was always the toughest question. How you feel is obvious, vision is not, and the slow deterioration in what you see as you age is as insidious as it is certain.