You have probably seen this before: a GoPro video showing a pilot struggling with large inputs on the yoke, giving the throttle a hard time with either high thrust or idle power, and after a fair amount of time focused on that demanding approach, a smooth touchdown followed by a reassuring smile. On the title of the video, something mentioning a high crosswind component, and below, the comments saying that the pilot nailed it like a boss. Did he or she?
A number of years ago safety and training experts realized few, if any, crashes were being caused by the events pilots spend training time for. Those action-packed simulator sessions were difficult, and we sweated through them, but in reality accidents were happening because of much more mundane aircraft failures and pilot mistakes.
With the honorable exception of the freighters, fighting the pandemic directly and covering for most of the belly cargo network lost due to the lack of passenger flights, pretty much everyone else in aviation has been flying less, perhaps not at all, during the last couple months. That is not healthy, either for humans or machines.
I’ve struggled with writing about this tragedy for a long time. I wanted so much to give other pilots a glance at this image, hoping a few might take a moment before a flight to see if there were any gotchas they missed amid their haste and distractions. But I recoiled against the prospect of telling a very personal, painful, and graphic story about a good pilot buddy. Finally I decided to just start writing.
Regardless of license level, elements of being a good pilot normally include skill at operating the airplane; book knowledge; situational awareness of everything going on around the airplane and what it means; and experience. All of these are, good, no doubt about it, but what additional elements can be incorporated to make an even better pilot? In effect, what would constitute an Honors Course in flying?
Very early in a pilot’s initial training the instructor will reduce the power, raise the nose, feel the airplane shudder, the nose drops, and the CFI releases back pressure on the controls and adds power. See, that was a stall. Not so bad. Nothing to be afraid of. Really? Stalls are the leading cause of fatal accidents in general aviation airplanes.
Airplane inflation has gone up more than wage inflation, but if my grandson wanted to learn to fly when he’s old enough, I suspect the money wouldn’t be an issue. The thing that has changed in his case—more than the money—is the logistics.
As pilots, we are all to familiar with the problems on the Boeing 737 MAX. We are being told that faulty software is the cause. Yes, there were or could have been problems with the pilot training, but Boeing is re-writing the software and when complete, the problem will go away and the aircraft will be safe. Or will it?
Many airports here in the Midwest have almost all of their aircraft locked securely inside, with the possible exception of a small ramp space for the less fortunate. As pilots whoosh past this area in their BMWs and Range Rovers, they may be vaguely aware of the diminutive and familiar shape of the Rodney Dangerfield of airplanes: the Cessna 150.
I don’t like to pen anything negative, but I believe that there is room for improvement in the way that our General Aviation community conducts business. Let me start with the “simple” process of getting avgas. The larger airports have the hard-to-read, difficult-to-use credit card machines installed.
During my 45 years of observing and writing about aviation, pilot upset training is a topic that has waxed and waned. For the past few years the idea of learning how to recover from an extreme attitude is in ascendance. But the reason upset training emphasis falls in and out of favor is because it just doesn’t work.
If you want to win a bar bet among your pilot friends, ask them to show you the FAR that requires you to have charts in your general aviation airplane. After some fumbling around on the FAA site on the web, one pilot will probably declare the rule is FAR 91.502. But before you pay off ask your friend to read the title of the FAR subpart that contains rule 91.502. It’s Subpart F.
In the past year or so it has become very, very expensive to insure a light jet flown by a single pilot, particularly an owner pilot. In some cases the single pilot may not be able to buy coverage at any price. This is significant because the light jets provide our only glimpse into the risks of flying solo.
Most of us are not commercial pilots nor do we fly as our profession, so it would be very easy to immediately move to the next article in Air Facts thinking this article doesn’t apply to us. I would argue that flying like a professional does matter. I want to encourage you to approach your flying with the attitude of a professional.
As pilots we spend our flying careers amassing hours of experience. Our skill and competence, and qualification for new ratings, and certainly for flying jobs, is largely based on our hours of logged experience. But when does a pilot have too much experience? In other words, when do the number of years logged since birth matter more than the number of hours in the logbook?
What if there were an easier way to revert to manual control? To remove the so-called “envelope protection” algorithms built into modern flight control systems. We’ve all heard the adage: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. But can you really aviate when control inputs are analyzed thousands of times a second and then spit out to the control surfaces?
The rules are that test pilots must recognize the trim failure, for example, by some positive event. Once that positive identification is made, the test pilot must wait exactly three seconds before taking the proper action to disable to system. When non-pilots hear this information, their mouths drop open. They utter something like “that’s crazy. Three seconds! That’s just nuts.”
On a moonless or cloudy night, over deep water, without visual reference and out of normal VHF radio communications range with air traffic control, you are alone. Having charge of all souls on board, while always a heavy responsibility, feels heavier.
As an industry, we know how to essentially eliminate fatal accidents. As pilots flying for our own reasons we can learn how the big boys did that, and adapt as many of the lessons as we can afford, or decide are worth the required tradeoffs. We still must make our own deal with the dark side to fly our own airplanes for our own reasons by ourselves, but I hope we are making the best and most informed deal we can.
To begin with, this is not an actual bite inflicted by a slithering, legless reptile. The other kind of snakebite is a sailing term among owners and crew of small yachts that probably originated in Southern California. It means that thing you’re looking for is right in front of you.