Stabilized approach
12 min read

The FAA’s hand in this

When we start considering myths, the exercise becomes something like taking a sheet of that bubble wrap stuff and popping the bubbles one at a time. Because I just completed my CFR revalidation, I’ll use some subjects from that source. I have written about aviation myths before but doing it in relation to an FAA-approved course is, well, fun.

Two items of business first.

One, why renew a CFI if you are 82 and haven’t flown in seven years? I am just trying to stay at least a bit current and, also, cashing out with a current CFI might be a bit like the cowboys of old doing it with their boots on.

Two, the online courses are mostly good and the content is mandated and approved by the FAA. In other words, big brother speaketh to all pilots through the CFIs of the land and these might be considered as standardization courses to make sure all are on the same page. In the current CFI revalidation courses the FAA seems to be debunking some myths while perpetuating others.

The Big Lie

Fatal accident rate

The GA accident rate has been flat for over a decade.

Those are the words used when referring to the old myth about the drive to the airport being the most dangerous part of the journey. That is a myth that has been around for a long time and I think it is good that the FAA is telling CFIs to dispel that myth.

The current discussion of safety is the most realistic one I have seen in a CFI course (I use Gleim) and points out that the accident rate has been stable since 1999 even though the FAA’s goal was to reduce that rate by 10-percent from 2009 to 2018. The new technology available to pilots and controllers is noted as not resulting in any safety improvement.

The material points out that from 1939 to 1969 the fatal accident rate dropped by 76-percent and from 1969 to 1999 it dropped by 55-percent. They offer no opinion on why it hasn’t improved since 1999 but the suggestion that CFIs need to work on this is pretty clear. Private flying is simply much more hazardous than driving as well as being more hazardous than it should be.

Talking About Accidents Is Bad

That is a popular thought among some pilots, but the CFI course points out that accident analysis is an important but often overlooked CFI task. The word seems to be that the accidents are what hurt aviation and that once they occur, pilots need to learn from the mistakes that others make. So, to those who just don’t want to hear about accidents or safety, the FAA seems to be joining many of us in telling pilots to get their head out of the sand and face the realities of flying. If you don’t do it correctly and carefully, it’ll kill you quickly. That isn’t a secret that can be kept from the public.

A Dangerous Driver Is A Dangerous Pilot

I don’t think this is true especially if a lousy driver is considered dangerous. The dynamics of driving and flying are entirely different, they are not done in the same context, and I don’t think facts could be offered to substantiate this myth. It has been my experience that some pretty bad drivers make excellent pilots.

One pilot/driver that I know learned to fly first. That went smoothly. Then he learned to drive and proceeded to leave behind a trail of thoroughly wrecked automobiles. The art of seeing and avoiding other traffic in a car and in an airplane bear little similarity. He never had any trouble in airplanes.

I’ll tell you another story that relates to this.

After my father sold AIR FACTS in 1973, he worked a while for Piper. One of the things he did was demonstrate airplanes at gatherings like the Flying Physicians Association had annually.

He had spent all day demonstrating a new Seneca to doctor pilots. At the end of the day, he offered old friend Ralph Hood a ride to the hotel. Ralph accepted.

Ralph told me that his father was about the same age (71) and where my father was out there demonstrating an airplane all day, his father couldn’t even drive. He then added that after a couple of minutes he realized that my father couldn’t drive either. It’s just a different discipline.

Stabilized Approaches Are Holy

Stabilized approach

Is this really the right answer for every airplane?

I agree that the approach has to be properly stabilized as the airplane crosses the runway threshold but I don’t think that, in a light airplane, it needs to be stabilized on a long final.

A pilot needs to learn the deceleration characteristics of the airplane and once that is done it’s easy to fly an approach that starts at a higher airspeed than is needed at the threshold. I’ve done this in a C-5 simulator and a Gulfstream III as well as in all the light airplanes that I have flown. I don’t recall why they flew a decelerating approach in the C-5, but in the G-III it was a noise abatement procedure.

Face it, if every Skyhawk pilot flew long finals stabilized at 70 knots, that would sure clog up the airport. Keeping the speed up on final is something that every pilot should learn to do.

Boeing 757 Wake Turbulence Is Really Mean

Some years ago there were two wake turbulence accidents involving a loss of control of a private aircraft following a Boeing 757. They are still talking about this in the CFI course.

The accidents rang alarm bells because the 757 was not considered a heavy aircraft with correspondingly higher in-trail requirements for other traffic. The FAA fixed this by requiring more spacing behind 757s but many of us felt like the emphasis on the 757 might tend to make pilots worry less about jets like the 737, of which there a lot more out there spreading wakes that are strong enough to upset light airplanes.

It almost seems like the question is academic because there has been less emphasis on this in recent times and this has not resulted in any appreciable number of wake turbulence accidents. Maybe that is because where we used to often visit big and busy airports, private aviation has all but disappeared at most. There are too many better options and the convenience of delivering passengers to airlines in your private airplane has gone from convenient to bordering on impossible. (We used to actually have a dedicated gate for private airplanes at Newark and Dulles, among others.)

There has, however, long been a myth about wake turbulence in the FAA-approved CFI renewal courses. I pointed this out years ago and it is still there.

A quote from the Gleim course: “Emphasize that the greatest vortex strength therefore occurs when the generating aircraft is HEAVY, CLEAN and SLOW, etc., especially during takeoff.”

If ever you see a heavy jet taking off in a clean configuration, do give me a call.

You Must Learn Gimmick Checklists

PAVE checklist

Why so many mnemonics?

There is the DECIDE model with six elements to use in the decision making process. The IMSAFE checklist is for your personal minimums. The PAVE checklist is for use when you are trying to perceive risks, especially in relation to weather. There are others and in every case the letters in the name of the checklist signal something to do or check.

If you wondered about the V in PAVE, it stands for enVironment. Of course.

I have always been a great believer in the use of checklists, but the way they suggest teaching this in the CFI courses is a bit much. The checklists we use on the ground are one thing, the ones we use in flight are another. To me, when something comes up while airborne, the only checklist you need is one that goes, What happened and what do I do about it. That is a natural reaction and serves the purpose quite well.

In an emergency, trying to remember what a bunch of letters stands for is a little like playing the fiddle as the fire rages.

Safety Is Available For Purchase

Here the FAA contradicts itself. On the one hand, it points out that over a recent 10-year period there have been great technology advances yet the safety record has not improved. On the other hand it suggests that buying angle-of-attack instrumentation could be good for your health.

This is something that we have been discussing for a while now and most everything that can be said has been said in AIR FACTS posts and comments as well as elsewhere.

There is always a little more gasoline to throw on the fire, though.

My first thought is that some see technology as trying to dumb-down the art of flying. It is quite true that pilots who rely too much on technology have done some incredibly dumb things in airplanes with all the latest and greatest equipment. That, though, is because they accept the equipment as something that it is not. Pilot-in-command refers only to living, breathing humans.

Make no mistake about there ever being true crewless airplanes, either. If ever an airliner flies with no pilots on board, there will be someone on the ground sitting in front of a big screen with the ability to operate the airplane. This is being proven constantly by our military while using drones for bad-guy suppression.

The question of buying safety has been around for a long time. I remember when the light twin came on the scene in the 1950s a lot of pilots flew one and said they would never fly a single again. To them the twin was magic and it was — until one engine failed and it turned into a totally demanding, unforgiving, altogether nasty airplane to fly.

Whether a pilot is buying a second engine or a panel full of finery, if it is used with the thought that you can do something in or with it that shouldn’t be done without it, trouble lurks.

Hi tech is wonderful but it is an aid, not a solution.

We Are From The FAA And We Are Here To Help You

That has certainly been a myth for a lot of years but it was not always so. It was most true when the FAA was still the CAA for a decade and a bit after World War Two.

At the airport where I started working in the early 1950s, we had an approved flight school. That was a requirement to provide government-funded flight training under the Korean War GI-Bill.

FAA mission statement

It does feel that way sometimes…

We had no shop or mechanic. The maintenance inspector at the CAA office that oversaw our flight school approval knew this and went out of his way to help keep us out of trouble and in business. His name was Quay Lyle and I remember him patiently explaining to an 18-year old kid how much work I could do on such things as a ring job on a 65 horse Continental and a recover job on a J-3 Cub. Basically he enabled us to maintain our own airplanes with only an occasional visit from an A&E (now A&P) mechanic to sign things off.

Some years after that, after it had become the FAA, they realized that they had lost the friendly touch and to try to regain it they started a dedicated program to get out in the field and help folks. They even bought white cowboy hats for the participating inspectors to wear.

That went by the wayside and today the FAA is, in many areas, a self-absorbed bureaucracy that is expanding to serve a dwindling number of users. The only exception is found in the operation of the air traffic control system where the job being done is both helpful and excellent. Of course that is what the politicians want to privatize. To twist the old saying, they seem to believe that if it ain’t broke, break it.

Learning To Fly Is Easy, Or, Is It Hard?

Learning to fly is wonderful, challenging, rewarding and demanding. I don’t think of it as being easy or hard.

Learning to fly is also unlike learning to do anything else. That is one of the reasons that I pick on the emphasis on the fundamentals of teaching and learning in the CFI revalidation courses. I don’t think that much of what makes a really good pilot can actually be taught. The attributes include the ability to think quickly without making mistakes, to understand the risks, to do the all-important stick and rudder part naturally and with feel and a gentle touch. Add to that an ability to grasp the big picture and where exactly the airplane is fitting into that big picture and you start to get a framework on which to build yourself into a truly good pilot. Sure, a CFI can be a big help along the way but there are a lot of times when he has to be content to protect the airplane while the student works it out for himself.

If that sounds far-fetched, consider that before intercoms there was little in-flight communication between the instructor and student. An old joke from the biplane days was about the brand-new instructor who confused the gosport tube with the relief tube. The latter worked better than the former but they did have entirely different purposes.

Today’s wonderful intercoms make communication effortless. The only time for normal conversation in those old airplanes was while gliding at idle power. When shouting over the clatter of a mighty 65-horse Continental, there is strong incentive to be a man of few words.

Despite this, a lot of really good pilots came out of those Cubs and Aeroncas.

My renewed CFI is good until 2/28/2018.

Richard Collins
41 replies
  1. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    I love your analogy of the cowboys going out with their boots on.

    The part about “talking about accidents is bad” misses a bit though. I don’t think that there are any pilots which consider accident analysis as useless or bad. There are some though (alright, at least me) that don’t believe the constant bombardment and presentation in the popular aviation media are doing much good for the accident rate and certainly not for interesting new participants. In the last AOPA magazine, I counted 5 articles on accident analysis or safety. How is all this working for the accident rate and gaining new participants?

  2. G. Stuart Mendenhall
    G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

    One of the reasons that I am a big fan of the writings of Mr. Collins is that he does not simply regurgitate “facts” but thinks about the issue. Particularly the “stabilized approach” requirement for GA has me baffled and I completely agree with him here. For a transport aircraft, or a low-drag jet, stabilized approaches are key.

    However, one should be easily able to do a “short approach”, maintain cruise speed until final, or a variety of other styles to land a dirty single-engine aircraft like a skyhawk. In fact, I would argue that is a skill very much worth having, particularly if you plan on going into short fields or airports with different obstructions. Typical general aviation aircraft dissipate energy quickly and will slow down easily with large flaps, and can add a slip if needed. As Mr. Collins indicates, the aircraft needs to always be in control, but does not need to be “stabilized” until quite near to the ground.

    • Duane
      Duane says:

      Light aircraft are quite capable of slowing down quickly, but lots of pilots are not. Plus high airspeeds are not compatible with the standardized rectangular traffic landing pattern.

      Making the necessary 90 degree pattern turns at reasonable bank angles at “full cruising speed” isn’t feasible for most aircraft. While noting that cruising airspeeds can vary anywhere from 65 knots for a Piper J-3 Cub to the 250 knot “speed limit” down low for turbine aircraft, most of us cruise in a range of 90-140 knots. Maintaining at or near cruising speeds to short final for most aircraft is only feasible for straight in approaches … which such straight in visual approaches, unless cleared by a tower controller, are highly controversial in their own right.

      We should also not ignore the fact that non-professional private pilots who often times fly only a few dozens of hours per year are often not skillful enough to fly an unstabilized high speed approach through short final and then, with absolute certainty, at the last instant suddenly stabilize their aircraft for a safe landing without misjudging the flare or carrying so much excess airspeed that they float their way merrily down past the opposite end of the runway. Even if their aircraft are perfectly capable of being flown in such a manner..

      Reasonably stabilized landing approaches enable non-professional pilots of varying skills to detect sooner rather than later that their approach is likely to have a good outcome, or is not and therefore needs to be changed or abandoned. Energetically varying aircraft configurations and airspeeds at the last possible moment, besides causing havoc in the light aircraft traffic pattern, is certainly going to cause more landing accidents by marginal pilots. As if we don’t have enough already (according to Nall, about 42% of all non-commercial fixed wing accidents take place during landings).

      • Nate
        Nate says:

        “…about 42% of all non-commercial fixed wing accidents take place during landings).”

        Take away gear-ups and what do you have? Be careful using statistics; they do not always tell you what you might think at first.

    • Dave Sandidge
      Dave Sandidge says:

      Here, here… I quite agree. I’ve seen too many guys dragging single-engine Cessnas in from two or three miles out with power on and flaps down. An engine failure in that scenario would mean landing somewhere off the airport, and that would be embarrassing for sure. In a single-engine airplane (light aircraft like Cessnas and Pipers, etc, etc), once you reach the pattern altitude (or close to it), you should be able to make the runway with the power at idle from anyplace in the pattern – even in a Cessna 207. Twin-engine airplanes are completely different in operation – they require more stability in airspeeds and rates of descent.

  3. Richard Collins
    Richard Collins says:

    Thanks for the comment. Do note that slips are not proper with full flaps in some airplanes.

  4. Edd W
    Edd W says:

    “does not need to be “stabilized” until quite near to the ground.”

    Well, yes and no. I’ve operated a Cessna 340 from a private airpark in AZ (AZ82) since 2006. The runway is 3,500 feet at 6,650 ASL. You can be assured my approach is well stabilized from about a mile out. The goal is to put the plane on the numbers at the correct speed. I want a good stable approach with the TDZ steady in the windshield. I want a stable, but gradually slowing airspeed, no ‘hunting or chasing’ it. I want to carry a bit of thrust which, when chopped, plants the gear firmly. The wife has learned there are no ‘greasers’ expected. Done right, I can turn off at mid-field with only mild braking but usually let it roll out to the end patting myself on the back, “Ahh, we’re home again”.

  5. Gogona
    Gogona says:

    Yep! I have a friend, who is experienced CFI, but she rides a bycicle or take the public transportation to get to the flight school. Cause she doesn’t even have a drivers licence… ooops!

  6. John Sheehan
    John Sheehan says:

    Richard, good words, as always. Regarding GA accidents I believe that many are caused by pilots thinking they can get away with something stupid “just this one time.” They likely know better, the smarter ones having calculated the odds of taking a short cut or leaving the checklist in its pocket. But, just this once we’ll ignore a proven procedure or standard…. This is a significant problem in commercial and business aviation with some three-quarters of all accidents involving some form of — new buzz phrase alert — procedural non-compliance. Much of this is avoided by having two pilots up front, one being designated to forcefully note the omissions of the other. But, stuff still happens. Perhaps the real problem with GA is that there is always only one pilot, who may have a lazy conscience with regard to procedural purity. Maybe a trained companion to ride shotgun, spring-loaded to the nag position?

  7. Jim Conn
    Jim Conn says:

    Now let’s see – if P is for Plane, then isn’t A for Airplane? And as Dick Collins points out V must logically stand for enVironment, then E just has to be Environment. Now what am I missing – other than the ludicracy of a well intentioned but poorly conceived mnemonic? I’m filled with awe and wonderment regarding the the process that FAA must use to develop forgettable mnemonics.

  8. Dan
    Dan says:

    Mr. Collins,

    I started flying in 1968 and have been reading your work for most of that time. I think the vast majority of your articles are correct as to insight into safety. I guess that means we are both smart! I have about 23,000 hours in GA, USAF and 31 years at a major carrier. After retiring I crop dusted for 5 years. All that and $5 might get a small coffee. I’ve observed a lot of pilots in that time from horrible to excellent. No one group, i.e. Civilian, Navy, AF etc can claim excellence or inept as a whole. One area in all pilots that may cause problems is most pilots are not as good as they think they are, particularly when it comes to being able to make the plane do exactly what it should be doing. Me included. One hint: crop dusting will improve your stick/rudder skills. If not you won’t be doing it long.

  9. Bob
    Bob says:

    One thing I’ve learned after 48 years of flying is that pilots tend to over rate their skill as the reason for the outcome and tend to under rate luck…..

    • Jim P
      Jim P says:

      You’re absolutely right, Bob. Here’s an interesting exercise for a meeting with your local pilot’s group: Sit down with a group of pilots who know each other, and pass out paper and pen/pencils. Ask the group to rank order the pilots in the room from #1 (being the best pilot in the room) to #”last” (the worst pilot in the room).

      [But whatever you do, do NOT collect those papers, or allow anyone to see anyone else’s list!] Then when everyone is done rating the group, ask everyone to raise their hand if they rated themselves in the top 3. Every time I’ve tried this, pretty much every hand was raised…

      Obviously, in a group of 10 pilots, 5 of them are in the “bottom half”, and someone in that group has to be the worst pilot in the room. Ask them to consider the fact that since we’ve just seen that pilots are incapable of accurate self-evaluation, any one of them just MIGHT be the worst pilot in the room. Then ask, what might you do differently if you positively knew that YOU were in the bottom tier?

      I did this with my Army unit once, and it was a real eye-opener for the team. The discussions that followed were excellent.

  10. Michael Gibbs
    Michael Gibbs says:

    It’s notoriously difficult to reasonably compare flight safety with driving safety due, in part, to the large variance in performance. Are we comparing hours spent in the activity or miles covered? Do we consider urban versus rural environments? Do we exclude extenuating circumstances like alcohol? I don’t have figures before me but I suspect that driving safety has been plateaued for some years, too. Nothing in this article compares the two in a meaningful way.

    I suspect the notion that a poor driver is a poor pilot is more about attitude than anything else. If your mental approach to anything you do is haphazard and disorganized, you won’t do any of them well. The plural of “anecdotes” is not “evidence.”

    Other than my nitpicking, great article, as usual, Mr. Collins!

    • Jim Macklin ATP CFII
      Jim Macklin ATP CFII says:

      The attitude of the safe driver and the safe pilot are the same. The safe driver has probably driven for years without a speeding ticket, a bumped fender. The good driver looks at the tires for condition, the lights for operation.
      The good pilot does the same things and checks weather, logbooks and alternatives.
      The habits do have cross-overs, pilots look for conflicting traffic and drivers look for cops and reckless drivers.
      Alcohol doesn’t mix with airplanes or cars, except in the gas tank or deice tank.

  11. Tembek
    Tembek says:

    Good article as always. Luckily I learned to fly in the early 80s, and had an instructor who was in his early 70s. Then I relearned to fly in the early 10s from an instructor in her early 70s. Both taught students how to control the airplane at will – to purposely move it from one point and one set of conditions to another point and specific set of conditions appropriate for whatever was coming next. We didn’t have a stabilized approach. We were taught where and under what set of conditions the plane needed to be in shortly before touchdown and how to confidently get it to that point from any altitude, airspeed, or position.

    A stabilized approach is a great early teaching aid, but should not be the target skill. Any pilot should know how to get his or her plane to the correct airspeed, configuration, and position at flare – from any reasonable starting point. Not easy when learning, but this should always be the goal.

  12. Jim Macklin ATP CFII
    Jim Macklin ATP CFII says:

    I renewed my CFI mid-October 2015 with the AOPA FIRC here in Wichita. Expiration is 1/31/2018. For several reasons I have not flown in two decades, but hope to win the lottery so I can buy an airplane and provide instruction for licensed pilots who do not know how to land with a crosswind or in zero wind.
    A modern Cub with a classic round gauge panel sounds like a good trainer. I might buy a Cubcrafters Carbon Cub SS with the 180 HP 340 CI engine and the Garmin G3X panel and amphi floats for personal fun.
    But I do wish these new Cubs allowed spins since spins speed up attitude awareness.
    The problem I see with flight training is that many CFIs don’t know how to describe what they want the student to see and how to see it. An F105 Wild Weasel pilot taught me a trick. Use a grease pencil to draw on the windshield reference crosshairs so you know where to look and what to see. He also wrote his ATC clearance on the side window.
    I have seen many pilots fly well down to the flare, then they become a passenger, waiting for ground impact. Flying along the runway at about 2 feet for 1 or 2 thousand feet, at just above stall speed, practicing alignment, drift control and visual control is better practice than 100 touch and goes.
    Check lists are great, but the check list is not always best. When Captain Scully landed in the Hudson River closing the cabin vents was last thing on the check list. The check list was written for the emergency that begins above 10,000 feet. Sometimes you need to know when not to follow the check list sequence.
    I wish I still had all my pocket sized AIR FACTS magazines, to bad the USPS decided odd sized magazines had to go away. I wish I could have kept all the magazines, still have a few.

    • Michael
      Michael says:

      You are not the only one who wishes for the old issues. I started reading Air Facts in 1963 and learned to fly in 1966. Does anyone know of a library anywhere that might have a full set of archives?

  13. Andreas Eissler
    Andreas Eissler says:

    A good, of course not exhaustive, but basic list and explanations. I do agree to most of Your points of those to which I am able to contribute from my own experience. Just one myth, “A Dangerous Driver Is A Dangerous Pilot” is more than a mere myth in my eyes.
    A “lousy driver” in means of lack of sensibility in conducting a machine surely won’t be the best of all pilots: Right, the dynamics are entirely different, but that is because driving a car properly in 2 (i.e. 3) dimensions by far doesn’t require comparable technical skills and situational awareness to flying an aircraft in 3 (i.e. 4) dimensions and without traction but in a flux environment.
    The other kind of “lousy drivers” worries me even more: Not technical skill is their problem, but their attitute. Someone who doens’t care too much about rules in other environments such as on the highway won’t be a paradigm of dedication to aviation rules either, both of legal and of technical or physical nature.
    The latter might be the lot which appears as good pilots despite as bad drivers, since they tend to impress others by bending their personal limitations (which are not necessarily known to others) – until the inevitable happens. I have met that kind of people among pilots as well as mechanics. They all have in common that they ignore any rule which actually they simply aren’t able to understand: Just because they aren’t able to fully comprehend the reasons behind a rule, they act superior towards them, pretending or even really believing that they’d know better why some rules are “not important” or even “unnecessary”. This is the true reason behind many accidents occuring due to lack of fuel, aircraft out of balance or even technical i.e. maintenance faults, and many, many others.

  14. Barry
    Barry says:

    Hello, Mr. Collins!

    As a student pilot, I have discovered a critical aspect of “aeronautical decision making” is determining which components of aeronautical dogma are true, useful, and practical. Thank you for separating the signal from the noise once again.

    I commend you for renewing your CFI!

  15. Dave Sandidge
    Dave Sandidge says:

    I most wholeheartedly agree about the need for flexibility on that term “stabilized approach.” A stabilized approach doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re flying a constant airspeed all the way through to the threshold. As a testimonial to that declaration, try arriving into the Phoenix Class B airspace at 6:00 p.m. any day of the week with the intention of landing on runway 25L after flying a stabilized approach at seventy knots in your Skyhawk. You’ll learn really quick that stabilized can also mean holding a constant altitude in your many 360 degree turns and holding patterns. No, the approach controller will no doubt insist that you maintain your maximum forward speed until you’re on a short final. – which means you’ll have to hold a stabilized altitude while you’re slowing all the way down the runway before touching down. Aviation is a dynamic venture; our thinking should be also. One size does not fit all…

  16. Brad s.
    Brad s. says:

    Mr. Collins. I have to disagree with you. A bad driver, in my opinion is the one you see weaving in and out of traffic at a high speed, cutting in front of another car with barely enough room and generally taking a lot of chances. Maybe they are skillful drivers, but not safe drivers. I find it hard to believe that when they get to the airport and hop into their planes they are going to transform into a safe pilot. That’s just my opinion, but I hope I don’t run into any of those safe drivers in the traffic pattern.

  17. Mark
    Mark says:

    The driving versus flying analogy is interesting. I drive (and have driven) thousands of miles per year and think of myself as an OK – not particularly good – just average – driver. I’ve got about 1300 hours of flying and consider myself a much better pilot than car driver. What’s interesting is as I fly more I can sense the additional experience contributing to improved flying skill and judgement. However, the more I drive the less good at it I sense myself becoming. I wonder if this has something to do with aging and the unique skills required to do each (i.e., fly and drive). Whatever it is, I think it supprts the notion that although driving and flying seem somewhat alike (i.e., they take you places) they really are quite different.

  18. 65 Mooney Driver
    65 Mooney Driver says:

    Richard wrote “Private flying is simply much more hazardous than driving as well as being more hazardous than it should be.” I don’t know if this is sarcasm or are you staying this as a fact? How can flying be more dangerous than driving, fatal car accident statistics vs. airplanes over a year? Maybe I am not understanding the article and maybe each topic is the myth, meaning I have this wrong? Somebody clarify this for me…

    • Richard Collins
      Richard Collins says:

      Dear Mooney Driver: That is a fact. There are may different ways to calculate safety records and in the most favorable for private aviation, it comes out as seven times more hazardous than driving.

    • G. Stuart Mendenhall
      G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

      Mr. Collins is right – you may be confusing airline service versus GA flights. Commercial airline service is remarkably safe and on both a per-mile and per-time basis, safer transport than driving. Private aircraft are consistently, by all metrics, more dangerous than driving, typically by an order of magnitude (but still relatively safe in the large scheme of risk).

    • Charles Gunter
      Charles Gunter says:

      When Richard Collins quit Flying Magazine, I quit reading it. Through his columns Collins has contributed more to flying safety than any writer I can think of. I feel personally in debt to him for the discipline and wisdom he taught me early on in my aviation career which concluded in the left seat of a 747. Richard Collins is an aviation legend and deserves to be appreciated and recognized as such.

      • Dave Sandidge
        Dave Sandidge says:

        Charles, I quite agree. Let’s give credit where credit is due. We all learned a lot from Mr. Collins through the years. He’s one of the ‘old-timers’ we revered in our early stages.

  19. Bill Smith
    Bill Smith says:

    In the early 70’s the weather was severe IFR I was in our 182 in the clouds and rain on Memphis center going to ASG. There was only one other plane on Memphis center in that area it was a Cardinal with a call sign that ended RC going to LIT. Mr. Collins has ben there and done that. I did’t have an auto pilot and doubt if the cardinal had one. There were not many in that day. Point is all the fancy equipment you can find can’t fly the plane without some one to program it. We need to be able to fly the plane with out all the fancy equipment. Bill Smith

    • Jim Macklin ATP CFII
      Jim Macklin ATP CFII says:

      Back in the 1980s Beech built the King Air 300, basically an up graded King Air 200 with a much higher gross weight. Maximum take-off weight was 14,000 pounds and a Type rating is required. This was also about the time avionics were transitioning from mechanical to electronic displays.
      The Cessna Citation could be flown single-pilot IF the pilot had passed a single-pilot check-ride. On that ride the pilot had to demonstrate use of the autopilot.
      The 300 King Air required two pilots, but could be flown single-pilot. But the FAA Inspectors would not allow the pilot to use the autopilot. The entire flight was done manually flying. Tasks the FAA required included loading waypoints into the FMS, all the emergency procedures, a single-engine ILS with not more than a 1/2 dot deviation.
      About half the professional pilots failed their test and required a second flight. One problem with this was because the FAA Inspectors did not realize that when tuned to an ILS, the CDI sensitivity increased four times. Many of the failures were FAA failures.
      I’m proud to say that I PASSED on my first ride.

  20. John Emerson
    John Emerson says:

    I just loved your point about gimmic checklists.

    I have always had the unholy belief that these things are worthless.

    I suppose they started as a way to generate thought- good thing- and now they are holy scripture, to be revered and worshipped.

    I like flows and other things that get the pilot’s head UP UP UP. That I how you avoid accidents.

    Nice article.

  21. Chris Papageorgiou
    Chris Papageorgiou says:

    ” HEAVY, CLEAN and SLOW”
    AC 90-23G – Aircraft Wake Turbulence,states:
    -The greatest vortex strength occurs when the generating aircraft is heavy-slow-clean since the turbulence from a “dirty aircraft configuration hastens wake decay-
    In an effort to lessen the volume of the text and still deliver the mandatory information, Gleim created a confusion by adding T/O configuration.

  22. Jeff Mohler
    Jeff Mohler says:

    I think one of the biggest issues, is that the number of dangerous, crap, and outright _bad_ CFIs out there is out of control, has been, and nobody cares.

    They pass a test in front of what is supposed to be a good FAA rep once, and then phone it in every year or two to keep their ticket alive.

    At my home airport, I have seen three serious incidents, and each time it was, to my eyes and ears, three of the worst CFIs I have ever met that were either in the plane with the student and -let- it happen, or was teaching them incredibly stupid things which they demonstrated in their first solo flight and they went sour..because what they did was again, something a student pilot has zero business doing.

    I’ve met horrible CFIs that get steady business because they find people that believe $90 for a private ticket means he is better than a $50 good CFI.

    I’ve seen far too much, students that don’t leave bad CFIs, because there is nothing that tells them they are bad, so they don’t leave..or don’t know how to. It’s like, bad teachers that have tenure, except teachers have to be good teachers for some period of time with constant peer review to earn it. CFI’s have it day one. There is nothing built in to the system for constant and meaningful review. Just get your students thru the checkrides, and nobody knows.

    I feel right here, I need to branch off and say that I have nothing against CFIs in general. This is about the accident rates. The best CFI can’t make a perfect pilot be perfect forever, that’s up to the pilot, but they have a lot of impact on that from day one.

    The one’s I’m talking about are the CFIs that do poor work, and cheat students out of the opportunity to be the best pilots they should be..because getting a half-effort from a CFI feels like a 100% effort to them. There’s nothing to put their educational experience in perspective. You have no idea how unprepared you are to be a safe pilot, with a bad CFI. You will be a statistic.

    Published pass/Fail rates for written, oral, and checkrides would be a good start, IMHO. Public record these should be, as representatives of the FAA, putting bone and steel in the air above us all. Who wants to sign up with a CFI that can’t reasonably consistently present successful student outcomes? Of course, this is no good when you have rotten DPEs too.

    Encourage phase reviews at a minimum for written and oral prep as a CFI practice, train students to ask for these as part of the curriculum. Encourage somehow CFIs to participate in checkride phase reviews, sure it’ll cost the student -1 more- practice checkride with a new/unknown CFI, but guess who won’t participate in that…CFI’s that know they don’t teach well and prepare students for environments outside of their shadows.

    Bad CFIs know where bad DPEs exist, period. And business is a boomin’ for those guys.

    And PSDO’s don’t have enough teeth to statistically weed out the bad and the ugly easily and swiftly. They know who they are, ask them if they track CFIs that go out of district for checkrides, and why. They know. It’s not because select local DPEs don’t have the time. And then there’s the issue with DPEs that itch to fail students for anything, with little or no reason, that exist in the system too long. And PSDOs with differing theories on what should and should not pass procedurally, which encourages crappy training to the test, and not the intent of the test. Future statistics…

    Students that are not trained (or don’t want to) to take flying seriously as a habit, are the future pilots that are the largest part of this accident rate that the FAA wants to diminish. Solving the problem thru technology only works if a pilot wants to use the required knowledge, and technology around them responsibly. IMHO, more technology is a thicker safety blanket where you can fly less aware than you had to before. Why look out the window, the fish finder will tell me..the video game will draw boxes for me to fly through because navigation and awareness take too much time….etc..

    The problems around why accident rates are not falling are on the ground, have nothing to do with technology, nothing to do with the required knowledge (Changes to the testing, requirements, etc), and everything to do with where a future pilot’s habits and mindfulness of safety come from. The instructors. far as I know, there is no way for a good instructor to black flag a student that should never get their ticket. If it takes them 10 checkrides to get there, and they get lucky one day, they still get to be a pilot. And they’ll be a statistic someday that everybody knew would happen, but nobody can stop.

    And about gimmick checklists..checklists are vital. They are not there to “learn” as you put it. They are a tool to be used. Sure, learning it is vital to the safe operation of the plane you are in, but fly 10 different types of planes as a CFII or DPE, and learning is not constructive. Being aware of what you do and dont know, and using the checklist as a tool is how it works. It’s not something to learn by rote…which yes, makes it tedious.

    You are trained to consult it. Nothing gimmicky about that.

    They can be in your head, or on paper, but they are CHECK lists. I think it’s also easy to call them a gimmick if the mindset is that the checklist solves problems. I am of the mind that the required use of a checklist ensures that you have a mindset to prevent problems. A checklist is my buddy-pilot..I do all of the things, but he’s making sure, because I don’t wish to be a statistic through complacency. This takes work too.

  23. Jeff Mohler
    Jeff Mohler says:

    My last note, wanted it separate…

    Learning to fly has never been hard. I wish I could have learned to fly without comm units, where you had to learn more about why things work, not just how.

  24. Dustin
    Dustin says:

    If you think that the drive to the airport is not the most dangerous part of the journey, then clearly you don’t have to take IH-35 to get to your home airport.

  25. Jim P
    Jim P says:

    My “pet peeve” is pilots who insist on flying a traffic pattern so large that it almost goes outside the Class C boundary. Oddly enough, most of these folks come to our airport because their own local airport pattern is “saturated” with three other airplanes flying over-large patterns. So they come to our airport, where our tower folks and local pilots try to keep things “tight” and are able to handle 3X the traffic volumes. Fortunately, our great tower crew recognizes many of these guys now, and will put the “tight pattern” folks into opposite (right) traffic so we can get 3 trips around the pattern for every one the “B-52” pilots accomplish in their Cirrus. Those B-52 drivers often get clearances like “You’re number three behind the yellow Cub just turning base, and the orange Citabria just turning downwind…”

    But when opposite traffic is not feasible, I find myself forced to follow that Cirrus practically to the next county on downwind, then to fly the approach leg at close to max cruise speed to prevent traffic from stacking up behind me if I flew at my normal approach speed. So their “stabilized approach” pretty much insures that I cannot make anything remotely resembling a “normal approach” and wind up having to decelerate from 100 mph to 50 mph on short final.

    God forbid that any of those “big pattern” guys ever suffer an engine failure in the pattern. There is no way they could make it to the runway from their base leg turn point.

    (There, I feel MUCH better now!)

  26. Bill Darby
    Bill Darby says:

    Regarding your quote from the Gleim CFI course.
    “A quote from the Gleim course: “Emphasize that the greatest vortex strength therefore occurs when the generating aircraft is HEAVY, CLEAN and SLOW, etc., especially during takeoff.”
    I too use Gleim and questioned that statement so I went to the FAA Pilot and Controller Guide to Wake Turbulence publication and it states “about” the same… except it specifies “HEAVY, SLOW with a clean wing configuration” .
    I will say that your article made me think and then go look it up. Thanks

  27. Dick Campbell
    Dick Campbell says:

    I’ve always loved reading Richard Collins. But today, based on recent experience, I have to disagree with his assessment of the FAA bureaucracy. I recently finished building an E-AB aircraft. The registration, inspection AWC issuance, and Repairman Certificate was smooth. timely and well executed. The folks at the FSDO were more than helpful. Your mileage may vary, but my experience was great.

    • Richard Crawford
      Richard Crawford says:

      I also completed an E-AB aircraft this last summer and found the inspection process very professional and courteous. My DAR was also being evaluated by the FSDO at the same time and they were also quite courteous and friendly. A few days later I took the required paperwork to the FSDO office and received my Repairman certificate within a few minutes. We have always found the FAA helpful and cooperative and always had good experiences.

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