As the blizzard of 2016 was raging on January 23rd I looked at the video of stranded motorists, stuck cars, cars in ditches, and traffic snarls and wondered what in the world possessed those people to make them try to go somewhere. Then I scratched my head and remembered what possessed me when I used to challenge snowstorms in little airplanes. I was big on running the traps as scheduled and a blizzard was no excuse for not being there.
It is my opinion that the debate over basic airmanship v. high-tech has become confused. Advances in information technology have done wonders for all forms of aviation and should be embraced by all. I think the jury is still out on some forms of automation though autopilots have gotten a lot better. They can still be deadly in the hands of a pilot who doesn’t fully understand the system.
Loss of control has been the number one cause of fatal private aviation accidents since the beginning of flying time. The phenomenon is actually one of the things that prompted my father to start Air Facts in 1938 and we have been talking about it here since that beginning. Rather than rehash all the information that has been cranked out by the government and the associations, let’s just have a discussion of the problem and how to avoid it.
In the latest installment in Richard Collins’s fascinating Logbooks series, he takes us back to some of his most memorable military flying adventures. All those flights, from the T-33 to landings on an aircraft carrier, lead Collins to one conclusion: “Tell me I didn’t have the best job in the world.”
In a recent post I bemoaned the fact that the fatal accident rate for private flying had gone up to 1.40 per 100,000 hours after remaining level in the 1.20 range for almost 20 years. Guess what it was when Air Facts started in 1938? Would you believe 16.6, or, a fatal accident about every 6,000 hours.
The airlines have been able to parlay advances in technology and training to their near-perfect safety record. We have available every bit (and possibly more) in the way of high-tech stuff and yet the safety record doesn’t improve and has now apparently gotten worse. There is no question that something is badly out of place.
It has long been standard to use the term “pilot error,” as in 86-percent of fatal GA accidents are caused by pilot error. But that it were so simple. To me it really starts with a pilot fumble. The ball is dropped, but the option is still there to recover. The error comes when the pilot fails to recover.
The fatal accident rate has been pretty stable in recent years at just over one per 100,000 flying hours. Nobody will argue that this rate is acceptable. It is not, it is terrible, but it is what we get from our pilot population and the only way to change it would be to alter the behavior of pilots and that’s not going to happen.
You can’t say “been there, done that” until you have actually been there and done that. Then you should be able to add “and learned that.” The alternative is for someone else to check the “Gotcha” box for you.
I know that there are purists who will sanctimoniously say that there is no excuse for ever flying without options or an “out.” Realistically that is not possible if we use our airplanes to fly where we want to fly when we want to fly.
Inevitably, the tragedy of the airline pilot killing himself, the rest of the crew, and the passengers, prompted articles in the general media about suicides using private aircraft. There is actually no similarity because one is a murder/suicide, which usually has a motive, and the other is a matter of a person taking his own life. Still, the question was raised and to be honest I wasn’t too sure I wanted to explore this dark subject.
In this important new article, Richard Collins sums up over 50 years of aviation safety writing with three key concepts – “the things that a pilot really needs to know to stay alive.” It turns out safe flying has a lot more to do with mindset than fancy maneuvers.
I never knew what people really meant when they talked about flying “hard” IFR. The implication is that there is also “easy” IFR but nobody seemed to know the exact difference between the two. The most logical thing we can do is examine things we can do to keep instrument flying from becoming “hard” IFR.
Before you accuse me of throwing gasoline on a fire, I’ll say up front that is exactly what I am doing. The airplane, it seems, has become almost secondary. It is this that has sparked the debate. Is the tail wagging the dog?
Of all the constraints that have been put on general aviation over the years, the most hurtful (to me, at least) is the virtual ban on the light airplane use of Washington National Airport. In my active years, I used it a lot and being able to touch down so close to the center of power was something special. The airport is something special, too.
When contemplating a smoking hole made by an airplane, “That was a dumb mistake” is a frequent pronouncement. I think that is misleading because I am not aware of any smart mistakes, especially in airplanes. It just takes a relatively high level of native (as opposed to educated on things other than flying) intelligence to perform well as a pilot.
Here is a list of the things that I think define a sharp pilot. This is based on well over 50 years of studying general aviation accidents, the theory being that sharp pilots don’t crash. I put “aware” first.
A Phenom 100 light jet, flown single-pilot by its owner, a physician and businessman, crashed into three houses when on final approach to runway 14 at Montgomery County Airpark. That this is a PR disaster for general aviation and for that airport is an understatement. It would be hard to think of anything more tragic.
Having a photo mission go as planned and result in a formation flight with another airplane (or two or three) as the sun rose or set put the participants in a place of serene beauty and it was rewarding to share that with our readers and viewers. It was a thought that I often had, but on some of those flights I knew I had the best job in the world.
In our latest trip through the Air Facts archives, we discovered this gem from the April 1965 issue. Here, a young Richard Collins considers the advantages and disadvantages of traveling on the airlines versus flying oneself by light airplane. Is it really worth it to fly instead of ride? Nearly 50 years later, many pilots are still asking the question–Collins answers it definitively.