Christian Aviation Network

Guiding Aviators and Aircrews through life's storms

Dear Fellow Christian Aviators,

As you go to and return from far-off destinations, please be very careful about recurring flying traps, some of which may be fatal, i.e. 


(a) Starting problems - The effects may include fuel pump cavitation and/or vapour locks in the fuel lines of piston engines; with the propensity of engines to flood and/or to cause back-firing and veld fires during starting. In piston helicopters the engine has been known to 'flood' when power is suddenly applied. 

(b) Runway over-runs - Pilots in light planes may base their estimation of take-off and landing distances on habit, or past experience. Many do not compensate for the higher True Airspeed for the same Indicated Airspeed in higher ambient temperatures and hence, higher ground speeds on landing or take-off - in turn diminishing effective runway distance available.

(c) Reduced climb performance - The loss is about five percent per 1000 ft. DA.  This effectively reduces lift on lift-producing surfaces and propellers, even if the engine is turbo-charged. 

(d) Effective overload - This is hazardous in mountainous terrain, especially with helicopters. Having a picnic on a ledge overlooking a valley is often begun early in the morning when ambient temperatures are low. Upon the return the temperature could have soared, with effective loss of performance and carrying capacity. For fixed wing aircraft the obstacle clearance height may be inadequate. In twins this is often only discovered when an engine is lost on take-off.

[These High DA effects are merely to prompt your memory and are by no means limited to those mentioned above].


(a) Up- and downdrafts act differently upwind and downwind. Beware of the rotors closest to the cliffs and the Venturi Effects causing a loss of overall lift in ravines or narrow confines.

(b) Always cross a ridge at 45 deg. angle with ample height to spare. This would leave an "out" or escape plan in case of an unexpected down current or wind rotor.

(c) Virga - This is rain not reaching the ground. Severe down-drafts and even micro-bursts may occur in the vicinity due to the acceleration effect of super-could air in contrast to the immediate environment.


(a) Straight-in approaches are bad as these deprive you of making the necessary observations and precautions before landing (even if everyone's bladder may be bursting!) and quite often lead to gear-up landings. So, beware!

(b) Straight-in approaches often lead to collisions with free roaming game or vehicles at game lodges.

(c) Straight-in approaches are often flat, resulting in too fast round-out and hold-off phases during the landing and hence, over-runs.

(d) Straight-in approaches often do not compensate for the effects of wind-shear and loss of indicated airspeed at low height, just before touch-down. [Keep the same angle of approach, regardless].


(a) The need to thrill has cost many lives, especially of those nearest and dearest. Extreme flying antics often result in collisions with high-tension wires, especially the thin horizontal strands above the main lines, or the diagonal supporting wires near masts and towers.

(b) THE BYE-BYE BEAT-UP - The stalling speed goes up exponentially with increased load factor and so does the propensity for auto-rotation. Many experienced pilots have lost their lives this way through the desire to show-off. The beat-up can be carried out out upon arrival to alert the lodge-keepers. An inadvertent stall or in-flight break-up is often preceded by a dive, a pull-up and a 'teardrop' manoeuvre to the right, as the pilot sits 'on top' on the turn for comfort and better visibility. The outer wing stalls first and the aircraft 'flips' with no height to recover.

(c) RIVER FLYING - The dangers are vast and the most beautiful places are often riddled with power lines and other unseen obstacles. 

(d) BIRD-STRIKES - The correlation between bird-strikes and low-level flying is frightening. You might think you'd be able to handle it, but it's virtually impossible with the wind screaming through a shattered perspex window and with your one eyeball hanging out! Low-level flying over bird colonies should be criminalized. 


(a) "Press-on-itis" is often weather related. Pressure external to the cockpit, e.g. reservations, school terms, business commitments, etc. often cause pilots to press on despite better judgment. Some get trapped in the "wedge" between rising terrain and lowering cloud bases. Don't become part of the annual statistics! 

Remember, rather a day late in this world than a second too soon in the next! The above mentioned fatal flying traps are by no means exhaustive, but are intended to prompt you to THINK AND ACT instead of just reacting to your impulses and instincts, and on getting you and your loved ones back safely.





Divine Intervention saves


pilot from inferno

RICK VAN WYK (41), currently an Airbus pilot with South African Airways (SAA), was asked to witness about the intervening power of God in his life having narrowly escaped a fiery death on a delivery flight gone wrong on Wednesday, April 15, 1998.  

The single-engine four-seat Piper Arrow 200, ZS-OOL, went down after departure from Rand Airport for Lanseria. The forced landing was actually a ‘controlled crash’ in which the aircraft was reduced to smithereens. 

Rick has since flown for SAA the past 14 years on the Airbus A330 and A340 models. He is happily married to Anchen and has two daughters, Annabelle (6) and Kayla (1).  But, things could have turned out very different. 

Around the time of the accident Rick was flying for a charter company also involved in sales. The aircraft had been sold to a young lady who would do the advanced part of her training on it. As part of the conditions of sale the aircraft had undergone a Mandatory Periodic Inspection. Rick did the test flight. All went well, except for a few minor snags. 

Rick took off again later that same day after assurances all defects had been taken care of. He was barely minutes in the air when the aircraft began losing power. . [From the symptoms he may well have encountered a problem with the fuel injectors – Ed.] Having done ‘everything in the book’ to rectify the problem he declared an emergency and received a clearance to return to Rand. However, the aircraft could no longer maintain height. He had to look for a landing spot nearby immediately. The area underneath was completely built-up. The Gosforth Park race track and the Germiston golf course in the vicinity were beyond range. The roads were swamped with traffic. The only option was an embankment adjacent to a railway line with power lines overhead, before a bridge. 

Rick’s chances were slim. His friends, listening to proceedings on the company radio, knew he was headed for disaster. They started racing towards the area where he would go down, ahead of the airport’s emergency services. Under the circumstances they would take far too long before getting even close. To top it all, the aircraft had been refuelled. An incapacitated Rick could be reduced to smithereens. 

However, another ambulance happened to be in the vicinity while positioning between stations. The crew spotted the aircraft going down. Rick would get vital medical attention on the spot. 

‘Divine twist’ 

Here our story takes a ‘Divine twist’, to include the stuff not readily encountered in either accident or media reports… Rick and his parents, Geyer and Dot van Wyk, all of Alberton at the time, are devout Christians, of a Charismatic denomination. They do not lay claim to any special position in the Church of Christ or that God would care any less for other kinds of believers, or other people for that matter. Charismatics merely place a high premium on being directly led by the Holy Spirit from day to day. They also believe the time for miracles as in the Book of Acts has not yet passed. Far from it!

 Having committed his life to the Lord at a young age and making a recommitment later, Rick had never doubted nor gone back on his decision. Much as most would love to have it otherwise, many busy charter pilots would attest to not having much opportunity for quiet time. This has always been a predicament for crew having to constantly think and plan ahead for not only foreseeable circumstances but contingencies. Besides, telling a boss one was not to fly on a particular day ‘having heard the Voice of the Lord’ would probably amount to instant dismissal. But, God’s guidance is always available.


About a week before the flight the Holy Spirit had awoken Rick’s parents in the night, to start interceding for their son. Knowing full well what a safety conscious pilot he was, they’d decided not to phone and impose fear on him. They’d opted instead to carry on praying for him, as the Spirit led, night after night. They would leave matters in God’s hands.

Name of the Lord


 Just before touch-down Rick had the unction to call on the Name of Jesus, several times. Moments later he ended up bruised, but largely unharmed, pinned down in a damaged plane virtually on its side. The only escape door, above him, was jammed. He could hear fuel dripping and sizzling and felt a small fire igniting. The growing flames were lapping at his hands and feet, smoke searing his lungs. He kicked out the window with ‘supernatural strength’ and half clambered out, into the helping hands of an ambulance crew – fully equipped to deal with his burn injuries there and then. When his friends arrived, he was already bandaged and being taken to a suitable hospital. He was discharged a few days later. He and his family would always remember the redemptive power of God in the whole episode… and to honour Him for the outcome. [End] 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------AIR SAFETY STORY, NOVEMBER 2014

The late Dr. Myles Munroe and his wife Ruth on a visit to South Africa in October 2013. The Myles Munroe plane crash may be a poignant reminder for crews to avoid…

Duck-under’ and other deadly sins

Johan Lottering

MOST lamentable about the Lear 36 accident which claimed the lives of high-profile Christian leaders Dr Myles Munroe, his wife Ruth, daughter and six occupants was the preventative nature. Evidently failings in the safety system had let them down as the aircraft hit a crane on final approach in heavy rain whilst approaching to land at Freeport Airport on Grand Bahama, the northernmost island in the Bahama group, on November 9, 2014. The point here is not to apportion blame, but to evaluate the conditions and circumstances so we can learn and avoid getting ensnared ourselves. Please bear in mind the crew was known to be very safety minded. But, eagerness to please can be lethal. [Our hearts go out to those left behind who have lost loved ones and our prayers should  be with them].

Performance pressure on the pilots, either indirect or self-induced, may well have played a crucial role in their decision-making, considering that another commercial airliner is believed to have diverted due to bad weather shortly before. Dr Munroe, a Christian international motivational speaker and author of several best-selling books, was scheduled to be the key-note speaker at a Global Leadership summit. His ill-fated aircraft had departed from Nassau, one of the main islands in the Bahamas group, barely an hour before the big event was supposed to begin.

However, an incident report in January originating during an approach for the same Runway 06, has since come to light to highlight a pre-existing problem with shipyard cranes. Yet, the old sin of ‘duck-under’ and ‘work-arounds’ on the part of crews at or before approach minimums, cannot be ruled out at by investigators. For those wishing to check for themselves, the narrative can be found via the Internet-link:

The report on p. 45, no. 114092, had been lodged by a crew of a Part 121 freight-carrying twin turboprop. Nasa, responsible for the record keeping of such incidents, omits details such as type and registration to invoke a sense of immunity and indemnity among crews willing to file such reports. 

The freighter crew had taken evasive action on final approach to avoid collision with an allegedly unpublished ship-mounted crane, missing it by a mere 200 feet vertically and 1, 000 feet horizontally. The Nasa report cited the following contributory human factors: 

  • Situational awareness (lack thereof);
  • Distraction;
  • Confusion;
  • Communications breakdown – essentially on the part of Air Traffic Control (ATC).         

ATC, or ‘Terminal Radar Area Control’ alias ‘Tracon’ as referred to in the region, is only incumbent with vertical separation from obstacles and terrain of aircraft flown under Instrument Flight Rules, ‘radar identified’ and ‘under radar control’. This would be regardless of possibly prevailing ‘partial’ or ‘marginal’ Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC).    The Nasa incident report had also highlighted other contributory factors like both the unserviceable surface weather reporting frequency and Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) lights at the time. The status quo seemed to have prevailed till several months later, when the ill-fated Lear 36 of Dr Munroe would strike a crane at approximately four miles inbound to the touchdown point.

A typical (continuous) three degree approach slope would have placed an aircraft at 1, 200 feet above ground level [a.g.l.] at the collision point – adequate, though still somewhat close for comfort. The ‘powers that be’ may have to consider revising and/or implementing a not unproblematic DME Arc approach, but possibly better than the one currently in use.

As accident etiologies invariably lay bare afterwards multiple causal factors into one event, prudent crews would do well to exact analogies from report no. 8894, on the SACAA website.  A PC-12/47 was approaching from the seaward side in overcast conditions for Plettenberg Bay Aerodrome on Feb. 8, 2011. All nine aboard were killed as the crew lost positional and situational awareness – the aircraft having descended below the minimum safe [non-precision] approach slope.

The respective PC-12 and Lear 36 accidents would be classifiable under the ‘Controlled Flight Into-Terrain’  or 'CFIT' accident category, in the ‘Approach to Land’ or ‘ALA’ phase’. [Nasa also keeps track of ‘Controlled Flight Towards Terrain’ or 'CFTT' incidents. Safety information from incidents is supposed to prevent accidents].

An area chart for Freetown International Airport indicates cranes on the extended center line of Runway 06 respectively 364 and 351 feet high. According to the Nasa incident report in January 2014 six cranes are referred to in Notams, with the chart depicting only three to the southwest, i.e. the approach side.  

Most disconcerting is the co-location of one particular crane with the ‘step-down point’ for the VOR ‘Y’ approach, at 620 feet and 3.2 DME. Considering that multiple step-down approaches statistically represent higher risks than continuous approaches, a total rethink on the part of authorities may well be vital.

Furthermore, the lesson to pilots and owners and operators is that self-induced and perceived client-induced pressures often compel crews to take shortcuts, or ‘pressing on’ when they should delay or divert in the face of operational facts rendering continued operations either ‘marginal’ or downright unsafe.

In Africa ‘Part 135’ denotes ‘non-scheduled’ or ‘charter’ operations, implying flexibility. The inherent nature may lend itself to undue demands and even unreasonable expectations by clients [though fingers are not being pointed to anyone in particular]. Significantly, the American FAA refers to ‘On Demand’ operations.  

Crews and clients alike ought take heed. The Munroe crash may well be a reminder that the relevant importance of any schedule, meeting or event should always be made subject to safe environmental, crew capacity [fatigue], aircraft technical and operational conditions. 

Proper planning and good judgement often end up on the altar of ‘eagerness to please’. As in Corporate, albeit Part 91 ‘Private’ Operations, the ‘locus of control’ may resort with the MD or VIP in the cabin and not entirely on the flight deck, with crew. Anything with two heads is a monster, so take care!


More about Winter hazards...

Be wise with haze. Pictures below show the difference in visibility in smoke haze if looking 'down-sun' depicted in top image, compared to 'up-sun' in bottom images. The photos have not been 'doctored'. So, apply your mind when needing to fly at lower levels, e.g. for traffic patrols, game counting, rhino watch, practicing precautionary landings, medical rescues, industrial aid, etc.

[At night better vis is obtained by looking into the moon, opposed to looking away from the moon.]

Be farsighted about Special VFR 

WITH winter comes temperature inversions (see 'Winter Warning' article below) with associated smoke haze. A good indication of poor visibility is QNH readings which can be as high as 1033 millibars of mercury.  

Poor visibility not directly associated with clouds are usually depicted under 'obscuration symbols' in significant present and forecast weather reports. The symbols on the METAR (Meteorological Aeronautical Report) and TAF (terminal Aerodrome Forecast) are:

  • BR for mist
  • FG for fog
  • FU for smoke
  • HZ for haze
  • SA for sand
  • VA for volcanic ash
  • DU for widespread dust.
  • In South Africa Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) 40-4, 01-09-15 governs Special VFR flights. Visibility must be at least 1500 m (one statute mile under FAA rules) compared to 5000 m and 1500 ft. ceiling in the ATZ or CTR, whilst the ceiling may not be lower than 600 feet. Remember, ceiling refers to the base of the lowest layer of cloud below 20,000 feet covering more than half the sky.

'Special VFR' in FAA countries is only allowed at night if you have a current Instrument Rating in an aircraft equipped for IF flight. But, why not simply file for IFR?  

The South African authorities have wisely simplified matters, saying 'no such thing as Special VFR at night' and rightly so!  

Special VFR cannot be offered by ATC. You need to request it. Special VFR only applies in Class C (with a Control Tower) or Class G (ATZ with AFIS) airspace.

And, lest we forget, it's a privilege, not a right.  

Be aware of inevitable delays - which may impair fuel endurance. [See picture above of aircraft shutting down at holding point. The entire mountain range in the background is obscured by haze!] 

ATC will necessarily give priority to IFR traffic (So, if you're IF rated, rather file for an IF departure and convert to VFR when VMC is encountered).  

Only one aircraft can be in the ATZ or CTR at a time - as the 'rationale' is the pilot needs to determine own routing to stay clear of cloud and in sight of ground, for which the ATC cannot take responsibility.  

Hazy conditions can bring disorientation and one should have at least a night rating to cope with the disappearance of absence of a visual horizon, although it's not a legal requirement.  

Also, the suspending cables between High Tension electrical wires and obstacles like radio masts (some with their diagonal suspension cables and which masts don't need to be illuminated by day) can take you out in the twinkling of an eye!  

Therefore, approach the situation and overall risk assessment differently and carefully. The extra vigilance in winter weather conditions can save you and your passengers. Fly safely and God Bless!  

‘As real as it gets?’

 Guest writer Efet Banda on virtual vs. actual flying

THE early years of aviation were filled with perilous experiments when aviators attempted dangerous manoeuvres. Eventually, computer software programs were developed to simulate a near-realistic flying environment.  

The artificial experience has become a powerful presentation with various levels of realism. But, for many the flight simulator experience can never be separated from the immersive ‘gaming’ realms.  

For the general public the exposure has mainly been in the form of ‘flying games’ in which the flying dynamics not nearly resemble flight as we know it.

However, with near realistic, ultra immersive full motion airliner cockpit replicas as real authorities allow one to get a type rating, the burning question is: How ‘real does it get’ in flight simulation for folks on the ground, never leaving the building to experience flight as we know it? Will they ever really know what it means to deal with those hair-raising moments, e.g. total system failures?

I had no idea what it would be like to fly with a totally failed panel, but encountered this one morning as some systems failed in flight. The feeling made me question and revisit the true level of ‘confidence’ instilled by use of desktop simulators. With the exception of those ultra expensive, visually immersive giant full motion hydraulic rigs with over 180 degrees visuals, used by airlines or the fixed-base sims legally approved by aviation authorities for limited certified training, my experience on that day was any other simulator not offering such fidelity is nothing more than a series of complex mathematical equations dismally mimicking flight. I will not refer to various commercial ‘game’ brand offerings I have tested, but the general experience I had with all of the none-certified ‘game range’ software which are invariable advertised ‘as real as it gets’, was similar.  

The casual ‘arm-chair pilot’ is hoodwinked into believing high-definition imagery of virtual cockpit panels complete with all simulated working systems, customizable add-ons for winds, clouds and special effects with the aircraft operated from highly photorealistic replication of airfields with street view accuracy giving the ‘wannabe’ pilot the false sense of what’s ‘real’, is realistic.  

Admittedly, cheap ‘game-version’ simulators, in their current state, compared to when they first came out, carry some value. They can be a powerful educational tool, but only when used properly to provide an immersive opportunity of exploring flight principle theory, or to demonstrate the practice of procedures for keeping the mind fresh; or practicing procedures which otherwise would endanger the training crew or aircraft.  

The ‘game-simulator’ indeed presents a potent link to a new world of learning experience, knowledge testing, better comprehension of flight theory at low cost with limitless practice and no physical harm. However, truth be told, if anyone would presume they have what it takes to actually fly a plane based on game simulator experience, a rude wakening awaits.  

A real life pilot is only as confident as he flies, because the profession demands that high a standard. Keeping confidence levels sufficiently high to deal with testing circumstances and situations is a different matter. It is many a pilot’s nightmare a failure might happen on their shift, as unless thoroughly trained, current and rehearsed in a realistic and sufficiently sophisticated simulator, there’s no way of really knowing what the outcome will be, or how we will react.  

Investigations indicate accident avoidance almost always come down to rapid successful decision making processes, opposed to ‘not knowing what to do’ scenarios.  With the dawn of automation in planes, human error and fatigue have been minimized. But, important manual flying skills can be lost over time, leaving even real pilots vulnerable and exposed if and when the need suddenly arises.  

Quoting from a well-known author that flying is a ‘perishable’ skill no pilot likes feeling being ‘behind’ the aircraft, particularly when all hell breaks loose and critical skills are not as sharp as they should be. This is essentially the gap the simulator fills in. But, do not be fooled. With ‘domestic entertainment versions’ costing a fraction of real flight training, wannabe pilots are often misled into thinking they can optimize their training because of the ‘thousands of hours logged’ on their ‘desk plane’, expecting to spend very few extra hours on the real plane if ever they get to train for real. My first landings practices bear testimony of this. Despite excellent sim-landings, I felt under no pressure to go solo, until I was actually ready to land the real plane safely on my own. How many hours it was going to take was never an issue as my safety came first. Arguably, current ‘game-simulator’ layouts do help to keep the flow of checklists and procedures fresh, but no matter how complex the game software and rig look, or what the game software packaging says, it is nowhere near a replacement for a ‘seat of the pants feeling’.  

I can vividly remember the churning feeling during my first flight over a real cloud… knowing the weather was getting worse and we needed to turn back to the airfield almost enveloped by cloud. The confidence to trust only my instruments, while my instructor kept ground reference, was very different from the same feat in a sim. I had done it before several times, but that day I realised one simply needs to smell the Avgas frequently to feel as safe. Any computer ‘plane’ experience can never make up for it. The real flight lasted only 25 minutes, but nonetheless was a lesson never to be forgotten, i.e. to never to attempt to fly into conditions beyond my capability – no matter how much ‘confidence’ I had in the simulator. The reality was shockingly different. I was spooked.  

The shock itself was probably big enough to cause me becoming disorientated much quicker. Just this one flight was enough to serve as a rude awakening about the vast difference between a cheap simulator set and actual reality. It would be way better to spend that money on actual air experience training. That instantaneous attitude change has helped me to stay safe.



As winter sets in, beware of weather phenomena associated with cold air at surface level causing mist, fog or temperature inversion layers (depicted in first picture, below). Be especially vigilant around aerodromes without A.T.C. or navigational facilities. 

When overhead an airfield it may e.g. be possible to identify runways, windsock, etc., whilst on final approach the slanted range might suddenly cause the runway 'disappearing' from view - which may be due to 'oblique visibility' (depicted in second picture, from the cockpit). 

When approaching aerodromes look out for clues like smoke columns in the vicinity and if detected, be ready for a missed approach or diversion. Bear in mind the difference between surface temperate and dew-point temperature translates to 400 feet per degree Centigrade height (distance from surface) of the cloud base.  

Fly safely!


We are privileged to post two thought provoking mails by Laurie Kay.  Notwithstanding a distinguished career in the South African Air Force and South African Airways, the highly popular airshow pilot will probably be best remembered for *‘buzzing’ the Ellis Park stadium at the Rugby World Cup in 1995… in a Boeing 747… having participated in the triple airliner flyby at Pres. Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.  

*Considering the level of planning and skill that had gone into these events, this is of course a tongue-in-cheek statement.  

What kind of friend are you?

 Laurie Kay writes…

‘My dear friend Prof. Johann Coetzee says he would rather lose a friend than lose a life, which is all too true.  This reminded me of the concern of another true friend which may well have saved my life. (Picture right: Laurie in his airshow attire) 

Tom Chalmers the editor and owner of World Airnews has been a friend since 1970 when I was based at 5 Squadron in Durban. We were displaying at the Commercial Aviation Show at Rand Airport many years ago for the Chubb Team. Tom came to talk to me after a sequence. He looked very concerned. He said if what he was about to say would destroy our long standing friendship, then so be it!

‘He had watched our display in the morning and said, “Laurie you are too low when you do those multiple rolls down the runway!” I replied I felt quite comfortable at that height, but then put my arm on Tom’s shoulder and said there was no way I took offence at what he had told me.

‘When I broke out of the formation for the afternoon show and lined up during the dive in our routine for the multiple rolls along runway 29 at Rand, Tom’s words echoed in my ears. I never did roll that low again and pushed it up by thirty feet or so. I will never know if his words ever saved my life, as I cannot remember dishing or scooping during the maneuvers. But, his care and concern meant the world to me. To this day we are great mates.'

[Despite his top-class skills and expertise, Laurie has always had a contrite heart and spirit - Editor]

Three pillars of air safety

Laurie Kay’s other mail was equally thought provoking. Laurie writes, having been in aviation for so many years he was certain many of his colleagues in the SA Air Force probably had the same thoughts going through their minds when sitting on those terribly uncomfortable pews in a church looking at a coffin with the remains of a friend or loved one. Especially in my youth, dressed in “full blues” I would often think and say “it was only a matter of time before he crashed”.  I always wondered why someone never said anything to him or his superior.

‘Age has perhaps made me far more vocal. A year or so ago I was working from Skukuza Airport with the anti-rhino poaching when a young fellow came in and landed. Everything was very impressive and rather interesting about his arrival. It was his departure that intrigued me though. I made some inquiries and obtained his details. I called him and left several messages on his cell phone to call me when he had a chance. This he did some five days later.

‘He asked who was speaking and I said “your friendly Boeing pilot”. There was a bit of a stunned silence because when he had been approached by a female member of the SAP as to certain contraventions, she said it had been witnessed by a person called Laurie Kay. His response was an all-time classic and he said and I quote from the words of the SAP Lady Officer ….”What does he know, he only flies Boeings!” unquote. This will be the title for my book if ever I write one.

‘This youngster was not certain why I had called him. When I asked him why he thought I had, he inadvertently gave me so many reasons (no prior permission, low level, not following the standard routing etc.) Yet, none of these were the reason. He was very humble and receptive of my little straight forward but quiet chat with him. He even called some months later and we had coffee when he flew up to Johannesburg one day. I have subsequently heard he has openly stated that he owes his life to my intervention. That proves people do listen.

 ‘However, like the milk stool that has only three legs for a very specific reason, these legs give stability. They are Knowledge, Skills and Attitude in aviation and the most important of these is Attitude.  The youngster had the right attitude’.


 What happened to the  

Air Force Dakota? 

WE firstly express sincere condolences to the next-of-kin, loved ones and colleagues of the victims of the SA Air Force C47-65 A.R.T.P. which recently went down in the Lesotho mountains.  

The open question in such situations is normally what went wrong? The short answer is that even after an investigation we'll never really know for sure. Hindsight is often better than foresightBut, if we can learn from accidents, lives may be saved in future.  

The accident records world-wide show pilots often get ensnared by 'classical' or recurring scenarios with similar causal or precipitating factors. The right question is what can and should be learned from similar or at best analogical scenarios?  

Pilots who have flown Turbine Dakotas - such as the one in the picture on the left taken recently at the A.A.D. air show - may be astounded why the aircraft 'might' have been below the safety altitude for the area. With only 11 aboard and considering the fuel burn since departure, the aircraft ought well have been light enough to climb and maintain a considerably higher safety altitude.  

However, only those who have flown in the area or such areas in unpressurized aircraft can truly appreciate how intense the conditions can be over  the Drakensberg mountains inside cloud formations - quite possibly part of a line squall of Cumulo Nimbus or thunderclouds embedded in NimbostratusPerhaps fearing ice, or rather the effects thereof, or in-flight break-up, a commander's most immediate priority and overwhelming 'survival instinct' under such conditions may well be 'let's get out of this'.  

With its high-lift aerofoil surfaces the effects of turbulence become very pronounced inside such aircraft, originally designed not for speed, but take-off and load carrying capacity. Little wonder troops used to refer to airmen's beloved 'Gooney Birds' as 'vomit comets' in days gone by...   

Alerting fellow aircrews about the accident causal factors associated with Controlled Flight Into Terrain (C.F.I.T.) might seem like taking the moral high ground or being condescending, but far from it!  

Let's consider for a moment what it might have been like in such an aircraft inside clouds; especially this time of year with intense temperatures giving rise to aerial instability due to convection, assisted and accelerated by advection (lateral moving of air masses) and orographic upliftment over the Drakensberg... The effects are probably more than trebled, especially within a system being fed by on-shore hot moist air from the temperate Indian Ocean; the latter only a few miles away in terms of overall weather patterns. The total effects are far more than the sum the intermingling parts. The area becomes deceptive, producing anything from intense cloud breaks and virga to snow - somewhat of a devil's playground... where angels fear to tread.  

Based on practical experience having flown in the area as charter and regional airline pilot ... AND as former skydiving trooper in the cabin of one of these aircraft, the short answer is conditions can be 'terrible' and the flight risks severe. Truth be told, it's sometimes very frightening. Between glimpses of sunlight on the rare occasions one encounters a break in clouds, the formations sometimes do not resemble cauliflowers but blasts of steam from some devilish furnace obscenely poking into high heaven. The downdrafts are equally offensive and vicious... to put it mildly. 

Under such conditions several factors may influence an ironically 'safety minded' commander's decision to descend or remain at a lower flight level - such as yet another humungous 'monster cloud' ahead on the radar screen; whilst already inside a zone of severe icing and considering the (sometimes impractical) requirement of everyone aboard having to suck oxygen in unpressurized aircraft above 12,000 feet.  

And, in-flight icing is often severe in the area in the middle of summer, make no mistake. Did you get that?   

Grid Minimum Off-route Altitude (M.O.R.A.) and Minimum En-route Altitude (M.E.A.) of 13,800 feet around or over the area  indicate or 'suggest' a 2000 feet safe clearance above highest terrain en-route. But, commanders normally need to also consult performance graphs to check if any segment can be maintained with a critical power unit (normally the port engine, due to 'P-factor') inoperative.  

In most similar cases it may be prudent, though not necessarily 'popular' with passengers (especially those VIPs or high-powered executives paying exorbitant charter rates, in the civilian milieu) in view of time constraints, to bite the bullet and cover those extra track miles needed to circumnavigate areas with high terrain. (Some resent it if you take your time to make them just a little safer). Nonetheless, when it comes to flight planning, one should never be frugal and rather re-route or even land en-route for extra fuel in the interests of better all-round safety.  

The above is neither to suggest the ill-fated crew has ventured below M.O.R.A. or M.E.A.; nor to run ahead of the investigation, but as a reminder to the living.

Furthermore, it should always be considered that the strong mid-level easterly winds from the Indian Ocean encountered in Kwa-Zulu Natal, especially near the Giants Castle region,  causing intense orographic upliftment of the air masses have other side-effects which can be 'murderous' to aviators. Remember the six-seat twin-engine Seneca II in which the late Keith Page and other occupants had gone missing for many months many years ago? It was in that area, although he'd come from a different direction, i.e. Richards Bay via the Eshowe route... quite possibly being propelled like a rocket way ahead of anticipated track position by quite literally gale force strength winds. Now imagine that same wind conditions working against you; on the nose. One can inadvertently venture off track several miles in the twinkling of an eye... perhaps mistakenly under the impression high ground (straight ahead) is still miles to starboard... and/or that it's safe to descend.


Not as interjection, but a reminder... After a long period in clouds whilst fighting turbulence and contending with the factors mentioned, it somehow becomes the most 'obvious', 'easiest' and 'logical' thing to do to push 'GO TO' on the GPS. In plotting a new new course to destination from one's 'present position' is often exactly when and where the 'plot' or mental picture of one's geographic position in time and space can be lost. As it seems 'improbable' to have experienced such extreme crosswinds, headwinds or tailwinds a new 'rationale' is applied. Pilots tend to mentally construe a new but false mindset... connecting the dots of a 'new' though inaccurate picture of their perceived overall position...  

Be very aware of this. The second Tenerife air disaster is one of many painful reminders. The pilots' disorientation or 'mental confusion' had resulted in the demise of all 146 of Flight 1008 aboard a Dan-Air Boeing 727 from Manchester. The crew's mental picture of their position in time and space had differed from their actual geographic one. They turned the wrong way in an instrument holding pattern to crash into Mount La Esperanza. GPS was not used by airlines at the time, but the concept of geographic disorientation resulting in incorrect assumption and misinterpration of facts can still be learnt from.  

Loss of geographical awareness invariably results in loss of mental situational awareness, though temporary. From a crew interaction point of view the individual members can start 'constructing' a false mindset. This situation is more accurately a misconstruing of the facts, where gaps in the situation are 'filled' in a process of false reasoning. At  first glance all the aforementioned may seem far more intricate than it really is. However, a few seconds of disorientation is often all that's needed for disaster to strike.


Remember the late Dr. Francois Barnard? Fantastic chap. Very capable. He had gone down in the area a few miles northeast of the spot the air force Dakota would later go down. The family's ill-fated flight had taken place on December 12, 1998 in their single-engine six-seat Piper Saratoga. The aircraft had broken up in flight after gale force winds had been reported in the area. They could not maintain altitude in the mid-levels due to severe turbulence about two-thirds into the flight from the town of Zeerust, en-route to Durban's Virginia Airport. He and his wife and two children were seen free-falling by eye-witnesses. Horrific. Flying is not a game   

Some pilots with all due respect do not fully realize what it may be like inside an unpressurized aircraft in clouds laden with super-cooled droplets whilst being shaken and tossed about. The  turbulence can be so intense one sometimes cannot adjust instruments and back-light display intensities or even change frequencies. No joke. Really.  

It's one thing to sit in an office or board room and give comment, but in severe conditions the mere reading, let alone interpreting radar and GPS screens, can be extremely difficult and demanding.  

One often has to tighten shoulder harnesses to avoid bumping your coconut against something sharp. Again, the most overwhelming urge and 'prudent thing to do' under such conditions might seem to 'just to get out of here'.  

With ice sometimes rapidly forming on the wings and propellers, Torque Vanes pulled and engines operating at Maximum Inter-stage Turbine Temperatures and Torque, just staying airborne might seem a first priority in the face of seemingly 'the most imminent' danger. The problem with ice, unless reported, is that accident investigators cannot find the 'evidence' afterwards... all melted and evaporated the next day... when 'the cavalry' arrives.

* * *   

Also remember, unlike the popular belief and actually widespread misconception, Air Traffic Controllers (A.T.C.) do not catch pilots' mistakes. Shall one say that again? By just looking at the Transponder reading and the Grid Safety Altitude the pilot COULD have been alerted about his proximity to high terrain.  

However, the 'legal arrangement' between Air Traffic Service Units (A.T.S.U.) and aircrews simply do not require or demand that. PILOTS are responsible for descend gradients and vertical clearance with terrain, even under Instrument Flight Rules (I.F.R.)  

The only exception to the rule and instance when the A.T.C. / A.T.S.U. is incumbent with safe terrain clearance, flow control, wake turbulence and traffic separation (all at once) is when three conditions exist, i.e.

  • Under I.F.R.
  • In controlled airspace
  • Radar identified and under radar control

Anywhere else you're on your own!

NEVER DESCEND unless you know ACCURATELY where you are on the position (not time) line. The severe headwinds could put you back many miles in terms of E.E.T. and E.T.A.  

Whenever your GPS ground speed is below average, think consequentially and consider all the factors associated with diversion, endurance, etc.  

Once again, BEWARE of commencing the descent too soon, i.e. too far 'back' on track. Check the POSITION of Top Of Descent (T.O.D.) and not only the time. Errant and unsafe descend or climb profiles have killed really, really many aviators and their passengers. 

Lastly, do not be too eager to please or be influenced by superiors and passengers, i.e. to cut corners or press on despite operational facts indicating otherwise. To say the least, if you write them off, neither they nor anyone else will thank you. (Please forgive the last bit of unabated sarcasm directed at self-centered people for whom having their way and saving time at all costs will always be infinitely more important than anything, except money, or anybody else).  

Take care and fly safely!



Tom Chalmers, a former airline and corporate pilot and managing editor of World Airnews Magazine, commented as follows on the above article


"...In my early years of flying, in fact with the ink still wet on my brand new CPL in 1958, I joined what was then Basutair flying into the mountains of what was then Basutoland. I did 800 hours in the next six months flying Piper Tripacers into the (Drakensberg) mountains. I learnt to fly all over again.  

"I learnt about up and down draughts. On one occasion, as I  was trying to cross the Maluti mountains en route to Maseru, I was caught in an up draught which took me to 18 000 feet.  

"Throttled right back with the air speed almost on the red line, I was unable to make any headway. I was trapped for almost 15 minutes without oxygen trying to get out of the up draught and avoiding the large birds which have also been caught in the monster air current.  

"Perhaps the hypoxia I was starting to feel was a good thing in this case. It calmed me and settled the panic which I felt as I was passing through 15000 feet going upwards at a rate of knots. I survived to tell the tale.  

"The north-westerly upper winds which scream across the Free State are equally as dangerous as the northeasters you mention in you article. I hope many other pilots and soon-to-be pilots read this and remember its message, i.e. don’t fool with the weather."  


CG shift can be lethal

in many ways

THIS holiday season pilots will once again have to contend with being asked to push the safety envelope. Adverse weather conditions and high Density Altitudes in summer aren’t the least of our problems. A passenger demanding extra baggage to be uplifted can result in all aboard being wiped out.  

The most obvious danger to watch out for is the deteriorated performance of aircraft rendering runway landing and take-off distances insufficient. However, we often overlook the Center of Gravity (CG) range as crucial factor.

We’re generally not that daft to let someone weighing 150 kg occupy the rearmost lavatory seat in a King Air 200. But, in the quest for hours and feeding families some aviators have gone down whilst flying stuff like prawns and abalone across borders. In practice aircraft seats are simply removed and stowed. The heaviest cooler boxes are placed near the perceived CG location… no nets, no nothing. As long as both engines are delivering power we mostly survive a too far aft CG situation.  However, only partial power loss of one engine can lead to rapid disaster with too far aft CG.

In flight the couple of forces of the total engine power and the total drag vectors result in a nose-up pitching moment.  The balancing couple, or nose-down pitching moment, is derived from the lift vector acting through the Center of Pressure (CP) and the weight vector acting through the CG. With one engine inoperative the couple is severely weakened. So, we might think we’d be okay with the nose-down moment.

But, the horizontal stabilizer and elevator is intended to create a negative lifting force towards Mother Earth to balance the ‘nose-up’ tendency of the main wings rigged around four degrees positive angle to the longitudinal axis. The negative lift of the tail-plane correspondingly creates additional drag opposite to the flight path. The magnitude of drag can be as much as 10% of the gross weight. In a Cessna 402C weighing 6850 lb. this can be as much as 685 lb.  

The concept of flying faster with corresponding power setting with a relatively aft CG is often used by pilots. But, it might work with an aircraft like a Twin Comanche – as theory of aft CG allows for the load on the elevator to be neutral. That’s the general theory of Barons and Bonanzas, i.e. the short stubby noses allow for a comparatively aft CG and neutrally loaded horizontal stabilizer in flight. In an aircraft like a Piper Chieftain with long fuselage or high aspect ratio in terms of its wings, flying with aft CG increases the tendency of the belly sagging in flight, hence causing plan form drag; in turn necessitating max cruise power settings to establish sufficiently strong couples in level flight. That just eats into range and endurance capacity on account of higher fuel flows corresponding with higher power settings.

Pilots can hence get lulled into the false sense of security by letting passengers and cargo occupy relatively aft positions from the CG reference datum, without being balanced by centre weight, because most of the time both motors are motoring. The aircraft’s in-flight behaviour tends to mask or conceal the potential for calamity should one engine become inoperative with too far aft CG.

During and shortly after take-off with the gear not yet retracted the minimum directional control speed would be‘Vmcg’ –normally lower than ‘Vmca’.  The latter or ‘red-line’ speed is the minimum flight speed at which the aircraft is controllable in the directional plane with one engine inoperative, the inoperative one ‘wind-milling’ according to the Cessna 402 C manual (p. 1-8), flaps in take-off position, gear retracted, five degrees bank into the operative side; and the most rearward CG.

One factor rendering Vmcg lower than Vmca, despite profile drag from the gear, is the more forward position of the CG with gear down. Considered in ‘plan’ view the operative engine would create a vector through the propeller hub in the direction of the flight path. The inoperative engine and wind-milling propeller would create drag in the opposite direction. The pivotal point would be the CG. With two engines effectively creating differential power and hence a couple in opposite directions, the yawing moment, if uncorrected, would create differential speed of airflow over the wings. The faster operative side’s wing would roll to the canopy and the inoperative side to the gear.

We’re supposed to know potentially disastrous asymmetric effects are countered by applying rudder into the operative engine side. The rudder’s effectiveness is dependent on essentially speed (Vmcg or Vmca). With full application the rudder would stall at any lower speed and corresponding angle of attack. The crux is the side-force from the rudder pivoting around the CG as seen from above. The shorter the distance between the CG and the rudder is, the shorter the moment and hence the effectiveness.  In critical conditions even a marginally too far aft CG can therefore make the difference between life and death, even if the aircraft would have been able to cope with the weight otherwise.

For a great performer like a Cessna 402C we note with 200 U.S.G. or 1200 lb. fuel aboard the CG position lies 161.16 inches aft of datum. With 600 lb. the CG moves aft to 162.16 inches. With 300 lb. the CG position moves to 163 inches. The rearward trend with fuel burn seems insignificant, unless considered in context of an already desperate situation of trying to maintain height or to climb over an obstacle on one engine. Just hold something as light as a broomstick horizontally, to experience the resultant moment of a force applied over a distance.

Trying to clear obstacles with one engine inoperative a pilot can readily end-up having to choose between retracting the gear to reduce the drag and clear, or maintaining directional control and ending up upside down - with Vmcg being below Vmca. In flight the insidious effects of an aft-moving CG corresponding with fuel burn-off could result in ‘sudden calamity’ if heavily laden with ill-considered CG location and sudden loss of engine. With flaps and gear retracted the stall speed is 80 K.I.A.S., exactly same as the red-line or minimum control speed. The stalling speed with 45 degrees flaps and gear lowered is an even lower 71 K.I.A.S. Do not end up in a situation of having to ‘pick your poison’. Be diligent and considerate with CG calculations and trim sheets.


Lastly, something as ordinary as pair of skates can become lethal projectiles in a crash. Most aircraft have cargo and luggage nets, yet observe how few pilots really use these. Use your brain. Fly safely!


Summer Time and the living ain't necessarily easy... 

Don’t be dense about  

Density Altitude 

BROADWAY songwriter George Gershwin (1898 – 1937) may well have had aviation in mind when he composed ‘Summer time’. The phrase in the lyrics ‘…Then you’ll spread your wings and take to the sky. But till that morning there’s nothing can harm you…’ seems as familiar as it is ominous.

But, what can really harm us in summer? Here’s a clue: Joe Soap returns from a site visit in a six-seat twin engine aircraft. On final approach the same indicated airspeed is maintained as always, but conditions are bumpier and sweat is running down his greying temples. He is maintaining the three degrees glide-slope. Over the runway threshold he neatly reduces from approach to idle power. Yet, he ‘inexplicably’ somehow finds himself farther along the runway than usual. To avoid missing the standard ‘first turn-off’, or perhaps overrunning the opposite threshold, he checks forward on the control column to keep the aircraft on the ground… and promptly steps on the brakes.

If Joe and his entourage are lucky enough, his brakes will need replacing a little sooner and the discs need skimming. Often the aircraft will tend to ‘porpoise’ and one or both props hit the surface. Joe will be battling with lateral control and one brake – usually on the turn-off side – will be locked. The side-forces may result in the gear collapsing and a ‘double prop-strike’ as one or both trunnions gives way.

The key to the ‘riddle’ lies in the higher true airspeed (TAS) and hence ground speed corresponding with the same indicated airspeed (IAS) in high ambient temperatures. Overall the aircraft will stall at the same indicated airspeed at the same weight and wing loading and hence the approach reference speed or ‘Vref’ of 1.3 times the stalling speed in the landing configuration, will be the same. The airspeed indicator is not concerned with all this. The lifting surfaces will need the same amount of air particles passing over and under to generate the same amount of lifting force. In heated air the particles are further apart and hence the aircraft will need to run farther through the air – comprehendo?

As private and weekend flyers we sometimes do not pay sufficient attention to the effects of outside air temperatures. Looking at prevailing weather forecasts one might readily expect to depart at typically 15 degrees Centigrade in the morning to return at a searing 35. Most flyers know that one degree Centigrade translates to an extra 120 feet. At first glance the change seems insignificant. But in airlines the magnitude of payload left on the ground in terms of ‘reduced take-off’ weights in the name of safety, severely affect profit margins. In the commercial and private environment the amount of forfeited take-off power is even more incredible.

A take-off power graph (4-14) for King Air 200 with PT6A-41 engines reveals at 4000 pressure altitude at 2000 r.p.m. 92 percent engine torque is available at 15 degrees Centigrade. At 25 degrees only 87 percent can be obtained and at 35 degrees a mere 79 percent. The crunch comes when considering single engine climb performance reduction. Graph 4-29 at 3966’ pressure altitude and 12, 150 lb take-off weight shows the climb gradient reducing from three percent at 15 degrees, to a mere 1.1 percent at 35 degrees. That can wipe out all aboard! As temperatures soar, performance and safety margins deteriorate. Don’t be dense when it comes to Density Altitudes. Fly safely!

Is static Manifold Pressure 'a quick' Density Altitude reference?

Dawie de Klerk from Upington asked if a quick way determine Density Altitude (DA) would be to check the aircraft's static Manifold Pressure (MP) reading, usually in inches of Mercury (HG), before start-up?  

Be careful... Density Altitude is Pressure Altitude corrected for ambient temperature! The reading obtained would be a rudimentary reflection of PRESSURE ALTITUDE (PA) due to the aneroid type barometric measuring mechanism involved with reading MP.  

Engineer Mike Mayers was asked to comment. He warns a healthy degree of instrument error may also be present as the MP guage actually reads "suction" in the induction manifold to the engine and was neither intended nor designed to read Pressure Altitude.  

To arrive at the crude reference of PA, the reasoning is as follows: 

Knowing that the sea level air pressure reading in International Standard Atmospheric (ISA) conditions is 29, 92 inches (1013,25 millibars) and the lapse rate per 1000 increase in altitude is One Inch, a reading of say 24 Inches would imply (29.92 minus 24) = 5.92 Inches; which per 1000 feet or x 1000 would indicate a PA (not a DA) of 5, 920 feet.

Other safety events... 

Above: Cadets of the Montana Flying Academy under auspices of Professional Flight Center at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria here with former South African Air Force Capt. Dawid Laas and Past. Ron Kinnear (founder of Africa Missions). Dawid is the private owner of the two-seat Impala Jet in the background. His father Gen. Ben Laas was the original ferry pilot from Italy in the late 1960s.  

Left: Past. Ron Kinnear of Africa Missions was one of the keynote speakers sharing the platform with Dawid conveying the correlation between professionalism in the air and 'Christian Excellence'.  

A truly committed CHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE provides both the principles and the criteria for 'excellence' in an aviation career, as well as the 'basics' for maintaining air safety.   

Dawid and his family are dedicated flyers. Daughters Rude Laas and Karlien Laas have recently obtained their Commercial Pilot's Licences, with youngest brother Bennie Laas hot on their heels, with a recently obtained Private Pilot's Licence. All qualified on Cirrus aircraft of CDC Flight Center at Lanseria Airport.  One of Dawid's personal beliefs is that if serious about flying the 'eight hours between bottle and throttle' rule would not be necessary. He sets the example and neither uses alcohol nor tobacco.   

Below: Captivated audience at the safety evening. (Pictures: Leon de Klerk) 


Scroll down for selected articles on Flying Training and Air Safety by Johan - which have been published in various forums like World Airnews and Global Aviator magazine and

Index (scroll down)


1. Group dynamics and air safety  



1. The first flight

2. Selecting a flying school

3. The second lesson

4. Straight and Level

5. Climbing and Descending

6. Turning

7. Stalling and Spinning

8. Circuit Work - Part One

9. Circuit Work - Part Two

10. Forced Landings

11. Precautionary Landings

12. Basic Navigation

13. Advanced Navigation

14. A license with ink still wet

15. Basic Instrument Flying Tips 

16. Advanced Training Tips

17. Night Flying - 'V.F.R.' misnomer 

18. Night Flying - continued 

19. More about Group Dynamics and Air Safety  

20. Tips on single-pilot I.F.R.  

21. V.O.R./D.M.E. Arc approaches


 1. Group dynamics and air safety   

PILOTS  will never act in isolation, although at times they may be physically  removed from home or base. All people derive their societal reference  from their personal groups.  

The connection with groups remains  throughout a mission or journey. Due to the physical dislocation pilots  may more readily and directly experience how the forces of other groups  in their immediate proximity attempt to influence their behaviour and  air safety decisions.  

At times these dynamic influences  culminating into pressures to conform to the wills and wishes of e.g.  passengers may be overwhelming. Recognizing these entities and patterns  will enable the aviator to better understand and deal with these when  threatening air safety.

a) What is group dynamics?  

Group  dynamics represent the forces at play within small groups which make up  the sub-components of society to which we all belong. To us as  aviators, group dynamics may affect both our immediate AND long term air safety decisions, either wittingly or unwittingly.  Small groups invariably facilitate all individuals’ personal  motivational drivers and emotional needs. Small groups provide the vital  link between individuals and overall society.

 However big or  small various organizations, committees, managements, social structures  and cultures ultimately devolve into a small group of face to face  people making sometimes life changing decisions.  

For purpose of this discussion two main types of groups are dealt with, i.e. primary and task groups.

  • Primary groups have the vital element of face-to-face interaction. We rely on our primary groups for a sense of ‘self’ and ‘belonging’.


We get our reference  from small groups in dealing and coping with the outside world. Our  primary groups provide our sense of identity in context of our sense ‘we’.

Society’s  most basic building block or primary group is the family unit. The  individual will always find him or her within a primary group. However,  he or she may affiliate with different groups to satisfy the wider  spectrum of basic human needs in various arrangements. The properly  functioning individual will never be isolated or detached from a small  group.

  • Task groups facilitate our roles and functions in the work place in pursuit of common (usually economic) goals and objectives.

A  group of say five road workers do not make up a task group as  individuals, unless they organize to coordinate activities in a process  of task delegation to accomplish a common goal.

When such organizing takes place, a status hierarchy and task delegation inevitably develops.

Task groups may have different structures and an identifiable life cycle,  as discussed later. Associations within task groups may be formed that  resemble characteristics of primary groups – on which we may also rely  for emotional support.  

2.         Why do we need to understand group dynamics as Aviation participants?

As  pilots we may by nature of our activity be negatively predisposed to  err in terms of air safety on account of group dynamics that invariably  and virtually incessantly affect our decisions and reactions.

To  better understand how we can identify and if necessary manage or even  isolate influences and factors that may impair air safety, let’s  consider some aspects of our negative predisposition as aviators.

2.1       Basic needs at workplace

Individuals have two most basic needs that according social theorists come into conflict in group context at the workplace.  

The primary need for a sense of belonging seems to always conflict with the need and desire for independence.

The opposite needs must be balanced to function normally in task group context. When these opposing needs become imbalanced or disturbed, deviant behaviour patterns may transpire.

 Social  studies have shown that dissociation from group dynamics have been the  most common denominator in the behaviour patterns of three of four  assassins of US presidents; i.e. John W. Hinckley who shot pres. Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, Lee Harvey Oswald who shot and killed pres. John F. Kennedy in Nov. 1963 and Leon Czolgosz who shot and killed pres. William McKinley in 1901. (Cecilia L. Ridgeway: The dynamics of small groups,  1983; pp. 26 – 28). Social thinkers attribute such extreme deviant  behaviour patterns to preceding periods of social detachment when the  individuals experienced alienation and anomie as a result of the collapse of primary group supporting structures (pp. 24 – 25).

 4.2  Imbalanced group dynamics

How do group dynamic imbalances and disturbances affect aviation participants?

Pilots are invariably and inevitably both geographically and physically removed  or displaced from their primary group structures and networks.  Sometimes, as in a charter flight the displacement may last only a few  days. With contract flying the displacement may last several weeks or  months. The GA participant in pursuit of flying hours may also experience this detachment and displacement.

4.2.1  Alienation and anomie 

Pursuant  to the above all aviators and even the aviation student far away from  home for an extended period may experience feelings imbalance in group  context.

The detachment from a primary group, or within a task  group that can not adequately fulfill or balance a pilots basic needs  may lead to a condition of alienation and anomie; where alienation  can be described as the sense of distance or detachment from a primary  group on an emotional support level and where the associated phenomenon  of anomie may culminate as a personal crisis of normlessness and meaninglessness.

  •  A sociologist Emile Durkheim (1951) argued that when people are cut of from  the emotional support and security of primary groups a disproportionate  number of suicides may occur in society at large. This is not to infer  pilots may become suicidal, but illustrates the intensity and degree of  conflict that detached and displaced people may experience.

Sometimes  internal strife within primary groups causes the collapse of the  support structures and communication networks, but often the causes  which upset group structure and communication networks may be externally  induced.

Sociologists attribute these dis-integrations of groups  to conditions of rapid social change, economic hardship, social  mobility (in search of occupational opportunities and expressions) or  sudden crisis.

South Africa as a society in transition is  particularly exposed to such causal factors. Under such conditions the  ability to adapt may be severely impaired. Pilots’ most basic survival  mechanism is their ability to adapt; and to maintain mental alertness  and acuity under demanding circumstances.

3. When and how may pilots’ support groups collapse?  

It  should be clear from the above discussion that pilots by virtue of  their displacement may be more exposed to factors conducive of e.g.  broken relationships and even divorce as the rule, rather than the  exception. A vicious cycle may result whereby the physical displacement  and disassociation may lead to the collapse of pilots’ primary groups.  The pilot as absent spouse or life mate can not supply his or her  primary group’s emotional needs on which he or she is ironically reliant  upon to reciprocate the emotional support needed ‘back home’. The  physical displacement may result in emotional isolation. Pilots may want  to provide the emotional support to maintain the communication network  within their primary groups when operating at remote locations. However,  sometimes both the communication facilities and opportunities may be  scant, ineffective or even impossible.

Sociologists describe how  individuals under such conditions may affiliate to various groups in an  attempt to spread their particular sets of needs across a wider  spectrum. 

This human tendency is to maintain a balance between  the demands and rewards originating from particular groups. Under  conditions of pressure one primary group may be abandoned for the next  with less ‘costs’ and higher ‘rewards’.

3.1. Points to ponder…

Can  you discern the negative predisposition of pilots in this regard –  considering that relationship strains may be one of the highest and most  intense causes stress?

Can you discern the potential impairments  on air safety once these external factors unobtrusively find their way  into the cockpit or flight deck?

Can you think of any example where an aviation accident was precluded by alienation or anomie resulting from the imminent or actual collapse or disintegration of a pilot’s primary group?

4.   Task groups        

Pilots will in terms of their passengers invariably be the rank outsider to the group.

To understand how a task group may influence behaviour, a consideration of what social theorists regard as the basic needs at the work place  may provide a better insight and understanding to the motivational  drivers and underlying causes of deviant behaviour in group context or  as a result of group influence.

4.1. Basic needs at the workplace 

In the book The Sociology of Industry, social thinkers Parker, et al (1981;  pp. 78 – 79) describe various economic models whereby people relate to  their basic needs at the workplace. The individual’s primary aspiration  for work satisfaction appears to be at the top of a hierarchy of needs. Opportunities for self-growth are the next major requirements to remain dedicated to one’s occupation. Pilots may well resort in these categories. Abraham Maslow (1954) was the father of this line of research. In 1966 another theorist, a certain F. Herzberg, refined the hierarchy of needs at the workplace to the need for ‘self-actualization’ as the main source of motivation at the work place.

People  want to express themselves in their jobs and their endeavors.They want  their ‘bylines’ on their journals and reports, they want their names on  their oil paintings and want to add their own style and way of doing  things to their work.  

In the regulation rich aviation environment too much leeway can be disastrous and pilots’ primary and task groups will have to monitor and perhaps curb these ‘expressions of self’ in their flying.  

In  other social thinking models needs at the workplace may come down to  the need to feel connected to the input of one’s efforts and the results  thereof; i.e. to see and enjoy the result of the fruits of our labours.     

Few places other than the flight deck or cockpit may offer  such a direct and immediate link between the individual’s inputs and the  results of their labours.  

However, in few places a breakdown in  the motivational and driving forces can have such disastrous results  and consequences than on the flight deck or in the cockpit.  

When operating for long periods at remote locations, or under conditions of personal duress  e.g. when in a strained or broken down marital relationship, the  dividing lines between primary and task groups may begin to overlap or  merge.  

The individual pilot may unwittingly tend to derive his  or her emotional support structure and communication network from those  in his or her immediate working environment.  

This may be particularly acute in the multi-crew environment, but other forms and expressions of flying are not immune.  

Consider  the many occasions that a pilot, although strictly speaking in a single  pilot operation, may be involved in a multi-faceted work place behind  the controls; e.g.  

-          the instructor and student;

-          the survey pilot and the rest of the camera and task crew aboard,

-          the ferry pilot and fly-along buyer,

-          the corporate pilot and fly-along boss,

-          the salesperson and would-be buyer,

-          the pilot and ground support crew;

-          the two fly-buddies involved in a private flying endeavour or on a fly-away weekend.

Can you think of any other examples where primary and task groups overlap?

A disturbance or imbalance in primary group relations or structure will invariably affect the crew resource management loop and effectiveness.

  •  In such situations disturbances and imbalances inevitably become a problem in terms of air safety.  
  • It will be up to the group member or members with no or less significant inner conflict issues to resolve.  

Quite often circumstances dictate that such a potentially deviant individual can not be identified or isolated in time.  

Quite often these influences may be prevalent and reside within ourselves.  

A  recognition and understanding of group dynamics is therefore vital to  the maintaining of operational and air safety imperatives. Especially in  aviation it may be far more difficult or even impossible to have the  attitude of ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4: 9).

4.2       Pilots’ exposure to adverse group dynamics

We  by now ought to better understand how and why pilots are always exposed  in terms of group dynamics. Passengers in corporate, private and  general aviation activities will on average always outnumber and outrank  him or her. An individual’s most basic human need is a sense of  belonging. Groups use rejection and sidelining as mechanism to ensure  conformity to the common will and objectives. This may be evident in  BOTH corporate and charter flying.

In the corporate flying  environment it may be extremely difficult for the pilot wishing to  impress a new boss or to comply with the group’s common interests and  objectives to take a stand that the deteriorating weather at a  destination alternate airfield may be below safe minimums, prohibiting  the departure or continuation of a flight.

At this stage of the  discussion it may be easier in terms of group dynamics to understand why  the pilot at a far distant location may succumb to group suggestions,  which are actually pressures to conform...  

  • With the  majority’s wills and wishes, to e.g. overload in high density altitude  conditions;Or, to go low flying over a remote nature reserve when with a  group of testosterone loaded buddies, or to bust the lower limits  during instrument approaches on the way home.

 4.3.      How alienation and anomie manifest

 Alienation and anomie  may manifest in various forms. The corporate pilot in a little airport  office may feel totally cut off from the mother company’s overall group  objectives. In attempt to gain credits for acceptance the pilot may  succumb and take unsafe decisions; whilst unwittingly responding to the  urges, motivators and drives rooted in group dynamics. In cases such  deviations may become institutionalized or normative, culminating in  cultures like ‘Don’t come to us with your notions of flight and duty  times’. In remote places like Africa this is by no means uncommon. An  understanding of alienation and anomie may give a better insight into  why some people seem to compulsively tell tales and even lies.  

  • What  is really happening is that the alienated individual is attempting to  gain group acceptance by telling stories that will make him or her look  good, or therefore add to their personal value in terms of acceptability  to the group.
  • Pressing the limits may be just another expression of trying to gain group acceptance and approval.

Unfortunately  this always involves impaired air safety and ultimately quite the  opposite will be achieved in terms of group approval and acceptance.  Mostly pilots may not even be aware of these compulsive forces and human  dynamics inter-playing.

4.4.      'Normative' deviance

In  cases deviation may become the rule, rather than the exception. People  are influenced by bad examples that gain the attention and tacit  approval of the group. Such behaviour patterns may culminate in entire  communities or clubs being ‘infected’ by the bad examples. We then  encounter normative deviance as described by criminologist  Cronje, et al (The delinquent as a personality, 1982; Unisa Press – pp.  542 - 543). In cases of normative deviance only outside intervention  offer an air safety solution.

The individual pilot’s predicament  is always that reporting such widespread deviant norms and behaviour can  even under the Confidential Aviation Hazard Reporting System (CAHRS) be  traced to him or her. This is not by virtue of breach of  confidentiality of the system, but through logical deduction on the part  of the misdemeanant culprits.

To understand how deviant behaviour  may become institutionalized as normative deviance, consider the  classical experiment a social theorist Sherif (Ridgeway, 1983;  pp. 128 – 129) as far back as 1936 used the a concept well known by  pilots of today from their studies on Human Performance, i.e. autokinetic effect to  illustrate how small groups of people may adjust their norms and  opinions to conform with the popular opinion of the majority.

In  the experiments a tiny stationary pinpoint of light was observed in a  darkened room by groups to assess the apparent motion of the stationary  light. The individual group members had no measurement or frame of  reference to judge to illusory light movement. The group members not  exposed to other opinions invariably stuck to their original  observations. In over hundred exposures the members exposed to other  opinions invariably adjusted their opinions in later exposures to arrive  at a clear group norm, although this was entirely arbitrary and without any scientifically supported measure or yardstick.

  •  Can  you imagine what new norms may transpire if e.g. an entire club or  flying community begins to subtly accept and condone low flying  displays, beat-ups, pushing the limits in IMC?
  • Can you identify  examples of how negative group dynamics expressed as normative deviance  have culminated in adverse air safety practices or unsafe decisions?

In  group context and as invariably part of groups such unsafe attitudes  may overtake us as pilots and require a constant awareness and vigil not  to be ensnared.

4.5       Life cycle of a group  

Understanding  how the basic life cycle of a group works, will better enable pilots to  objectively deal with various life stages of groups; i.e. without  becoming subjected to the effects and to be able to remain unaffected  without responding to the pressures to be accepted or to conform.  Sociologist Cecilia L. Ridgeway (1983: pp. 345 – 348) describes  how a collection of individuals haphazardly coming together in a group  are immediately faced with dealing with two vital basic problems, i.e.  to firstly deal with power and secondly affection.  If no  clear leader exists a power vacuum originates which raises anxiety  levels within the group. Interpersonal orientations will determine who  moves to the forefront first. Considering the various ‘Survivor Series’  on television, a new insight may be afforded into how group dynamics  function. However, the pilot with a group of passengers embarking on a  journey to a distant location may observe the same factors at play as in  a ‘Survivor Series’.  

  • Both over-dependant and counter-dependant persons feel the same anxieties and fear, but react to these differently.
  • Counter-dependant people are those who manage their fears by refusing to depend on others or to allow others to have power over them.
  • Over-dependent people habitually give up power and allow others to take charge over them.

On the emotional side over-personal people try to be nice, no matter what and put all their efforts into letting everybody love them. Counter-personals react in the opposite way to avoid rejection by rejecting others first. They avoid intimacy.  

In the first counter-dependent phase  of a group’s life cycle no one may be able to accede to proposals for  structuring the group, which results in sometimes well-concealed or even  openly hostile factions within the group. However, all are unable to  win power themselves. It is up to those relatively un-conflicted about  power to bring the group out of its state of haggling into the next  transitional phase of resolution and catharsis. People begin to bond, at least with those in their faction.

If  a leader had been preliminary taking charge, the leader will be  rejected at this stage. If the group is to survive to the next stage,  the un-conflicted members will serve as mediators to redirect the  animosity towards the initial leader, and to accept responsibility for  their own actions.  

Power relations can now be managed in a more flexible, less anxious way.  

Relieved  by the resolution of the power struggle, the members experience a  temporary sense of unity and togetherness. The group is now in the enchantment phase and does everything to preserve the harmony and to avoid conflict.

  • The over-personals thrive in this condition. This ideal harmony of the enchantment does not last.
  • The group faces it second major problem of how to manage the affective relations. The illusion of harmony gets challenged by the counter-personals.
  • Counter-personals band together to resist the suffocating atmosphere upsetting the over-personals demands for a more accepting atmosphere.
  • Members begin treating each other in a franker way to exchange their real evaluations of one another.
  • If the group is to survive and not disintegrate the relatively un-conflicted individuals  will have to set a role model and encourage a constructive atmosphere  of mutual acceptance rather than counter-personal rejection.
  • The penultimate consensual validation phase is reached only if the level of trust between the members and their bonds they have developed on affective levels.

 4.6 Pilots often in a ‘who’s the boss?’ contest  

People  bring complex agendas to small groups. These are rooted in their  self-identity and habitual ways of managing interpersonal dimensions.  Most groups are not self-analytic.  

When the groups have a  previous association, the group may already have evolved a natural  leadership structure. In terms of the pilot interacting with a group of  passengers, the bounds of leadership may be at least temporary  contested.  

The question invariably arises of ‘Who’s the boss?’ The  smallest group is a dyad or two-person relationship. Only two possible  relationships are possible. The next group in size is the triad or  three-person group, within which already five types of direct and  indirect relationships are possible.

With merely six people (e.g. as passengers aboard an aircraft) as many as 20 direct and indirect relationships are possible.

Understanding  these basic characteristics, the pilot will be under far less internal  pressure to comply with the groups whims and wills; especially if these  may involve unsafe aerial decisions.  

4.7. Group leaders’ safety idiosyncrasies

Some ‘natural leaders’ have idiosyncrasy credits  within the group’s structure. Idiosyncrasy credits are reflected of  group tolerance for high value or high status members of the group.

  • The deviant behaviour of the group leader or sponsor is more readily condoned, e.g. he or she may be late for meetings.
  • Unsafe  behaviour such as delaying the departure by having a last couple of  drinks (just long enough for a cold front to move across the flight  route, or till it gets dark) may have a very direct influence and  bearing on the flight’s outcome.
  • Idiosyncrasy credits may culminate in the accepting and condoning of unsafe and deviant flying behaviour in high group status members like Chief Flying Instructors (CFI), club chairman or other high value or prominent members of the flying community.
  • The  CFI announcing his or her arrival with a beat-up during a fly-away  weekend is far less likely to be reported or reprimanded than the club  rookie.
  • To the contrary the deviant example is far more likely to be imitated by less capable individuals.

5.  Summary and conclusion                                                  

Pilots derive their sense of group reference, communication networks and emotional support from their particular primary groups.

  • A  circle of friends or colleagues, a management support structure and  everyone who is in the face-to-face interactive primary group structure  of the pilot on a daily basis should understand these and uphold the  pilot’s interests even against the objectives of monetary gain when  negative group dynamics oppose air safety practices.
  • It is absolutely vital in terms of air safety to recognize and maintain these support mechanisms.
  • The natural life cycle of small groups may directly affect decisions about air safety.
  • The  pilot is invariably exposed to these in terms of vying for control and  balancing own internal needs for acceptance and approval.
  • Recognizing  and understanding these group dynamics is vital in terms of maintaining  the air safety balance, not only to the pilot, but his or her  management or support structures.


1. The first flight 

Costly magic carpet ride

YOU’D  quite likely be calling your Mom twice the same day… The first flight  has that effect on aviators. Lying on your bed hours afterwards still  feeling the effects of three-dimensional motion, the mattress would lift  and gently drift into realms of slumber land.  

Afterwards  nothing will compare in beauty to a Jabiru, Cessna 172 or Cherokee 140.  A dusty old rag wing in the back of a hangar will suddenly seem dainty  and sprightly. You’d be patting cowlings affectionately, imagining how  they’d feel to the touch in the air. You’d look beyond the grey haze and  see towering Cumulus clouds billowing, beckoning you to scale their  tuft-like snowy cliffs. You’d run outside stumbling over a roasting  barbecue at the sound of a Lycoming or Continental engine purring  overhead. A Pratt and Whitney, albeit old radial or turbofan, might see  you dash straight through a shut sliding door.

Your  mind would wander incessantly to the little boat like pitching movement  of the aircraft’s nose and the awesome wonder of the wings rolling in  symphony with the slightest aileron input. Your friends will know  something is different about you. If your bumper sticker, flying jacket,  aviator sun glasses, wrist watch and flying magazines in the back of  your car don’t overcome the lack of discernment on their part, you’d  make pretty darn sure by turning any and I mean any conversation topic  into a discussion about the wonders of flying. Avgas will smell better  than perfume. If someone doesn’t stop you, you’d dab on a dash of Jet A1  for after-shave lotion. Getting the point?

Lesson  One, Exercise ‘One to Five’ will have the above effects on true grit  aviators. It could be the costliest flight you’d ever undertake.  Afterwards it will never matter again that pursuing other insanely  mundane callings like missionary, rocket scientist, president of a  country, heart surgeon or engineering professor might cost far less than  becoming a pilot and wearing those wings and four gold braided  epaulettes.

Those in authority might just  as well scrap Exercises ‘One to Ten’ for the first flight as although  you’d actually be covering them all from the Instructor’s Air  Information Circular (AIC) you’d hardly be taking it in. If emerging  from a proper ground school you’d be picking up just about half the full  value of Exercise Four on ‘Effects of Controls’.

Important transition

The  transition between theory and practical flying will be very taxing. The  best way to overcome this and a variety of emotions from uncertainty to  downright fear is to try and focus exactly on what your instructor is  pointing out, at the time it’s being pointed out. Most of the aspects  like the earth’s changing aspect from the air, the general flying area’s  boundaries and many other important facets will be going ‘over your  head’. Don’t worry too much about remembering all, but do consolidate  before the next flight.

Physically and  mentally exhausted you may very well feel like heading straight to bed  after the first flight’s debriefing session. The best way to achieve an  optimum learning benefit is to take a break and return shortly  afterwards to sit Idi Amin ‘brrr-brrr’ style in the same or similar  stationary aircraft with your checklist and notes to mentally review  important aspects.

Setting the standard

Remember  that you are laying foundation and setting the standard for the rest of  your flying. Your instructor will want to recap in the next lesson  about secondary effects of controls and the inter-relationship. Remind  yourself of fundamentals pointed out that aircraft attitude in relation  to the horizon would give a certain speed and not the other way round.  Try to think of the airspeed indicator as an energy meter and to recall  the physical attitudes that have been pointed out. Worry about how the  instruments worked later, way later.

As your  later progress will depend on the level of participation and  preparation you put in, review and rehearse the vital actions (the  flows) by touch-drills to enhance muscle memory and learning by  association. If you get off on the wrong footing, chances are you might  be ‘carrying’ this setback or handicap throughout your curriculum or  even your career. First impressions do count and while your first flight  might only be an introduction, the second flight will really matter as  that’s when your instructor will want to find out how much you’d taken  in and was willing to remember on the first.

 Only  'perfect practice' makes perfect and the information you are committing  to memory will be converted to knowledge and later insight; and that  you will be using those basic procedures for the rest of your life.  Check up on yourself by verbally reading the checklist. Your instructor  will reciprocate on the same level you are prepared to perform to as  soon as you’re ready ‘attach’ deeper meanings and consequences to the  checks. This is an important time to make the decision not to settle for  ‘minimums’.

‘Head flying’

The  rule of thumb is to fly at least two hours ‘with your head’ for every  one hour actually in the air. At this stage, although attending to  consolidation, try not to get ‘ahead’ of the lessons and treat each one  as if it’s the last and only lesson you’d ever be getting on the aspect.  This ‘ground flying’ approach will help with later consequential  thinking and you’ll soon enough discover your mind being applied to  associated circumstances and influences.

You  will no longer just be seeing the plane when walking up to it, but  assessing things like overall condition and symmetry. The windsock will  no longer just be an object but indicating the general direction for  carrying out forced landings, the potential for wind shear and cross  winds and even imminent thunderstorm activity. Considering all these  factors, the approach to the first flight may be the first step towards  later consequential thinking and eventually captaincy.  

2. Selecting a flying school

Use appropriate criteria 

SELECTING  the most suitable flying school or Air Training Organization (A.T.O.)  from 267 possible options flying some 200 000 hours per year can be  daunting. Varying standards exist and is a factor recognized by those in  authority.

The manager of  Part 141 operations at the SA Civil Aviation Authority, Neil Thomas is  adamant that varying standards among South Africa’s A.T.O.s need to be  better controlled. A classification system is therefore being devised to  grade A.T.O.s according to criteria which each will propose as part of a  participative, broad based and transparent process.

Until  the grading system is in place parents, sponsors and candidates will  have only word of mouth and ‘sales pitches’ to go on. The various  presentations can be very confusing and even misleading. Most veteran  instructors doing initial or re-validation tests can normally tell  within minutes whether or not a test candidate has received proper  grounding and finishing off.


The  ‘crunch’ normally comes when ‘judgement’ and ‘critical analytical’  thinking are put to the test.  Especially candidates flying more  sophisticated planes often fall short in recognizing possible  consequences of e.g. an electric-hydraulic gear motor failing, leading  to e.g. a fire on board, resulting in e.g. electrical, avionics and  communication failure and pressure of dealing with passengers in an  immediate forced landing situation.

It  might come as a shock, but many A.T.O.s do not offer Private Pilot’s  License (PPL) ground schooling, before flying training is commenced.  Within a competitive culture many young instructors are bound by  students’ budgets and the overly focused career end-goal orientations.  Subtle pressures from management to chase up hours have to be balanced  with keeping clients happy. Under-performers can’t readily be shown the  door.

End-goal orientation

Even  designated examiners (DE) are sometimes caught up in the airline  end-goal orientation. I was astonished to recently learn that a DE had  told a candidate ‘to sit on his hands’ in dealing with a simulated  engine fire in a piston twin and treat the situation initially like an  engine failure in an airliner. Common sense dictated the possible  origins of such an emergency situation in piston engine aircraft can  have the effect of a blow torch on structural integrity among other  immediate considerations.

The  approach taken by the DE was that of airlines whereby climb-performance  on one engine is guaranteed. Fires could be dealt with by cutting off  the fire’s supply of hydraulic fluid, oil and fuel with shut-off valves  and activating the automatic fire extinguishing system. In some  airliners auto-feather would kick in. In more sophisticated ones fire  extinguishers would automatically activate.

‘Getting street-wise’

Consequential  thinking and inter-relationship of various systems emergencies are  often neglected in training as well as in the approach to tests. Pilots  often aren’t taught to be ‘street-wise’ in the planes they are actually  flying.

Testing instructors  can often tell which instructor has trained a candidate. Icons like Jim  Davis are hard to come by. Jim’s protégés presenting themselves for  later renewal tests would show that extra ‘finishing off’. One could  lead them into ‘pitfall scenarios’. They’d invariably fly themselves out  of knotted situations. They could all cope with cross winds and wind  shear.

John Schraader’s  students invariably could recover smoothly from full spins and land on  the numbers during simulated forced landings. Phil Smit’s students all  knew checks by heart, as he would readily turn back to the apron if a  student didn’t do his or her part.

Nowadays  one can’t whack a student behind the head (gently) for doing something  stupid or not properly thinking ahead of the plane and the situation.  Students have become ‘clients’. The industry is faced with stiff  competition. The next school or ATO will get the business if somebody  takes offense.

A.T.O.s  simply had to become more inventive in attracting and retaining new  business. Many offer the (in some cases rather remote) possibility of  job opportunities, provided the full training budget is spent at that  particular institution. But, standards change as ace instructors land  job opportunities and/or as the better ones become managers.


In  such a system discernment is vital. The fast-tracking system can not be  doing training standards any good. I have recently encountered basic  flaws among advanced Private Pilot Licensed students undergoing  Commercial License training. Some had more than 60 hours’ simulator  training and were so dazzled by asymmetric effects on a twin engine  aircraft they’d sit idly with both feet on the floor board, nowhere near  the rudder in the air!

When  asked how it was deemed possible to fly a twin on one engine this way, a  student replied ‘he’d thought the simulated emergency situation to be  over’. (All set for the ‘reset’ button).

Some couldn’t do proper unmanned airfield joining procedures, despite having passed both Commercial  and Airline Transport Pilot’s License subjects; one subject having been  passed after six attempts. Sausage machining might get the better of us  all unless the industry sits up and takes notice.

Industry role models

Talking  to various owners of A.T.O.s many invariably compare their services  with 43 Air School in Port Alfred. That A.T.O. has recently flown 5, 350  hours at three campuses (the others at Bisho and Lanseria) as all-time  civilian record for South Africa. Safety is first and discipline  paramount. Students are e.g. not allowed to have long hair or wear  jewellery and have to wear uniforms. That A.T.O. can afford not to  compromise.

Former  professional diplomat Frik Schoombee is unwavering in explaining the  reason behind their success: ‘Tell parents, sponsors and students to  actually ask airlines and employers which students they prefer. There’s  no mystery. Use the ‘four E assessment’, i.e. environment, equipment, expertise and experience.

‘Within our exclusive training environment we don’t waste time and energy waiting for external traffic. In terms of equipment our 69 aircraft are in pristine technical condition.

‘Physically check out the condition of aircraft at some schools before signing up. In terms of expertise  our instructors rate among the best. We have instructor-managers not  doubling as e.g. safety officers. We have nine airline pilots as  experienced external auditors. Ask the right questions then go look if  the answers can be verified.’ The fifth E would off course be ‘economy’. The final question to resolve is whether or not a potential candidate can afford not to strive for excellence.

3. The second lesson

Lesson Two can be daunting  

CONSIDERING  the second flying lesson, imagine of a cowboy movie. John Wayne or Clint  Eastwood strolls down the center of a town. The facial expression is  seemingly vacant. As if out of nowhere the Colt .45 appears. Bang! Bang!  Two crooks behind the bell tower come tumbling down.  

A  real cowboy is always assessing the situation; thinking, planning...  applying his mind. A real pilot is always focusing and applying his or  her mind... to flying.

Airlines  conform to a ‘sterile cockpit’ policy below 10, 000 feet. During the  instrument approach there is no time for idle chatter or jokes. Crews  are not only thinking about approaches, but thinking ahead of stuff like  missed approaches, diversions and the possibility of an emergency  situation.

The veteran charter pilot  on the approach to land at a game lodge strip is always ready to do a  'go-around', mindful of the possibility of a ‘rich cut’ of the engines,  anticipating wind shear and sudden gusts; always scanning for wandering  game, etc.

Flying is a mind game.  After the first introductory flight you would be infatuated with flying.  The real crunch comes at the second flight. Walking up to the plane you  would ideally be taking the first steps to transitioning between  professional student and pilot. By applying the checks and drills you  have been shown in Lesson One, you would be assessing the condition and  status of the aircraft and flying conditions. The sooner you learn to  take full responsibility, the better. You are taking the first steps  towards always being in command.  

Many  students attempt to use flying as an 'aptitude' development program.  Parents and sponsors show require dedication and commitment at the  earliest possible stages. Many students never really make the transition  between student and pilot. No matter how many times a lesson is  repeated, fall-backs will keep recurring if they never consolidate their  work after lessons. Instructors can provide guidance, but assimilation  and retention of knowledge will always be the student's responsibility.  

Some  older businessmen are reluctant to ‘take to the books’. Some have the  attitude of ‘just show me how it’s done. Money is no object. Learning to  fly always takes more than meets the eye. By the time you receive your  second flying lesson you should not only have read ahead on your Trevor Thom or Jim Davis  books, you should have been thinking how theory in the study guides  applies to your particular lesson. You would be short-changing yourself   expecting the instructor to spoon-feed you.

When  required to do checks and vital actions, you should not be giving mere  lip service, but actually check for the desired settings and  configuration. It’s up to you what type of pilot you will turn out to  be. It shows in Flying Lesson Two. A ‘racing mind’ is an indication of  inadequate preparation. Always assess if you are merely active or  effective. The success lies in good preparation, 'perfect practice',  'blindfold checks', revision and consolidation on your own in a  stationary plane after lessons.

The  air exercise ‘Effects of Controls’ is relatively simple and enjoyable.  All normal phases of flight are actually included just by flying to the  general flying area.  But, focus on the important aspects pointed out.

Flying  is all about balance and energy management within speed regimes. The  three primary controls always have an indirect influence on one another.  The trimmers are used to maintain that sensitive balance and reduce  pressures on the controls and are not to be used as primary controls.  The little ball on the turn and bank indicator will become an  all-important aspect, always to be considered as not just ‘something to  step on’. Engine settings, attitude and configuration changes will  always affect the ball’s position.

At  this stage you will be shown the secondary effects of rudder, which is  roll, and of aileron, which is yaw. Most important is that they will  always interact. What you are being taught will always apply to all  phases of flying. Try to think of it this way. I am not in favor of  letting the ensuing spiral dives develop too far before initiating  recoveries at this stage, as this is one of the most important  confidence building phases. Coordination will come in good time.

The  first few lessons should be scheduled for early mornings or late  afternoons, when the effects of turbulence are least. I used to ask  students to attempt to roll the nose around a reference point, but found  that caused some to be airsick.  Instructors should rather stick to the  lesson plan and not attempt to ‘overcook’ it. The student should be  encouraged to focus attention essentially outside. Ironically, the  foundation of instrument flying is already laid here, as the student  gets taught to focus on attitude, which results in certain speeds, etc.

'Airmanship'  and lookout gets taught at the infancy stages of flying. ‘Think’ what  e.g. the effects of prop-wash are on e.g. the bins in a hangar behind  when next you are taxiing out for the flight. Later problems with  landings can often be traced to basics being overlooked or underplayed  in the lesson on Effects of Controls.

Shortly  after Lesson Two is actually the best time to assess and plan future  progress, as most students are actually merely infatuated after the  (previous) Introductory or Familiarization Lesson.

The  Private Pilot’s License consists of modules. It may be prudent to  reassess and do future planning and career prognosis only after the  first module, just before going for circuits and landings. Anyone can  show some degree of proficiency through repetition. Start applying your  mind at the onset. Be really honest. The most important person in your  career equation is: You. 

Being a  truly professional and safe pilot will always depend on how you ‘think  flying’. This is the time to decide if you want to be professional in  your approach, or to remain in the comfort zone of ‘professional  student’?  

4. Straight and Level Flying

The underestimated lesson 

NEEDING  match sticks to keep your eyes open during the Third Lesson’s ground  class, you are probably underestimating straight and level flying.

Typical  signs that some pupils may struggling later with take-offs and  landings, flight planning, navigation and even instrument flying are  e.g. when fellow-student Van der Merwe is snoring himself awake at  times. Jacobson would not be arguing any point. Jones could be listening  to cricket scores through an ear-piece. Patel may well be using ‘Black  Berry’ to get cheaper and better headphones. Chantenay may be the only  one asking intelligent questions.

This  series is not aimed at duplicating flying studies or techniques anyone  can read up on, or superseding other instructors’ methods and opinions.  But, much value may be imparted if shown how a lesson may be approached  or ‘thought about’ to derive optimum value, as well as some practical  tips. Many times the full value is not derived from a lesson until much  later in a career, when the basics are revisited. Flying straight and  level is most unfortunately an often neglected lesson. There is far much  more to it than meets the eye at first. A logbook showing exercises 1 –  14 have been covered in the third period often signifies some basic  oversights.

You  may argue that at this point you have already been to the general  flying area twice and will do so many times. You have already flown  straight and level on your introductory flight and  during the second lesson on Effects of Controls. To such students the  graphs on minimum power and drag speed, total drag, flying at two speeds  at the same power setting and for range and endurance may keep ‘fading  away’ on the whiteboard. Lack of understanding differences between basic  concepts of e.g. forces and couples and thrust, work and power will  show if later presented for remedial training.

An  astonishing number of candidates presented for remedial training,  reveal deficiencies traceable to failing to grasp the principles of  Exercise Six. Think of it, some 70 to 80 percent of all flying will  involve Exercise Six. How one fares e.g. in rally and precision flying  one day will have a direct bearing. Much later in-flight re-dispatch,  holding and diversion decisions and even how many tonnes of fuel you may  be uplifting will in a very direct way depend on how much you were  willing to take in about straight and level flying.

Sophistication  and further considerations are best phased in during a private pilot’s  license course, but too many students and test candidates fail to  recognize when an aircraft is e.g. being flown ‘behind the drag curve’.  The often subtle relationship between the airspeed and the aircraft’s  nose position, varying between three and four fingers below the horizon,  could give a clear indication. But, one needs to know when and what to  look for; and understand why this is happening. The effects of not only  power setting and speed, but weight and position of the centre of  gravity will necessarily alter the picture. Awareness of such  differences will affect flying performance and how the aircraft will  respond during the landing phase.

Many  students and pilots have a ‘just show me how to do it’ approach.  However, the whole approach to flying should be that of cause and  effect. The aircraft’s behavior may be merely symptoms. Unless adopting  this approach, consequential and later critical-analytical thinking will  be compromised. The instructors’ AIC encourage that during and after  each lesson special attention should be paid to faults students  generally make, faults made on a particular lesson and most importantly  what these could have led to. Neglecting these aspects often result in  pilots who are e.g. flying aircraft at mixture settings that are either  too rich or too lean for the altitude and power settings. Many are not  taught to recognize the delicate balances changing all the time; when  making the transition between two defined straight and level flight  speed regimes, i.e. flying for optimum range and endurance.

Neglected  students often do not realize the inter-relationship of the two sides  of the total drag curve. The differentiation is generally referred to as  the ‘lift induced drag side’ in the low-speed regime and the ‘profile  drag side’ on the higher end. Many students later fail to use these  flying regimes to their benefit. They e.g. fail to grasp that plan form  drag and prolonged hold-off during landing can be just as effective as  the brakes. The significance of safety margins e.g. during rotation on  take-off weighed against a proportionally larger gain in allowing the  speed to build up first before climb out, is often misinterpreted. They  may fail to appreciate that during rotation the attitude change may  momentary be causing a reversion back to the lift induced side of the  drag curve; resulting in a sagging back onto the runway unless the  airspeed is allowed to build up in ground effect, i.e. towards the more  optimal profile drag side of the total drag curve.

The  lesson also covers effects of engine torque and prop-wash always  varying with changes in power settings at different speeds. The amount  of trim required on both rudder and elevator varies accordingly. The  differences between steering a heading and adhering to a track are  covered during the lesson. Many students who ‘skim’ over these aspects  later fail to focus on reference points on the horizon and on attitude  flying. They are the ones who simply fail to do ‘track crawling’ on  outside reference points during navigation exercises, who will later be  unable to navigate without a GPS.

Recapping  Exercise Four or effects of controls leads logically into ‘straight and  level flying’. Attention should be drawn not only to the position of  the wings and nose in relation to the horizon, but to the corresponding  attitude changes with power and speed changes. The relevance and  respective effects of the engine and drag force couple and the lift and  gravity force couples are vital. The propeller has an optimum efficiency  range correlating with speed. The minimum power speed and minimum drag  speed are related, but not synonyms. The effect of altitude can be used  to great advantage, e.g. when required to hold in the general flying  area by ATC. The later practical applications abound. Skimming over  straight and level flying, as often seen in the industry, creates huge  gaps in pilots’ understanding and interpretative thinking.

The student should not only be made aware for what to  look, but where to place overall focus. This should essentially be  outside for attitude flying and lookout for other traffic; whilst being  taught the relative importance of continuous scan and transferring of  attention between outside and inside the cockpit. The focus shift can be  likened to essentially ‘looking’ outside while ‘glancing’ inside. The  vital actions and checks should be done ‘in between the flying’ and not  the other way around. Students are also to be taught the basic flying  order of priorities here, i.e. to generally first focus on ‘flying’,  then ‘navigating’, then ‘communicating’.

Just  think of it. In a few periods you will be in the circuit. Positing from  downwind onto base leg will already see you in effect temporarily  traversing between two speed and power regimes. The often downplayed  lesson on flying straight and level is a corner stone in the curriculum  and should always be a full lesson in its own right.

5. Climbing and Descending

A key to better performance   

MANY  pilots with complexes about their flying were neglected in the infancy  stages of training. The roots of poor flying performance can often be  traced to misconceptions about Exercises Seven and Eight, or Lesson Four  dealing with climbing and descending.

Test  candidates and under-performers may conceal such handicaps behind  charades or resignation. The rather sincere explanations may vary: ‘I  realize I should fly more regularly’. Or, ‘I can’t believe I’ve botched  the landing (or forced landing) again’. Or worse: ‘My instructor never  taught me’. Especially the last expression, often heard after bumpy  landings, poor performance in competitions or even a botched forced  landing sadly sometimes rings true.

Poor  performers at times show inventive ways to ‘work around’ carried  handicaps and ‘inherited’ shortcomings. ‘Work-around techniques’ may  involve minute tough rapid and incessant aircraft nose attitude or power  changes during the climb, cruise (yes) or the approach to land. Some  have to work hard unnecessarily during the approach to land to carry out  consistently ‘safe’ landings. Some even resort to cross-controls,  though this may be subtle. Trimming and balance is crucially important  and can make hundreds of feet difference in terms of both distance and  height. During corrective training an instructor invariably revisits the  principles and graphs on climbing and descending.

The  flip-side of the coin is that pilots doing well in e.g. a flying rally  or gliding championships invariably grasp the differences between e.g.  flying for range or endurance, gliding angles and speeds, etc. to  effectively use these to their advantage. The lesson on climbing and  descending naturally flows from the preceding lesson on straight and  level flying. Similar fundamentals apply.

This  series is not intended to rewrite or substitute the basic lessons. The  objective is rather to focus on common mistakes and perhaps add value. A  proven technique in critical-analytical flying instruction to find and  eliminate inherent shortcomings is to after a botched exercise bite  one’s lip whilst patiently allowing a student or test candidate to first  reveal his or her depth of understanding upon retracing an exercise  with the aid of sketches or graphs. The overall idea is to add value,  proficiency and safety.

The  exercises on climbing and descending on face value appear to be  mundane. Sometimes these are incorrectly merely ‘incorporated’ as part  of ab-initio flying training along with other exercises. But, the  exercises need to be consolidated and if necessary repeated at the  earliest possible stages, lest the cracks show up sooner rather than  later.

Many  pilots do not associate or correlate aircraft nose attitudes with a  range of speeds, OR their particular relevance and importance to a  specific flight regime. A common misconception e.g. manifests during  forced landing exercises when the glide is futilely attempted to be  ‘stretched’.

In  ‘Mechanics of Flight’ (Pitman: 1972; pp. 188 – 195) A.C. Kermode e.g.  explains how during a powerless glide the left and drag vectors set up a  total reaction to balance weight. Lift acts perpendicular to the flight  path. The total reaction acts perpendicular to the earth’s true  horizontal plane. This angle during a glide corresponds to the angle  between the respective total reaction and the lift vectors. The actual  gliding angle would correspond to angle between the aircraft’s flight  path and the earth’s true horizontal.

Gliding  efficiency in terms of range is dependent on the gliding angle; which  in turn depends on the value of the lift/drag relationship. Therefore,  if the aircraft is to optimally extend gliding range the value of  lift/drag must be a maximum. As it is virtually impossible during a  glide to judge the angle of attack or to visualize the optimum lift/drag  relationship, which will achieve the ‘flattest’ possible gliding angle  for best range, the pilot’s only resort is to know the best ‘average’  speed from the aircraft flight manual. But, the best gliding speed  (especially in heavier aircraft) may vary with e.g. center of gravity  and weight changes. The explanation is by no means redundant. Trying to  ‘flatten’ the glide to gain range simply does not work for the aforesaid  reasons.

The  total drag graph holds the key to better in-depth understanding. If  nose attitude is flattened, the speed reduces into the ‘low speed drag’  range. Induced drag, or lift dependent drag (according to different  schools of thought) comes into play. Conversely, if the nose is lowered  the gliding range is similarly reduced as profile drag increases,  despite the extra speed. Lift will now increase as speed increases,  although the total amount of drag may be the same as at low speed.  (Remember the gliding range depends on lift/drag value). But, during a  transitional phase as angle of attack is decreased, the value of  lift/drag is increased.

The  objective of a powerless glide as applied to a forced landing is mostly  to land at the lowest possible ground speed, reducing kinetic energy.  Many pilots and even instructors tend to dig up the sketches for gliding  with and into wind to explain gliding angle to distinguish between real  and apparent gliding range. This is not incorrect or inapplicable, but  the gliding angle discussed above pertains to effective aerodynamic  forces and should not be confused.

When  considering ground speeds (i.e. gliding against and into wind) a simple  sectional trigonometry construction of the velocity vector triangle  should show an increase on the slanted or hypotenuse side will  correspond to both increases in the vertical and horizontal sides. To  reach a specific touchdown point, any advantage gained on the horizontal  will have an associated increase in the vertical, or descent rate.

In  a power assisted descent a useful rule of thumb based on the ‘one in  sixty rule’ on a three degree slope is to multiply ground speed by five  to find required rate of descent; or to multiply height in thousands of  feet by three to find the range or distance out in nautical miles – i.e.  if established on a stabilized approach on the glide slope at the  proper approach speed.

The  applications are marvelous to observe in practice. The various options  and varying results are extensive and put the ‘art’ back into flying  when practiced. It even gives one the edge in competitions. So, please  do not indulge in expressions of deviant, dangerously low or extreme  flying when cut loose into the ‘wild blue yonder’. Rather become  involved in rally or competition flying, or if just going for a flip  perhaps practice a few forced landings. Not only will it make one more  proficient, but safer.

Equally  amazing is how the forces of physics always attempt to achieve a  balance. In the pure glide or power assisted descend the lift and  gravity (weight) vectors set up a resultant vector supplying ‘weight  apparent thrust’ along the glide path. Truly amazing! Editorial space  restrictions always apply in series like these. Much, much more can be  said about descending and powerless glides. I will suffice to state that  if skimming over these exercises initially, one is being deprived and  the discrepancies will show up later.

Pertaining  to climbing a common misconception is that an aircraft climbs once the  lift vector is greater than weight! Once again in powered flight the  total drag curve and power required graphs apply. Optimum performance  would depend on the maximum difference between power required and that  available. At first glance this may be axiomatic, but with respective  engine and propeller efficiency ranges the effective overall performance  parameters vary.

Flying  initially in a little trainer, it may be hard to imagine life and death  decisions may later depend on understanding these basics. Especially a  heavily loaded twin aircraft will one day either clear an obstacle or  not, depending on understanding these efficiencies; and where the best  rate of climb on either both or a single engine would lie on the graph.  The relative drag forfeiture and proportional overall performance gained  may one day make the difference between safe or insufficient fuel  reserves.

So,  next time you adhere to the acronym attitude (lower), speed (increase),  power (reduce to cruising power) and trim (A.S.P.T.) leveling off  technique, consider how the aircraft is traversing through and along  adverse to optimum points on the total drag and power required graphs.  Conversely, the sequence for commencing a climb from level flight or  P.A.S.T., i.e. power (increase), attitude (raise nose), speed (adjust  for best rate or maximum angle) and trim for attitude, power setting and  balance will always apply throughout a flying career.

Explore  these climbing regimes and you may e.g. find how the rate of climb on a  Piper Arrow III is virtually the same at 80 knots and 103 knots; or how  a light twin on one engine descends at ten or more knots below blue  line (best single engine rate of climb speed) and actually climbs with a  lower nose attitude at blue line speed. This may be very hard to  believe at low level with one engine feathered and power lines straight  ahead. But, do make sure you understand these principles thoroughly… and  hopefully one day live to tell how it made the difference between life  and death!

6. Turning

Toppling the cockroach   

TURNING  seemingly provides at least one way of proving that the human brain has  a hundred billion neurons with one quadrillion synaptic connections.  Notwithstanding, the application of Aviation Legislation in South  Africa, Vol. 4, Appendix 1.1, Exercises Nine (Turning) and 15 (Advanced  Turning) in practice tends to rather support ‘local’ popular belief  about brain processes involving a cockroach paddling on a cork to flip  the switches inside one’s skull.

Applied  in proper context the legislative unit standards for turning are by no  means lacking. However, popping an off the cuff question to some flying  instructors about the effect of weight on bank angle on any turn of a  given radius and velocity produced a few laughs. Without the aid of  Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL) notes few were able to recall that the  formula for bank angle has weight above the line being cancelled by  weight below the line. Now what about our hapless students?

Aviators  often keenly resort to Newton’s second law dealing with circular motion  to provide explanations why and how an aircraft turns. Some start of  with the seasoned argument of the stone tied to a string swung around a  centre point; invariably a fictitious hand. An aircraft in flight  conveniently produces a lift vector partly balancing weight in the  vertical plane of motion whilst due to its inclination also producing  centripetal force to the centre of the turn. But, few can explain why  the stone on the string with arguably no aerodynamic lifting component  can do the same; i.e. to remain in a horizontal plane of motion.

Consulting websites  and Wikipedia (search: ‘Non-uniform_circular_motion’ on Google) would  e.g. reveal circular motion does not produce an outward force as concept  employed to explain overall balance of forces in a turn. It is argued  more specifically that centripetal force as radial force towards the  centre of the turn is balanced by a ‘fictitious’ centrifugal force and  in fact no outward force is acting on an object in circular motion.

Physicists  reason that the presumably ‘outward force’ is an illusion derived from  our experiences in which our view as independent observers was changing  within a ‘non-inertial frame’ or viewpoint. It appears the vertical  component of the inward force is derived from an angular acceleration  towards the centre of the turn. Whilst this may hold true mathematically  and even graphically, it suggests the popular concepts employed in  flying tuition may be overly simplified (despite its complexities) and  very convenient.

Furthermore,  during the respective entry and exit phases of turning manoeuvres a  period of non-uniform motion would involve inward acceleration to the  centre of the turn, but the vector will have both radial and tangential  acceleration. Resolving the radius of turn for a given bank angle (i.e.  the angle between the respective aircraft’s and earth’s vertical axes)  according to some sources produce a ‘constant’ factor of 11.29; where  ‘k’ = 9.8 m/s/s x 3600 sec/hour divided by 1852 m x 6076.12 feet/nm.

The  formula for turn radius would be: Radius (ft) = True Airspeed divided  by 11.29 (k) x Tan Bank angle. The point is in view of all the  intricacies ‘old’ A.C. Kermode’s textbook Mechanics of Flight (Pitman,  1972; pp. 247 – 248) suddenly emerges as a welcome simplification of  turning theory.

The  aim of this series is not to duplicate theory, but to provide a  different vantage point about training. So, considering all the above  plus the fact that most students and some if not many instructors tend  to invariably reveal insufficient understanding of turning theory, the  human brain is truly amazing. Turning is in essence a transitional  manoeuvre. Unlike other exercises the whole range of variations of  underlying principles are difficult to resolve and to visualize in  practice. Yet, most pilots develop a sense of preempting and  anticipation of the amount of force necessary to smoothly enter,  maintain and recover from various rates and radii of turns.

Some  students from practical backgrounds and sometimes without even the  faintest clue what is being explained on a whiteboard about turning  theory in the air show a natural feel for turning, transitions and rates  of changes. Others seemingly understand all the ground theory and  totally mess up in the air. Advanced turning attracts exponentially  increasing load factors with increasing in bank angle. The load factors  are directly and inversely proportional to bank angle, depending on the  direction of reasoning.

A  stressed Airline Transport Pilot with intricate knowledge of all the  theory and inter-relationships on one day cannot maintain altitude or  attitude for the life of him or her, only to execute the manoeuvre  perfectly the next day. Theory is indeed necessary, but evidently  provides no guarantee or absolute safeguard when it comes to proficiency  in turning exercises.

Effective  control of altitude, turn rate and radius during a turn is a function  of both load factor induced by simultaneous speed and altitude  manipulations by elevator and bank angle by means of ailerons. Human  factors produce various linear and circular acceleration and  deceleration errors with various disturbances in the vestibular systems.  External and varying ‘g- forces continuously affect the individual. How  the brain copes with these is truly amazing. There is simply no proven  method or scientific way to predict how a candidate will fare  beforehand.

The  ‘hands-on’ types often do better as they invariably resort to outside  visual cues for attitude indications. This is maybe where the key to  good performance lies. Some take their reference from cycles and motor  cycles leaning into the direction of the turn.

Mathematically  we see an increase in velocity has more effect on the bank angle than  on the radius of turn. Lift on the wings is considerably greater during a  turn than during level flight. But, lift would increase considerably  with increases in bank angle. At 60 degree bank angle the amount of lift  produced will have to be double that of level flight. The stalling  speed is considerably increased. A mere 15 degrees increase in bank  angle would require four times the lifting force and nearly double the  straight and level flying stalling speed. But, the outside wing  traveling on the greater radius will be producing more lift relative to  the inside wing. Consider therefore an aircraft at nearly a quadrupled  load factor stressed to 3.8 g in the factory. Furthermore, at least in  theory and not allowing for auto-correcting side-slip, at extremely  steep bank angles the rudder will start to partly function as an  elevator and the thrust vector will have a vertical component of lift.

In  the shallow bank angle regimes of flying like in a climbing turn the  aircraft will tend to ‘over-bank’ into the turn. During descending turns  especially aircraft with low wings and dihedral (upswing of wings) will  produce different angles of attack due to the relative wind component  from below; and the aircraft will tend to bank out of the turn.

Teaching  turns initially present an anomaly in the sense that students are  briefed to essentially look outside for visual cues and other aircraft,  whilst having to observe at least five different instruments inside the  cockpit.  Sophistication is therefore best ‘phased in’ and quite a few  exercises may be needed to accomplish a good balance. Trying to simplify  a complex exercise most aviators resort to rules of thumb such as ‘rate  one’ turns of 360 degrees per two minutes correspond to bank angles one  tenth of indicated airspeed in knots plus seven.

Despite  all the above the easiest way to accomplish a turn is to look at the  position of the nose and merely cross-checking inside on the altimeter  and position of the ball. The prescriptions are to also scan the  attitude and directional gyro indicators, the airspeed indicators as  well as the ‘ball’ of the turn and bank indicator.  But, this invariably  detracts from the manoeuvre. So, next time you contemplate whether or  not flying is really the ideal vocation for a particular student, pat  him or her on the back once you fly through your slipstream at the end  of the manoeuvre. Not unlike horses students generally tend to have  ‘slow’ and ‘quick’ sides in adapting to turns in different directions.  In a side-by-side trainer the left seated student would end up  apparently ‘below’ and ‘above’ the turns and tend to over or under  compensate.

To  conclude, there seems to be hardly any correlation between theoretical  understanding and practical execution. To some turning comes natural. To  others the cockroach just keeps toppling of the cork, especially during  climbing or descending turns converted into level turns. The talented  ones fly through their own slipstreams. Is turning all in the hands, or  in the mind?

7. Stalling and spinning

'On the edge' for mere mortals   

TO  us mere mortals not from acrobatic flying backgrounds Notes ‘One’ and  ‘Two’ under Exercises 10B and 11 of the Civil Aviation Technical  Standards (F.C.L. 61-271 – 272) dealing with stall awareness and spin  avoidance may seem like a death sentence with built-in reprieve. To  older instructors the wide range of applications seems to justify Danny  Glover’s expression in Die Hard: ‘Man, I am getting too old for this…’

Spin  training is like a gun in the house. If you would need it and do not  have it the results may be fatal. But, there’s ‘another truth’ to it.  Trying to avoid the inevitable, the inevitable occurs and fatalities  happen. In reality spin training both takes away and it gives. This may  seem contradictory. But, let’s think about it.

At  least two hours of stall awareness and spin avoidance training shall be  completed during the private pilot’s license course. So, we can grit  our teeth and get it over with in two hours. Phew! But, any fool will  tell you it really takes five or more hours to be really proficient in  spinning. An honest fool will admit it takes repeated training to remain  proficient. The thing about spin training is no two aircraft really  behave the same, not even on the same day.

On  the one hand a genuine correlation seems to exist between better  all-round proficiency of pilots who are spin-proficient compared to  those who are not. On the other hand I have personally known bright  instructors who have been killed during spin avoidance training. If we  would fail to even state their names, their deaths would have been in  vain. They were Harold Hawthorne and years later Hannes Young.  I lost  another friend to solo spin training too. He was Paul Heyns.

There  are two sides to the pro- and anti-spin training argument. My personal  experience is that ignorance is bliss, but I can not guarantee this. I  have done spins with the late Johann Lamprecht in a Cessna 150  'Aerobat'. We at times just released all the controls during spins. The  little aircraft would recover on her own.

In  the same vain, if one would calculate the requirements to spin a  Cherokee 160 in accordance with ‘Note Two’ of the SA CATS, F.C.L. 61-272  she needs less than ten US gallons a side for a safe spin recovery.   Notwithstanding, as young PPL with a wealth of some 60 hours behind me I  was ‘chartered’ by a newspaper for aerial photographs of the ‘new’  Loftus Stadium. The flight had been prepaid. When the job was finished  the four of us  realized we had another half hour’s flying on the clock. We went  spinning in the Pretoria G.F.A. till the budget was spent. These were  genuine four-turn spins.

As  a full-time instructor I undertook Johan van Heerden’s training in a  Beech C23 'Sundowner.' We found the aircraft would spin remarkably  ‘flat’ after four turns. An Auster would spin remarkably nose-down.

On  the other hand the former D.C.A. inspector the late Schalk Barnard used  to often relate that had he not opened the door of a Cessna 150 he  would not have recovered from a spin. Ace instructor Al Pinto had  virtually the exact same experience. Ace instructor Jannie Loutzi’s  favorite is to tell how he and the late Pieter Kruger after repeated  failed attempts only managed to recover from a spin so low observers had  seen the dust whipped up over the ploughed field below.

So,  like the man reasoning with ‘The Almighty’ in Fiddler on the Roof, on  the one hand spin training is dangerous, on the other it is virtually  fool-proof and on the other… Well, there is no other hand. The evidence  keeps contradicting itself.

As  an instructor it seems one either takes a few shots of bourbon and go  instruct, properly… or not at all. Did I just say that? Oops! I guess  what I am trying to say is that proper spin recognition, avoidance and  recovery training is part and parcel of the job. Young aviators who do  not get proper stall awareness and spin avoidance training may get away  with undetected shortcomings till they tie themselves in a knot, e.g.  having to orbit or hold in marginal weather which makes them prone to  disorientation.

Should  the hapless though blissfully unaware student pilot survive through the  minimum 70 pilot-in-command hours towards getting a multi-engine  conversion, chances are this is where the undetected shortcomings will  rear its ugly head.  After hours and hours of briefing on the whiteboard  the unsuspecting instructor ‘pulls’ an engine on the equally  unsuspecting student. Lo and behold! In stead of applying rudder into  the live engine, let’s call him ‘Rick’ would keep the aircraft flying by  means cross-controls.  The Ricks of this world take their paying  customers into the next one prematurely, because of initially ingrained  defects in their original training.  Was he a cause or effect?

Spin  recovery and stall awareness training is closely associated Exercise  10A on slow flight. The student simply has to practice several hands-on  stall recoveries and be made aware of the correlation with not only slow  flight, but wing loading, e.g. as recovering from a dive at altitude  and during steep turns. Students who practice this are less likely to do  ‘bye-bye beat-ups’. Students simply never derive the full message from  class room visual aids alone.

As  the Americans love to say: ‘Ah-m so saw-ree!’ If you want to eliminate  about ten fundamental causes of accidents you are going to have to get  enough hands-on practice in the whole range of applications of spin  avoidance and stall awareness training. To me the most effective  exercise is stall recovery from a right hand climbing turn under descend  power, whilst increasing bank and applying left hand or ‘top’ rudder  and right hand bank with ailerons. The autorotation is guaranteed each  time.  Corrective actions demand that residual power be closed  initially.  Failing to close the throttle has been a suspected cause of  numerous fatal spin related accidents. If the exercise is done from the  power-off condition, the engine power aspect tends to be neglected  later.

Some  Cessna 172s seem to resist clean stalls and due to particular rigging  sometimes only utter feeble and wheezing sounds. The breakaway of flow  seems elusive. A solution seems to let the student fly with a little  power on at ‘bottom of the green’ airspeed (clean stalling speed). When  the stall warning then starts and before the actual breakaway of flow  occurs, pull the nose positively above the horizon. Invariably the wing  will drop and the recovery will have to involve closing throttle and  opposite rudder – which is the point.

Cherokees  with their all-flying horizontal stabilizers tend to be Jack  Russell-like honest about both getting into and out of spins. Cessnas  require some ‘coaching on’ a few miles per hour above the actual  stalling speed to invoke genuine auto-rotation. Some aircraft seem to  audibly ‘complain’ whilst in a spin. Have you ever spun a Cherokee 180?  The books say do not spin a Grumman AA-5. During autorotation the fuel  in the tanks spreads to the outer parts of the wings, increasing the  overall pro-spin effects. I was once informed about this peculiarity  upon my return from the G.F.A., having done a few uneventful spins. I  have not tried it since.

Remember,  during the recovery they all first tighten the roll… making you believe  for a second or two the opposite is happening.  Spin recovery is all  about controlling the ‘C’ or yawing gyro. Always begin with enough  altitude, believe in the correct recovery sequence and apply the  recovery drill and sequence smoothly, fully and wholeheartedly.  Yeah right? Yeah right!

8. Circuit work - Part One

The ‘first’ and ‘second’ nature  

IN  June 1978 whilst participating as a member of the Defense Force team in  the national skydiving championships in Pietermaritzburg, the  'impossible' happened. After pulling the ripcord there was only blue sky  above me, but no canopy! Hurtling through 2000 feet above ground level  at 176 feet per second the eleven seconds between me and eternity began  ticking down.

My  body position was almost upright with the malfunctioning parachute  streaming in the empty ‘burble’ of space above me. It was time to assess  the situation, consider the various options, consult the rest of my  team and my quick reference handbook; select the best possible option  then allocate resources…Yeah, right!

Nobody  had told me my goggles would be half over my eye sockets. Air was being  sucked out of every crevice in my contorted face. The bundle of washing  above me was jerking me about in all directions. The ground was rushing  up. Hysteria tried to choke and overwhelm me. I had to choose real  fast. I opted for attempting to impose an emergency drill onto the  situation. The brain works in split-seconds in such situations.

I  unclipped the cape-wells. The main ‘chute separated. Next I turned on  my back and clutched the T-7A front mounted reserve. I pulled out the  ripcord. The next instant it felt if the back of my head and heels  collided as the 24 feet conical reserve ‘chute snapped open. For an  instant I had thought I had hit the ground at the same time the reserve  ‘chute had opened. Strangely I was still safely aloft. The air had  stopped howling. I was aware of my breathing. Some seconds later I  braced and did a dive-roll in a scorched veldt. The webbing harness had  left blood blisters about which I would never complain.

No,  it’s not another ‘when we’ tale. I have drawn on the experience many  times afterwards in flying. Had I not realized the importance and  learned and rehearsed the emergency drill hundreds of times, I would not  have survived. That’s the first lesson…

* * *

I  once encountered a friend since school days Dawid Laas, with ‘arc eyes’  from welding without sufficient eye protection, reclining in a darkened  room.  As factory owner he had to 'step in' to fix an after-hours  breakdown. He was optimizing his recovery ‘down-time’ by doing imaginary  aircraft emergency drills. His office recliner chair was doubling for  the cockpit of the Impala Jet often seen at airshows in South Africa.  I  stood in the doorway, quite amazed at the actions and flows resembling a  puppeteer pulling imaginary upside down strings. He had been wrestling  with a ‘new’ concept (at the time) of jettisoning the canopy first,  before ejecting. Some veteran engineers had convinced him of the merits.  

‘When the time comes to decide, it’s got to be first  nature to me’, Dawid explained. ‘While dealing with emergency  situations, there can never be unresolved issues’.  He emphasized that  to be really proficient emergency actions could never be ‘second nature’, like we are often taught. That’s the difference between life and death.

To  reinforce the point on needs to consider what Roy J. Clegg has written  in his excellent work ‘The multi-engine rating flight manual’. In the  2008 issue; p. 15 he categorically states these true words that “there is no way around having to know emergency checklists from memory”.  At fifty feet, he quite rightly states, you do not even have time to  even look for the checklist. One should bear in mind that only about 70  percent of something memorized for the first time can still be recalled  the next day. Data should therefore be reviewed at least once a week to  be retained. The realization that emergency checks have to be one’s first instinct and reaction is the other equally important lesson.

* * *

A  student’s first real encounter with emergency procedures of any kind  occurs during the circuits and landings training phase. Some instructors  battle with when it would be most viable to first introduce emergency  aspects, like engine failure after take-off and/or executing the  go-around procedure.

Many  instructors advocate that a good basis in normal procedures should be  established first and emergencies taught later. My experience suggests  that students taught from the onset to be mindful of the emergency  situations and drills invariably tend to incorporate this aspect into  their flying in the long run. I believe this makes the fundamental  difference between amateurism and professionalism. Students who have  never followed this approach tend to be dismissive of emergency training  and very difficult to get through to.

Adriaan  Fischer, a retired Boeing 747 captain, believes pilots should always be  so prepared to deal with potential emergency situations that landing  without having to do a go around, or taking off without loosing an  engine ‘should almost be a surprise and a disappointment each time’.

Some  admittedly dedicated instructors tend to use their students as their  ‘masterpieces’. As a full-time instructor I was often guilty of trying  to make me and my student look good by sending the more talented ones on  the first solo flight the moment everything seemed to come together and  not when I had been doubly sure he or she would handle every  possibility in the book.

With  the benefit of hindsight I would encourage instructors and their  protégés to show off in a very different manner. Today I would rather  make doubly sure a student is absolutely proficient not only in all  variations of circuit work like flapless or short landings and  take-offs, but the often neglected go-around procedures and engine  failures after take-off, as well as on downwind position.

Good  sense should off course prevail. The eventual aim is to send the  student solo. I have found that if the circuit training is overcooked  students’ general standard tends to deteriorate. Once the student is  proficient and all the drills are in place and the student is kept back  too long, fear at times get the better of them. This seems to be a  problem especially when a student has been sent solo once or twice and a  break in training occurs. Some students then tend to lower performance  levels as ‘good shows’ are ‘rewarded’ by being sent solo flying. To the  nervous ones being sent solo in effect becomes a ‘penalty’. Countering  the peculiar phenomenon is best dealt with by keeping the pressure on  and not being too nice about protestations and complaints from students.  

Students are  sometimes presented with so many scenarios and options that they become  confused about selecting the correct option from any range of stimuli. I  find that judgement only comes over time and after repeated analyses of  exercises. At first, the best results seem to originate from letting  students do complete sequences as many times as possible. You simply can  not leave it to chance that all appropriate actions will be followed  through all the time. If you would think this approach is too  militaristic present an off the cuff challenge to your fly-buddy, e.g.:  ‘Engine failure at 50 feet!’ or ‘Execute a go-around now,’ or ‘Engine  fire on start-up!’ You may be astonished at the level of incompetence.  Unfortunately such challenges invariably ruin dinner evenings as inept  pilots waste time and conversation trying to justify and explain their  hesitation or faltering.

At  fifty feet above ground level no time for in-depth critical-analytical  thinking exists. This should have been taken care of during the before  take-off safety briefing. Do remember, if one flies long enough and/or  often enough in all flying careers situations are bound to occur where  one would either act swiftly and appropriately, or die.

As  instructor one has to be cruel to be kind. Students simply have to  memorize and internalize certain ‘trigger actions’ that will get  emergency drill sequences going through muscle memory and association.  If an engine quits, a student’s hand has to e.g. immediately and almost  impulsively reach for the carburetor heat.        

Instructors  can often be too nice. My advice would be to never try to be a legend  in one’s own mind. Never try to create a reputation. But, do drill the  students till actions are accurate and automatic. Sweat saves blood.

I  recently undertook a PPL renewal test for Dr. Johann Grobbelaar (42) in  the very same Cessna 182 R.G. I had once instructed him as young  matriculant. We attempted every possible emergency drill we could think  of and even invented an original scenario. He passed with flying colors.  But, that night I sat up a little later than usual. He was flying  almost exactly the way I had taught him nearly three decades ago. I  would have been so easy to take short-cuts with emergency drills. I was  so relieved having never done so. Do challenge yourself with emergency  drills.  

9. Circuit Work - Part Two

Theory & practice inseparable  

CIRCUIT  training’s most significant benefit is integrating all previous  practical exercises to that point during the Private Pilot’s License  (PPL) course. Bluish rings around the eyes from late night studies  normally begin to show on dedicated students at this stage.

Taking  a breather is not an option. Maintaining continuity is vital. Not  unlike athletes student pilots are working towards a performance peak to  be sent solo flying. ‘Flying in big circles around the runway’  invariably proves to be more tiresome than anticipated by most students.

Human  performance is always subject to up and down cycles. Pressure on the  student should therefore start at a minimum and gradually be increased.  Many instructors let their protégés take too much of the initiative  initially. Many students cope surprisingly well at first, but falter  later on when no clear cut frame of reference has been created. Students  need a datum for what is supposed to be the perfect and ideal flying  behavior. At first it may sound like stating the obvious, but students  presented for remedial training often have no clear idea of what they  are trying to achieve.

Chief  flying instructors (C.F.I.) should always look out for negative trends.  As former C.F.I. I used to observe students’ levels of participation  and performance curiously tended to begin at highs to gradually  deteriorate to lows in subsequent circuits. Logic would suggest the  opposite, i.e. that performance should gradually improve as experience  and proficiency increase.

The  strange phenomenon of deteriorating performance during circuit training  can be perhaps be explained by initially clearing the hurdles whilst  setting the pace too fast in a long distance obstacle race. Another  factor may be the growing apprehension about the first solo flight. In  my experience the best resolution and approach is to be old fashioned  and play it by the book by first setting a near perfect example. By  gradually introducing variations and adding task-complexity, the natural  peaks and slumps in performance can be anticipated and managed.

I consider it best to only send a student on the first solo after a few slumps and recoveries.  Slumps and lows can be manipulated by increasing and decreasing  pressure, whilst following prescribed exercises like recovery from  ‘ballooned’ landing, coping with glide approaches and/or cross-winds.

Unless  the approach of gradually and consistently increasing demand and  complexity is followed, some students tend to end up in a rut. This  would manifest in a variety of ways, e.g. the same mistakes being  repeated by e.g. not prolonging the hold-off phase during landings.  Misunderstandings about theory should also begin to show up in the  circuit. The tendency to raise the nose on short final thereby depriving  the aircraft of controlability and lifting energy is merely one symptom  of lack of understanding the theoretical concepts like the lift-speed  relationship.

Other  ‘inexplicable’ faults may tend to develop as a result of  misunderstanding theory. Some of these include e.g. attempting to  correct yawing moments by applying controls in the rolling plane, or  vice verse. The inter-relationships between primary controls and their  secondary effects are often misinterpreted. Invariably such  misconceptions can be traced to basics. I sincerely do not wish to harm  the industry, but simply can not fathom how some prestigious flying  schools would need proper three week PPL theory courses, while others do  not. The gaps in theory and practice initially show up in circuit  training.

The  unwitting student is often powerless to rectify an entire system. The  various text books and recommended material are in the SA CATS. The  material is indeed very practical and informative, although questions  are often formulated in a very frustrating and ambiguous manner. If one  really takes a closer look at the block quizzes, the impression is that  of ‘someone’ or ‘some people’ trying to be clever.

I  may get some flack for this, but students struggling to make sense of  PPL theory should do well to acquire the FAA styled ‘Test Prep for the  Commercial Pilot’ from Aviation Supplies & Academics. Their website  is easily found. The FAA questions are supported with answers and  explanations written under supervision of curriculum director Jackie  Spanitz. This approach makes candidates think, but without having to  first try and decipher ‘hieroglyphics’ in terms of semantic ranges. The  questions therefore all add depth and value to pilots’ understanding in  general.

South  African students have 18 months since passing the first PPL subject  till credits expire. It is probably a very good idea to plan study  objectives to complete Principles of Flying and Air Law by the time  circuit flying is commenced. Another good option would be to attempt  Aircraft Technical and General which includes Instruments at this stage.

Most  schools suggest that Flight Planning, Navigation and Meteorology should  be completed by the time navigation exercises begin. Human Performance  can be left for last as one of the easier subjects. Students should  however remember that the sooner the theoretical subjects are dealt  with, the bigger the frame of reference available from which the  instructor can gain leverage to enhance your performance.

By  gradually and consistently increasing pressure and complexity the first  solo flight therefore invariably arrives as an anti-climax and  confidence consolidating exercise, rather than an attempt to  artificially boost or create confidence which may have been lacking in  the first place. If extra hours are needed in terms of aptitude, the  circuit is the most appropriate place to accomplish that extra finishing  off.

Students  tend to be very sensitive to criticism at this stage, not only due to  the added performance demands but due to other aspects explained below,  e.g. the sense of self as both pilot and individual beginning to form  and/or being re-evaluated. Even hardened businesspeople are soft as clay  in these circumstances and an instructor should be aware of this. The  mark of true leadership is raising leaders. Few positions require good  leadership skills more than the ‘pilot in command’ seat. Circuit  training brings this to the fore.

Meanwhile,  a ‘thorn in the side’ has to be dealt with. Many students tend to allay  taking to the books. In the circuit theory and practice are beginning  to merge and any aspects that have not been properly dealt with will  show up as faults in handling, etc. The ones who have e.g. not  understood the theory behind level turning and the correlation between  increasing bank angle and load factor will struggle with transitions  between downwind and base leg turns, etc.

Flows,  drills, vital actions and checks introduced before now have to be both  applied and consolidated. Much of the theory underlying individual air  exercises is seen in its practical application and not just theoretical  demonstrative role.

The  style of instruction is also subtly changing, taking many students by  surprise. The student is slowly being cultivated to take as much of the  responsibility as possible. The student will have to start showing how  much of previous exercises can be remembered. The instructor would now  have built up a reference frame in the preceding exercises. To get  certain aspects across similarities are found and comparisons made. E.g.  the principles underlying slow flying and approaching the aerodynamic  stall would be direly needed to explain the initial round-out, hold-off  and touch-downs during the landing sequence.

Active  participation now becomes more of a prerequisite and invariably any  cracks will start showing as pressure mounts up on the student. To crown  it all the responsibility of radio-telephony procedures is being  transferred to the student. The initial circuits and landings hence come  as a shock to the system.

Instructors  will do well to bear in mind that one of the fundamentals in developing  skills and management ability is if any task is to be done or  delegated, however insignificant, it must be worth doing.  The intention in this series is not to duplicate the CATS or theory,  but to help instructors and students see a deeper meaning to what is  happening. During circuits and landings students are essentially  confronted with the need to apply and integrate actions and importantly  to prioritize. Those who fail to grasp the all-important concept in  flying, invariably tie them in a knot. As responsibility is gradually  transferred judgement is also being cultivated.

On  another level, but at the same time the very direct correlation between  seeing the ‘inputs of one’s labor and the fruits thereof’ is  developing. Unless one looks for this and sees it, it would be very  difficult to understand how some students can be so devastated by e.g.  botched landings, etc. that are bound to occur. As humans we more or  less all rely on Abraham Maslow's theories. To the young instructor: Do  not be perturbed. Pilots are mostly competitive and individualistic.  (That’s perhaps why CRM had to be invented in the first place).  Remember, to the student the outcomes of their actions are in fact doing  no less than ‘defining’ them.

Both students and instructors should be very aware that a sense of ‘self’ as a future pilot is being developed. Criticism and even self-criticism should be constructive and encouraging  at this point. Instructors should be made aware of the ‘Superman  effect’ of their words and that of Air Traffic Controllers on young  student pilots.

10. Forced Landings 

Forced landings require ‘thinking’

ANY  fool can pull a tooth. Whether or not one can stand the pain, or even  survive is up to luck. Pilots may somehow look the same. With two ears,  two eyes, etc. it may be impossible to discern the good ones by looks  alone. The unthinking ones’ also  have two brain lobes. Sometimes these show after unrehearsed or  reckless show-off manoeuvres, or when unforeseen forced landings are  botched. Let’s face facts. Sometimes those bars and wings state we’ve  been good at it, having shown proficiency in Training Procedures  ‘Exercise 16’… at the time.

Many  of us rely on our cat-like prowess to land on our feet if ‘blind-sided’  by something as ‘remotely’ unforeseen as the ‘forced landing without  power’. As general aviators circumstantial factors and influences both  internal and external to the cockpit often ensure that our whole  approach and mindset about coping with such ‘remote’ possibilities are  dealt with only in time for re-validation tests.

Scores  of articles and libraries of very good books have been written about  forced landings. Yet, especially retests and re-validation tests often  reveal the degree of professionalism differ vastly. Many aviators tend  to equate a good simulated forced landing to proficiency at feel,  coordination and ease with gliding exercises. The successful forced  landing is actually part of a whole mindset and approach to flying.  Success ultimately also depends on the depth to which the original  values have been internalized through deepest emotional levels and  personal conviction about the relevance and importance in the pilot’s  frame of reference. Such convictions will determine readiness and what a  pilot really thinks about; and how he or she will allow for the very  real possibility of having to carry out a forced landing at any time.

The  problem seems that with so many ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ in aviation it  becomes very difficult to prioritize. If the original lessons taught  about forced landings have been downplayed or even neglected in terms of  relevance and importance, later on such shortcomings may manifest as  system overload for the mind and the mind either changing the picture of  an imminent emergency, or even blocking out such possibilities. The  simultaneous problem is that with our instinctive tendencies to  initially revert to fight, freeze or flight behavior, valuable time and  options may be lost when faced by threat or adversity such as a forced  landing situation.

Furthermore,  scores of studies have shown that people (yes, pilots too) tend to  revert to the originally taught behavior when under duress. So, your  ‘scanning the prairie like cowboy film star John Wayne look’ won’t help  you when next you’re strolling up to the aeroplane.

The  original Exercise 16 sets the stage for your whole future approach to  flying. People should want to pay you as pilot one day, not because you  will merely get them some place in one piece, but because of your  professionalism, advanced thinking and planning for contingencies like  forced landings. Planning for forced landings require proficiency as  basis. But, the truly safe and proficient pilot will want to be  rehearsed at dealing with all the variations. Your passengers will be  briefed thoroughly before each flight. You will be doing risk assessment  self-briefings and mentally rehearse your options and actions before  each take-off and flight.

Not  trying to duplicate the information readily obtainable from e.g. the  SACAA website, it may be useful to consider and incorporate into your  approach that every time you’d be faced with a forced landing, albeit  real or simulated, you’d be managing a problem solution seeking  situation. In most elementary terms you’d first have acknowledge your  situation, then assess it, accurately identify or describe your problem,  verify, consider solutions, select an appropriate course of action,  allocate resources, plan, prioritize, implement and evaluate progress.

A  forced landing situation is much the same. You’d just be applying and  super-imposing your drilled vital actions onto the situation and  following procedures that have been devised by experienced pilots, like  e.g. Jim Davis and Scully Levine and scores of others – as such people  have been instrumental in compiling the Instructors’ A.I.C. In fact, if  really learning your checks by heart and committing the vital actions  and procedures by heart, whenever you may be faced with a forced landing  and following the procedures, it will be just like having an ace pilot  next to you.

Some helpful  tips I’ve learned over the years is that when an engine or system ‘plays  up’ or quits just after carrying out a vital action or just an action,  to initially ‘undo’ the last thing you did. E.g. if you’ve leaned out  the mixture and the engine splutters, then 'richen' it.  If you’ve just  changed tanks and have trouble, switch back and assess, etc.

In  remedial training I have often traced misjudging of and  ‘over-provision’ for height to cramming the elliptical forced landing  descending pattern. A useful rule of thumb about your landing options  and gliding range is to imagine that the wings can be unscrewed and form  a little radius of landing options underneath. On averages, in still  air, you’d be able to make any landing field whilst gliding without  power within this radius. The higher you are, the more ground will be  covered. Also, on the downwind or base legs if your wing tip will seem  to touch the field, your distance out is usually adequate. If you’d bank  to 15 degrees and the line extending from the trailing edge through the  leading edge of the field-side wing tip extends to the landing  threshold, you’d be in a proper position on the elliptical downward  pattern. So, don’t guess. Just aim. If on base leg or final approach the  aimed at touch-down point is stationary in relation to some point of  the aircraft, e.g. the nose, you’d be properly spaced on the  glide-slope.

Finally, as ace  pilot Bob Hoover once said, ‘fly the darn thing as far into the crash  as possible’. So, don’t stop flying and continue with procedures until  stationary. Lastly, it may be useful to have a ‘trigger action’ for each  emergency drill. E.g. if your engine would quit in a twin, your first  action will be to move your hand to the mixture controls, or in a single  to e.g. the carburetor heat. In the final analysis, maintained  proficiency will be up to you. As Winston Churchill once said ‘… never  quit, never quit, never quit…’. Never stop thinking ‘forced landing’.

11. Precautionary Landings 

Precautionary landings an intro to CRM

IN  the recently released book ‘Torches of Heaven’ author Johannes van Zyl  describes divine moments on yachts after merciless storms when moonbeams  peek through misty veils into the blackened mirror of sea. The  surroundings are illuminated by a heavenly glow which warms the sailor’s  inner-self.

The former  Special Forces officer is a special person. He had a way with horses. He  was a successful show jumper. He had logged over 200 parachute jumps  before leaving school. He was part of a crew finishing eleventh in a  Cape to Rio race on a first attempt.

Rejection,  inner-conflict and alcohol would get the better of him. The destructive  influences proved stronger than those found in storms, loosing his  sisters in separate car crashes, loosing his parents with whom he would  never be reconciled, twice failing with a successful career, his life  mate walking out on him, loosing his home and earthly possessions and  facing the enemy on hostile soil.

Van  Zyl walks tall these days. He had learned to beat the bullies of life.  He had vanquished the gnawing fear that nobody could ever be good  enough. Facing fears is inseparably part of flying. I once trained  another veteran yachtsman Stefan Roux to fly. Like Van Zyl he had  observed aircrew performing well in teams under prolonged pressure on  yachts. Their common principles and values applicable to yachting and  flying did not deteriorate over time or when physically displaced.

Older  flyers claim no one should walk up to an aircraft without a knot in the  tummy – as sign of respect and situational awareness. Remaining  respectful is one’s gift to oneself in aviation. In a previous article  we referred to display pilot Dawid Laas still faithfully rehearsing his  routines the day before each show in his Impala jet despite being a  veteran.

‘Precautionary’ is  the operative word in dealing with precautionary landing exercises.  ‘Power assisted forced landings’ in a way is an anomaly, until one is  prompted to think holistically about the overall approach to flying. The  factors that ensnare us in the situations which compel us to make  unscheduled landings often originate before a flight. Some of the  factors are rooted in societal expectations and pressures. Some reside  in as individuals. We simply can not back of when we have to. We face  challenges or bullies on their turf and their terms.

The  exercises described in the SA CATS for precautionary landings at first  glance seem rather mundane, until one looks at these as crew resource  management (CRM) exercises. Students can and should be taught how to  strategize before facing the bully.

Discipline,  procedures and techniques are always of paramount importance. These can  be drilled, repeated and rehearsed. The real opportunity is to impart  values. The challenge lies in getting young aviators streetwise to deal  with bullies like passengers expecting flights to be undertaken at all  costs when safety is compromised. Learning when to go and when to say no  is part of the territory to be covered.

South  Africa is becoming a popular destination for foreign students. Teaching  young students to deal with adversity is to cultivate inner-strength  and send them home enriched.

Remember,  bullies thrive on fear. Overcome by fear we sometimes can not see or  pick the right solution. We keep going if nothing is happening when we  should hide, stop or turn-around and run for our very lives. The cobra  mesmerizes the much quicker meercat. Deluded by the power of presumption  we allow ourselves to be lured into threatening situations. Fear blinds  us to the bigger picture. It prevents us from even looking at  operational conditions in proper perspective. If we can not or do not  want to face facts we resort to passivity. We block out the facts. We  change the ‘rationale’ or we create a new picture in our mind’s eye. We  loose situational awareness.  Adversity thrives on deadly denials like  ‘there is no high ground ahead’. Or, ‘These clouds are bound to clear.’  The preconditions for engine assisted forced landings abound. Numerous  accidents are virtual carbon copies of circumstances when carrying out  precautionary landings at the earliest possible time, would have saved  an untold number of lives.

Learning  the procedures and techniques for carrying out precautionary exercises  is vital. Recognizing the circumstantial factors and influences that get  flyers into difficult situations is far more important. As strong  protagonist of the inherent connection between group dynamics and flying  safety, I recently witnessed the underlying factors leading to  situations forming the conditions for precautionary landings at play.

The  young Nepalese private pilot would fly the Cessna 172 from Wonderboom  Airport to Bethlehem to drop off passengers. The group objective was to  collect another training aircraft for service at the school. The bright  youngster who would log some hours for free had been prepared since  early morning. Other factors like disrupted fuel supply which had to be  obtained in a bowser at another airfield were causing delays.

Circumstantial pressures  started mounting up. Among these was the imminent closing of Wonderboom  airport for runway resurfacing that evening. Rainy weather was slowly  creeping in from the interior. He had never flown to Bethlehem. He had  neither a night nor an instrument rating. If the flight had taken place  his day would be about 16 hours long.

I  observed as fear started gnawing him. ‘We’ were unintentionally part of  a set of powerful group dynamics at play. ‘We’ were the bullies. The  fear of us and rejection was clouding his better judgement. The  operational demands were clearly becoming too much for either his or the  aircraft’s ability. Yet, the eager pilot just ‘hung in there’. Besides,  he must have reasoned, the owner of the aircraft accompanying him on  the outbound leg was an engineer and test pilot. The youngster was being  set up for disaster. He did not know how to back off. He would rather  die than never be asked to fly for us again. Much to his visible relief I  intervened. The flight was postponed on his behalf. My lingering  concern was that as qualified pilot-in-command he should have made the call. He had no money with him. He had no overnight bag.

As  instructors we should explore these group dynamics and CRM principles  when we deal with precautionary landing exercises. Bullies thrive on our  predictable eagerness to please or take the route of the least  resistance, to show what we can do, to be accepted into groups and  circles of friends, to not wait, run away or turn around. Being  pacifistic or apathetic is never an escape. Waiting is by no means  pacifistic. Air safety begins at home, in the planning phases. The  operative term is ‘precautionary’.

The  precautionary exercise is rather basic, until we apply pressure. The  exercises offer the ideal scenarios for ‘thinking out of the box’ and  showing students where the CRM possibilities lie and how a ‘CRM loop’  would work. With a little creativity students can be shown how to  recognize and use ‘outside resources’ like cell phones, engineers,  manuals, ATC, etc to find creative solutions to problems. Students can  be placed under pressure to experience first-hand the ‘dangerous  surprises’ which accompany preoccupation and loss of situational  awareness.

Students should  be prompted to explain their decisions, while critical-analytical  thinking should be rewarded.  Further applications of flying timed  race-course patterns can be explored. The similarities are instrument  holds. The student should be made aware of basic problem solving or  management techniques, e.g. to firstly admit the problem, describe the  problem, to simplify and define, speculate about solutions with due  consideration of all available resources  – including those outside the cockpit – then to pick and implement a  solution (i.e. carrying out the precautionary landing) by imposing the  procedure onto the situation. The dangers of slow flying at low altitude  are ever-present. Maintaining situational awareness is vital to both  students and instructors. CRM exponents like Dr. Suzanne L. Kearns  maintain that error can only be detected in an environment of accuracy.  Instructors should demand accuracy while the set parameters should be  both realistic and firm.

Tell not your God about the storm, but tell the storm about your God.

12. Basic navigation

More than mere map reading

BASIC  navigation exercises can be more than mere map reading exercises while  steering a course. The difference between wishy washy and well-grounded  training is often seen when aviators with lapsed licenses present  themselves for renewal training years later. The techniques dissipate  over time. The underlying principles and values, provided these have  been properly cultivated, remain unmistakably evident.

‘Fast  tracking’ tendencies in an ‘instant’ society can be partially curbed  or, like aging merely allayed, through a painstakingly methodical  approach. Navigation is the realm where all training can be consolidated  and integrated. Planning, strategizing, projection and consequential  thinking can be transformed from mere concepts to daily practice. An old  business expression ‘he who fails to plan, plans to fail’ applies to  navigation. The organized cockpit is the best evidence of good  grounding. Considerations like landing weights and diversion options  changing with weather should be introduced in the infancy stages of the  flying career.

Most  unfortunately the advent of automation has encouraged an ‘untouchable’  attitude among many aviators. Computers should however also be used by  those feeling ‘cocooned by technology’ to consult the accident data  bases world-wide. Admittedly automation is here to stay and flourish,  but is also at the root of many air disasters and light aircraft  accidents. Despite overwhelming evidence that flight planning and  navigation go hand-in-hand some experienced aviators believe the subject  of Flight Planning should be taken out of training syllabi to  ‘simplify’ flying. Accident precipitating factors associated with  automation are discussed in more detail in Avoiding Fatal Flying Traps (2010; pp. 107 – 114) and several other sources.

Navigation  principles should also be integrated with management principles. The  correct approach to navigation aids in cultivating future captains. Both  instructors and training institutions will do well to focus more on  planning, strategizing, setting goals and objectives and general  management of flights. Especially contingency planning principles are  vital and navigation check points should be likened to ‘objectives’  being reached on an overall operational continuum. The more in-depth  approach undoubtedly requires more instructor input. Task-complexity  should be gradually phased in while the student is made aware of  multi-tasking in a ‘two-crew’ operation. This will involve clear aims,  strategies, objectives and task allocation before all flights. The  student should also be exposed to role reversal when more accomplished.

At  the particular phase of training the intrepid ‘navigator’ should be  ideally suited and receptive. He or she will most likely have the basic  skills for flying solo to the general flying area and prescribed  exercises including precautionary and forced landings before returning  to base according to schedule. That already involves both planning and  strategizing, which should be pointed out. Both instructor and student  hence have a familiar basis from where to progress to the ‘unfamiliar’.

Basic  concepts of managing are often misinterpreted. Many still associate  managing with stratification at the workplace and ultimately classes in  society. South African business development theorist Dr. Arnold Mol  first introduced the much needed paradigm shift before the elections of  1994. Against a milieu of intensifying labor unrest and imminent  political changes the principles in his book ‘Help! I’m a manager’  (Tafelberg, 1991) emphasized new thinking models were needed to adapt  and survive in changing circumstances. Flying presents numerous  analogies. An inherent problem associated with management still is that  the best technical exponents in various fields of expertise are usually  promoted to managerial status. Management is hence seen as the reward of  employees with flair in other occupational aspects. Traditional  viewpoints about managing involve an over-emphasis on task-delegation.  But, not unlike everything associated with flying, multidimensional  planning abilities are not acquired overnight – at least not without  proper guidance.

Most  managers often fail to grasp their most fundamental task is facilitating  staff and planning ahead for their every foreseeable need as well as  contingencies. At first glance this hardly seems applicable to a  Cherokee 140 or Cessna 172, but try to think ahead.

Mol  paid much attention to not only the seemingly contradictory aspect of  serving as a manager, but lack of successful role models. To measure  progress and/or the extent to which objectives are achieved in support  of overall aims and goals, criteria are needed. The manager will have to  detect not only if the correct course or course of action is being  steered or followed, he or she sometimes need to plot courses around  obstacles and detect any deviations at the earliest possible  opportunities to break disaster chains. The principles can be introduced  in the ‘old faithful’ two-seat and four-seat trainers. ‘Navex One’ is  an ideal place to start.

Mol’s  approach harmonizes with the thinking models of respectively Prof.  James Reason about occupational safety in nuclear power plants around  the same time (1990s) and that of Dr. Suzanne L. Kearns more recently.  The principles, if made optimum use of, can and should be integrated  into elementary navigation exercises.  Numerous accident etiological  studies show in evolving stages how the picture in the minds eye of  aviators gradually losing focus and becoming distorted to eventually no  longer resemble reality and operational facts. Various expressions have  been invented to understand the phenomenon of losing touch with reality,  e.g. loss of situational and/or positional awareness. The common  denominator cum precondition is invariably pressure; which can have  various origins and many faces.

Navigation  exercises should therefore serve to create an awareness of crew  resource management (CRM) possibilities and cultivate an overall sense  of being part of an integrated safety management system (SMS). Dr.  Kearns’ thinking models brought innovation to the flying training  industry in creating a sense among all the role players involved about  the detection and management of error against a backdrop of accuracy.  Prof. James Reason’s ‘Swiss cheese’ model of breaking the accident  causal chain through five levels of ‘checks and balances’ can be  extremely useful. Flight Planning and Navigation combined offers the  ideal context and milieu.

The  problem with training in South Africa is no different than the rest of  the world. The all-consuming need for education and creation of job  opportunities has culminated into a situation of relatively  inexperienced ‘task only orientated’ instructors using the occupation  solely as a means to gain experience – at the expense of students. Avoiding Fatal Flying Traps  (2010; pp. 24 – 31) spells out the predicament in more detail. The old  adage ‘old heads do not belong on young shoulders’ holds true. So, what  is to be done about the situation? Airline captains and veteran aviators  (prematurely) put to pasture can and should be commandeered out of  rocking chairs if need be to share their insights and encompassing  approach to flight planning. The technical aspects can and perhaps  should remain the domain of the ‘young and restless’ instructors. But,  the end-goal orientation and widely prevailing tendency to ‘fast track’  training can be mitigated by taking a ‘more considered’ approach to  basic navigation exercises.

Most  syllabi offer scant opportunities to impart air safety and planning  values during navigation exercises. Unless instructors are willing to  adopt a more thorough approach, adapting to a more heuristic style of  training, much value will be lost. The most significant symptom among  their protégés is the incessant ill-considered use of the ‘go to’ button  on their GPS.

(Heuristics  involve personal principles, or 'rules of thumb' which allow us to make  decisions on the basis of limited information with the least cognitive  input). 

13. Advanced Navigation 

Staying on course at 2 a.m.

A  friend who has commercial buildings, properties, businesses and two  business jets once disclosed the secret behind his success: Faith. The  unpredictable outcome of his ventures is placed within reach through  vision converted into a simple workable plan.

He  had seen all plans which worked well could be summarized on a  serviette, after strategy meetings. If the concept worked, the plan  would work. The art of navigation is no different. Whether by quartz or  compass or satellite we steer by a few pointers in the hope we will  reach our destination through unwavering belief in our calculations and a  few corrections along the way. Some business analysts believe if ten  percent of the original aim is reached through corporate strategy the  deviation implies innovation and creativity. In aviation we either reach  our destination, or divert to a suitable planned alternate airport.

Nothing  can really replace a basic workable plan. Some fledgling aviators at  times lose track or sight of overall aims and objectives. The best  decisions are based on the best quality of information and the  interpretation thereof. Plans and navigation logs should never distort  or block out operational facts. Having circumnavigated storms in my  heyday, sometimes with partying occupants and other times with a near to  dying medical evacuation passenger aboard, I have learned unless our  plans represent reality we can go down with the blink of an eye. Under  stress at two a.m. in the morning a workable plan makes the difference  between life and death.

Overstressed  charter jock ‘Dolf’ on occasion admitted to ‘hating’ his passengers.  Radical! But, flying for money is not always fun, though theoretically  beats flying for free. The aeronautical principles of navigation  exercises represent the fun part. Sometimes plans are ‘dressed up’ to  conceal ill-considered decisions based on speculation and assumption.  Passengers can be deluded by the notion that light aircraft offer more  flexibility than airliners, although the opposite holds true.

In  the previous discussion about navigation focus was placed on  integrating advanced planning considerations and overall flight  management principles. Sometimes the only way to survive is by being  areal jerk and by learning two monosyllable words which can save all  aboard, i.e. ‘no go’. But, it is not always easy. Aviation related work  has always been scarce.

Navigation  exercises should be like planning a venture. If the operational facts  clearly provide warning signals, or start involving intricate and  unforeseen aspects like weather being ‘marginal’ chances of succeeding  are vastly diminished. Many aviators tend to concoct plans to defy the  ‘obvious’, i.e. that the flight is simply too demanding in relation to  either the aircraft’s and/or the aviator’s abilities.

To  accomplish the transition between ‘make-believe’ and real worlds a  self-test or instructional technique is to point out physical locations.  I often ask myself or my student where the physical location of the  calculated centre of gravity would be, or roughly abeam which set of  runway edge lights we can expect to be airborne at a given temperature;  or abeam what town or checkpoint can we expect to run out of fuel. I  insist on the point of equal time being shown on a map. Is this  ‘splitting hairs’? I do not believe so. Such practical techniques help  to maintain mental situational and geographic positional awareness

As  human beings we tend to be quite predictable. If we e.g. do not agree  with operational facts, we tend to ‘change the picture’. We then do  masses of paperwork to ‘substantiate’ our findings and predictions.  That’s not navigating. That’s asking for trouble. Each navigation leg  should be approached as a small venture of its own.

I  have at times advised relatively inexperienced aviators confessing  apprehension about flying longer routes to approach the flight as if  undertaking a series of short flights. If one can make the first  checkpoint, then the next one presents its own challenges and  considerations. The motivations to commence or continue each flight leg  are determined by variables not only affecting destination, but planned  diversion options. The feedback is very positive and the approach  encourages heuristic thinking or learning, i.e. by inductive and  deductive reasoning all the time.

The Mary Poppins approach 

With  the right approach navigation becomes an exercise where one thinks and  acts, in stead of basically reacting to stimuli. An associated technique  to simplify matters and gain focus is to firstly give a full briefing  about the flight and then a short synopsis or summary. A word of caution  when indulging in ‘heuristics’ is to add a healthy dose of humor, lest  one becomes pedantic or even condescending. Maybe fellow-aviator and  umbrella-flyer Mary Poppins’ concept of a ‘spoon full of sugar making the medicine go down’ is useful.

The  heuristic approach works wonders not only with students, but fellow  crew members. Self-briefings are vital and single-pilot instrument  flying would be a haphazard affair to students not sufficiently grounded  in such techniques associated with navigation. Under operational  pressure we invariably become too abstract in our way of thinking.  Simplifying plans represent an essential step in the progressive steps  of problem solving. Students should never be allowed to take off without  explaining the mentally rehearsed departure clearance. The emergency  briefing should not be omitted even once. Asking the right questions is  vital.

I have also found  that merely briefing on aspects like lost communications procedures and  lost procedures and/or joining and landing at unmanned fields do not  suffice. Demonstrations and active participation – although frequently  overlooked – are vital. Students learn more from our ‘dirty tricks’ than  any other. One such technique is a set of headphones or soda can  ‘forgotten’ on the dash board, next to the compass... which will cause a  magnetic field and drift. It is better that the instructor becomes the  conductor of the heuristic process of finding a way out, than the  anxious aviator learning to resort to own short-cut or workaround  techniques; or simply a precautionary engine assisted landing. A pulled  circuit breaker also does wonders to topple the gyro of intrepid  navigators. An instructional technique which works is to ‘allow’ the  student to succumb to the typical or ‘natural’ tendency to commence  descent from cruising level or altitude a little too late; and then,  during an unmanned airfield joining procedure to sit back and ‘allow’  the student to cram the circuit. Almost invariably the ‘typical’ student  would end up high and fast on final approach. The result is a go-around  procedure – which is invaluable – and learning in retrospect through  critical-analytical discussion. Admittedly this is being ‘cruel to be  kind’ but then again ‘sweat saves blood’.

Most  importantly the approach taken by ‘Captain Bricks’ in Avoiding Fatal  Flying Traps (2010; p. 209) to ask his daughter ‘to think ahead and stay  ahead of situations’ will bear much fruit during and after navigation  exercises. Asking the right questions is vital. If e.g. ‘virga’ or rain  not reaching the ground is seen in the distance, the student should be  asked to explain the phenomenon of ‘micro-burst’. Track-crawling is an  absolute must and will provide the base line track from where wind can  be calculated. The South African automation philosophy is still  evolving, but generally involves equipment being available as an aid  leaving aviators the final say. The calculation functions on GPS sets  can and should be used to calculate drift.

Each  factor change should have an effect on the overall flight status.  Students should be encouraged to discuss this. Interpretive thinking  should be stimulated and encouraged, e.g. if the aircraft is drifting to  port the low pressure and potential bad weather will be ahead and vice  versa, according to Buys Ballot’s Law. Much more attention can be paid  to applications of the ‘one in sixty rule’ and vertical navigation  planning. Virtually everything in aviation works in threes and fives.  At two a.m. you need to know 180 knots is three miles a minute, 120  knots in hold is two miles a minute, distance out on a three degree  slope is height per thousand times three, rate of descent is GPS ground  speed times five, etc. Younger generation GPS sets offer vertical  profiles. This is where technology can be put to use more effectively.

Navigation  is the one regime of flying tuition where both inductive and deductive  reasoning can be cultivated. The concept of not only identifying, but  ‘reading’ and thereby interpreting line features like rivers,  topographical and railway lines, roads, beaches, etc. in correct context  (created by factors like bearing, map reading and time) silos in the  distance will not merely be objects, but imply a railway station, in  turn implying a railway; which leads not just ‘somewhere’ but to the  next town. All railway and high tension power lines, roads, etc. usually  serve and link towns and cities. With a little thinking the intrepid  navigator can anticipate where a road would lead around a geographical  feature. Any two recognizable features if connected represent a radian  line. Any two radians intersecting represent a fix. Eventually the art  of navigating properly will not only put the fun back in flying, but lay  a good foundation for night and instrument flying. Lastly, fly with  your brain and if you wonder what to do next you are likely entering the  realms of ‘make-believe’.  

14. A license with ink still wet 

Those first private flights

AFTER  your Private Pilot’s License (PPL) wings ceremony you might account the  rounds on the house against hours or so you could have flown, if you  are like most of us. You are at important crossroads in your flying  career. You will encounter the most vital aspect about flying which you  will always have to deal with in terms of air safety, i.e. people.

At  the centre of all will be you, the newcomer with the gold braided  epaulettes in your top pocket. For a while you might go by monosyllable  abbreviations of your name. As the song goes in The Sound of Music you  will be an open book in which people will want to write their names.  Upon learning your new status as a pilot sentences will mostly start  with ‘Why don’t we…’

One  of the most dangerous about flying will not have been dealt with in the  PPL course, the need to optimize. In the quest for hours and experience  we mostly try to achieve unrealistic goals, e.g. we would take as many  people as possible to some destination we’ve never been before in a  ‘plane we are not sufficiently familiar with. Now is the time where we  do conversions to stronger more sophisticated aircraft types. We would  like to do it all in one. Well, this is mostly the way to get killed in  aviation… to put it plainly in most unpopular terms.

The  sad fact is that most of us regard safety as a topic that does not go  well with flying. People who have ‘gone down’ are mostly regarded as  nitwits who did not pay attention to the rules. Whilst this may well be  the case, many do not realize how close we get to the fringes of safety.  My suggestion to newcomers is to always assess the safety of a flight  like the four wheels in one’s car which have to be in harmony.

The four vital aspects which have to balance are your ability and the ‘plane’s ability balanced by the environmental and operational demands.  Each of these aspects will have a bearing on the other. In those first  vital hours one thing to remember is to never experiment on one’s own.  Rather take an experienced instructor along. The problem is we do not  have sufficient knowledge and experience to have insight, which in turn  can be converted into the most vital aspect of overall safety and  airmanship, that of judgement. Invariably we will lack the ability to do  a proper risk assessment, as we mostly do not know how or what to  assess.

Even  the worst air disasters can be traced to the loss of situational  awareness. Our assessment of reality and our perception of facts and  circumstances may easily be distorted. The only possible way to avoid  this regular recurring fatal flying trap is to before undertaking a  flight weigh up the four wheels of safety.

One’s  own ability is best assessed by the butterflies in your stomach,  although usually not a reliable deterrent to those susceptible to pride  and ‘challenges’. The flip-side of the coin is being too eager to  please… e.g. filling up all four seats of the rented Cessna 172 with all  nearest and dearest to you to a short bush strip in the mountains. The  danger signs are normally how we attempt to ‘rationalize’ or reason away  risks.

The  only remedy is to initially and without exception discuss the potential  flight risks with the club’s chief flying instructor. During PPL  training you may well have dealt with short or rough field landings and  take-offs, but at an unfamiliar airstrip eleven additional factors come  into play. These include but are not limited to environmental  temperature, diurnal temperature changes, temperatures and dew points  that may be close to indicate rain or fog and mist, high density  altitude affecting effective runway length, obstacle clearances, wind  shear, cross wind, loading ability, etc.

Environmental  conditions are most often overlooked be both eager and venturesome  fresh Private Pilot’s License holders, as these cannot be ticked in one  box of a form. The assessment is continuous and needs to be updated all  the time. The aircraft’s performance ability is sometimes enhanced by  weather conditions, but mostly deteriorated. Watching out for not only  the factors, but the trends becomes part of the job of a PPL who wants  to be not only proficient, but professional.

Operational demands are often seemingly innocent, but can be readily compounded by people. The term ‘group dynamics’  is relatively new to aviation safety, yet it encompasses one of the  silent killers in General Aviation (GA). As pilots we are not taught to  deal with the whims and wishes of passengers whom we literally have in  the face, unlike our superior counterparts in airline flight decks.

Only  two people in a working or functional relationship is relatively  simple. However, if a third person influencing the decision making and  planning is added, we are dealing with a ‘triad’ with five possible  relationships. The condition that ‘I have to be back for work… or a  meeting… or an appointment’ can become a serious imposition on flight  safety decisions. Other persons in the aircraft can serve to enhance  these relational effects to be powerful 'disruptors' in terms of safety.

People  interacting with people can on the other hand serve to dub out the  voice of reason and the whole flight culture may become that of ‘…what the heck, let’s just go for it…’  Group  dynamics may sound relatively innocent and something you have had to  deal with at your matric dance after-party. You may not be far off the  mark, but considering that one pilot with five passengers has to deal  with no fewer than 20 direct and indirect relationships bound to one  aircraft cockpit, the effects can be overbearing.

15. Basic Instrument Flying

This can save your bacon

MY  wife Cecile goes nowhere without her handbag. I first discovered this  upon getting airborne after missing a warthog at a game farm. Despite a  strong crosswind I had no choice but to turn back in a rented Piper  Arrow.

The  first landing had been to ask if the strip ‘might have been’ our  destination, among all the look-alike strips and thorny bushes of the  Lowveldt. I vividly recall a tingling sensation in my ears. Since that  weekend I would never dare to attempt a flight without instrument flying proficiency,  though one might have guessed ‘map’ or ‘credit card’. I would get the  experience first and the lesson later, which is rarely survived in  aviation. I had tried to kill two birds with one stone and nearly did.  Group dynamic factors frequently underlying repeated accidents abounded.  The Arrow had to be back at Wonderboom  Airport come hell or high  weather that Monday… Did I say ‘weather’?

We were over-optimizing, but had never bothered asking the accommodation tariffs. Heck, more than three decades since I still  cannot afford it. The flying hours paid by Friday night shifts was  supposed to get me a step closer to my dream of becoming a commercial  pilot. After only one night’s stay we simply ‘had to get back’ – if it  meant spending a night at nearby Phalaborwa Aerodrome, where we  refueled, or taking on a thin ‘cap of clouds’ over the mountains of the  escarpment. I never bothered with climb gradients or density altitude  calculations. Besides, we were only two aboard and thin… back then. We  soon started ‘skimming’ over clouds. We could touch the candy-like snowy  tufts. Then, like Hansel and Gretel one mother sucked us into an oven  and the heat was on.

With  one basic instrument flying lesson and a wealth of 65 hours behind me I  began ‘chasing the instruments’. Flying was like playing a giant pin  ball machine upside down. The airspeed would run away one moment then,  the stall warning would sound. My head felt too big for my body. I  realized from scuba diving I had to be calm and control my breathing. Cecile was praying softly.

At  times my face felt contorted by gravitational forces. Then we would be  suspended in midair. The engine would howl and then gasp for air. I  worked the throttle like a stoker on the Railways. At times we could  choke on the darkness. The strobes would eerily reflect inside. I kept  gazing at our freedom through the little ‘port hole’ known as an  artificial gyroscopic horizon. I remembered reading somewhere if all  else failed to focus on that particular instrument and to keep the wings  level. By hook or by crook it worked.

Some  thirty minutes later we were in clear air, abeam Marble Hall. The trip  would take six credit card payments. But, we were alive… to pay and  explain. When instructor Al Pinto got hold of me for more instrument  flying lessons I never once protested being called ‘pumpkin head’. Later  he had to concede ‘I do not fly very badly’.

The  secret behind instrument flying remains ‘attitude flying’. I have  tutored several pilot-instructors over the years. My advice was  invariably to approach especially instrument flying lessons as if one  would never get the opportunity to impart value again. Students tend to  ‘disappear’ sometimes for months, often to save up between courses. That  does not deter them from flying and sometimes taking chances with  weather altogether.

Flight  simulator training devices are invaluable. I however maintain the best  approach to all courses is to integrate especially first lessons with  actual flying. On the first instrument lesson the student simply has to  alternate between flying under the hood and comparing visual cues  outside to instrument readings inside. Skipping the ‘basics’ at first  implies shortcomings being carried and repeated training later. The  ‘T-scan’ which ought to help avoid fixation, should be instilled. The  late Robbie Booysen taught me to slide down in one’s seat upon  encountering clouds to remind one to relax. I use the technique to this  day.

Very vital  is to focus on the unusual attitude recoveries and to differentiate  between high nose, low speed and possible uneven keel opposed to low  nose, high speed and perhaps uneven keel. The simulator student will not  derive the benefit from experiencing human factors like Coriolis  Effect, tumbling back sensation, acceleration and deceleration errors,  etc. The simulator can be integrated to consolidate certain procedures  and skills acquired in the air soon afterwards.

My  first cloud brake procedure took place on a charter flight to Mmabatho  many years after our Lowveldt trip. I had physically trembled after  landing and resolved to never let my students go through the same  ordeal, due to insecurity about the practical side of instrument flight  training. Since then I had made a point on overcast days to call a  student or friend for a quick ‘letdown’ in actual conditions.

The  purpose of the series was never to duplicate what can be read in  manuals, but add new perspective and value. Even with instrument flying  the really caring instructor can let students benefit from practicing  drills and procedures in a stationary aircraft cockpit. One rhyme I have  developed and used over the years is ‘Come with me Sam, T/O B.A.D. F.F.R.E.D.A.’s place’.

This  would apply upon initially approaching the navigational beacon for a  hold, letdown or cloud-break procedure. In the acronym the ‘C’ is  intended to remind one to obtain the clearance, the ‘W’ for surface  weather, the ‘M’ for comparing clearance and data to minima on the  Plate, the ‘S’ to slow the aircraft to endurance cruise setting, the ‘T’  for estimating times or, ‘O’ onward clearance times, the ‘B’ for  checking and verifying the beacon and Morse identification, the ‘A’ for  altimeter setting to QNH, the ‘D’ for the deviation or diversion plate,  the ‘F’ for fuel endurance calculation and checking fullest main tank/s  selection, the second ‘F’ for radio and beacon frequencies as well as  advance or missed approach frequencies, the ‘E’ for engine temps and  pressures, the ‘D’ for aligning the D.I. and compass, the ‘A’ for double  checking altimeter sub-scale setting and the ‘P’ for plate to be  reviewed.

16. Advanced training

Technological change-over challenge

IN  the advanced training stages the student with new private pilot’s  license (PPL) may often unwittingly encounter a critical ‘technological  change-over challenge’ between automation and analogue cockpits. In the  fledgeling pilot’s career he or she will invariably encounter the  aviation industry’s cliché'd ‘catch 22’ situation of needing experience  to land a job, whilst needing a job to gain experience. The  understatement of the year is that training curricula do not prepare  aviators for ‘the real world out there’.

Many  parents having bonded homes to pay for training, intrepid aviators  would undergo a kind of unofficial ‘attorney’s clerk’ apprenticeship. In  this ‘transitional’ period earning a pittance as either a co-pilot or  unofficial ‘corporate pilot-bag-bearer’ would be not only a necessity,  but a privilege. The late Dirk de Vos used to ask: ‘Who's the charter  pilot? The bloke in the white shirt on the back of the pick-up’.

In  the August 2010 issue of Airnews the daunting task of selecting a  flying school was discussed. Having frequented various schools as air  safety presenter, the critical technological change-over predicament is  often seen in practice. Training fleets comprising e.g. analogue type  Cessna or Piper aircraft may need to be ‘supplemented’ with a simulator  with a state of the art ‘glass cockpit’. Conversely, some schools with  fleets of composite aircraft, complete with electronic flight  information screens (E.F.I.S.) and moving map GPS displays, might  overlook or negate the need for training in analogue type emergency  situations altogether. Therein is a particular challenge, as a career  pilot will encounter both. A closer look at aviation accidents shows  that it may not be as easy as it sounds to traverse across the two  genres; especially if it comes to how accident chains develop. One  cannot unequivocally state either is safer, though the modern tendencies  and technological advances are clearly in the direction of automation.

Fact  is, many students are likely to encounter practical problems pertaining  to either analogical instruments or automation related problems, or  both, in their future ventures. I get the chills whenever an aircraft  owner has to have an electronic display fixed. Such screen failures and  breakages by no means only occur in theory. If inquiring whether or not  an incident report had been filed on the confidential aviation hazard  reporting system (C.A.H.R.S.) the ‘standard reply’ is ‘no!’

Automation  problems are not only classifiable phenomena, but often pertain to  humans habitually succumbing to predictable mistakes under conditions of  prolonged stress, monotony, complacency and e.g. ‘workarounds’  techniques necessitated by group dynamic pressures – if one would  consider the Tupolev TU-154 M disaster which had claimed the lives of  the Polish president and 95 others on April 10, 2010 the crew had tried  to work around the automated safety devices, in response to group  dynamic pressures.

Prolonged,  underlying fatigue caused by factors like ‘occupational performance  stress’ or relationship problems may overwhelm many professional pilots.  The symptoms are inattention, shortcuts, etc. Ironically, those most  exposed are powerless and least likely to deal with the impending  problem situations. Similarly, problem situations would not have  developed had the pilot been able to identify and deal with the  underlying factors in the first place. Notwithstanding, the aviation  industry and administrations alike keep ‘dealing’ with such widespread  predicaments by merely issuing more and more sets of guidelines, rules  and regulations essentially being nothing more than series of ‘do’s’ and  ‘don’ts’. Single pilots operating under instrument flight rules in  instrument meteorological conditions will not always have the luxury of  reverting to e.g. the co-pilot side if encountering display problems.  During training the varying automation and auto-control system design  philosophies and protocols prevailing among different major  manufacturers may not be covered or understood at all, to begin with.

Upon  first occupying a pilot seat in a cabin size turboprop with analogue  instruments, one might well consider the moving map GPS as ‘automation’.  The intrepid career pilot, having trained solely in a glass cockpit,  may not understand the philosophy at all. The bottom line is pilots have  to be aware current curricula do not realistically prepare them for  both sides of the spectrum. Instructor Joe Soap, acting within his  paradigm whilst trying his utmost to make things ‘realistic’, may never  have flown in a turboprop. He may well be aspiring to land such  ‘illustrious’ position.

In  the aftermath of the June 1972 tragic ‘Staines Air Disaster’ involving a  British-European Airways Hawker-Siddeley Trident claiming 118 lives  just outside London, administrators had already recognized the  correlation between automation and crew interface problems. Most pilots  will at some stage of their careers have to fly aircraft which are not  required to be fitted with ground proximity warning systems (G.P.W.S.),  flight-data recorders (F.D.R.), cockpit voice recorders (C.V.R.),  traffic collision avoidance systems (T.C.A.S.), etc. Such systems are  required only in certain weight categories and classes of aircraft. It  should be clear that students should at all costs be confronted during  training with ‘emergency situations’ pertaining to automation as well as  analogue instrumentation problems.

More  insight of typical risks pilots may encounter in ‘analogue’ stages of  their careers may be obtained by consulting a NASA study mandated by the  US National Transportation Safety Board (Go to and type in ‘Hazards to Aircraft During Approach and Landing’).  

The  study is enlightening in the sense that it predates ‘automation’.  Outside South Africa, on the continent, intrepid charter or contract  pilots may have to function in an environment devoid of technologically  advanced ground based safety systems. The N.T.S.B. study evaluated 820  airline accidents between 1958 and 1967. Out of 110 fatal accidents no  fewer than 63 percent had occurred in the final approach and landing  phases of flight. No fewer than 42 accidents had been attributed to  runway over-runs, whilst 42 had undershot the glide-path. In the next  article we will take a closer look and find a correlation to training  deficiencies.  

 17. Night Rating - 'visual flight rules' misnomer

Things that go bump in the night

A  night rating adds a vital dimension to training, especially with higher  ratings in mind. If considering a night rating, do not be deceived. The  rating in accordance with SA CATS F.C.L. 61 – 116 to 119 is no ‘quasi  instrument rating’ and exposes one to many pitfalls. Flying in  accordance with visual flight rules (V.F.R.) at night can quickly become  a misnomer as e.g. haze unobtrusively sets in, or a myriad of factors  emerge.

This  series on training is intended as a new paradigm and not to duplicate  the obvious. However, in the air ‘things that go bump in the night’ are  neither confined to the Castle of Spirits, nor the similarly named  British TV series.  Shaun Laver a former C.F.I. is among those who know.  One hazy evening he had to do a missed approach in a King Air 200 at  Lusaka to avoid bumping into another aircraft lined up on the opposite  runway. The scary part is… wait for it… both aircraft had been  transmitting their movements to A.T.C. And it’s not ‘…this is Africa’.  This is air traffic control. In Florida, USA four people had died when a  four-seat Cessna 172 and had collided on a busy runway intersection  with a two-seat Cessna 152. By golly!

The problem, sorry ‘challenge’, with all flights outside Class A airspace is that – unless specifically under I.F.R., radar-identified and under radar control –  the responsibility on the part of the air traffic service unit in Class  C air spaces at centers like Lanseria or O.R. Tambo is actually not to  control in the strictest sense of the word. A.T.C.’s main onus is ‘…to  separate I.F.R. flights from I.F.R. and V.F.R., V.F.R. from I.F.R. and  to provide V.F.R. traffic with information about other V.F.R. traffic’.  In Class F and G airspace, like at Grand Central, flights are not  subject to control and receive traffic advisory service and traffic  information, the latter if requested. Legislation affords no special  attention or preference on the part of A.T.C. to flights conducted by  night; except for the series of flashing signals they can aim at us when  other communications are lost. The notion of a combination of V.F.R.  and I.F.R. flying at night is therefore probably an anomaly.

The  situation is equally precarious whilst taxing at night. Recently, the  pilot of a Cessna 206 at a busy centre asked directions to the fuel  bay.  The ground controller advised a routing via designated  alpha-numeric indications, but failed to ‘adequately’ warn about a  dugout behind barrier tape, ‘faintly’ lit by a lantern. According to the  pilot’s written testimony he was temporary blinded by security lights  and continued taxiing his aircraft into the ditch. He could not see, but  failed to stop. You be the judge who has to pay for the insurance  ‘deductible’ claim from the resultant prop-strike. By day this would  probably never have occurred.

Consulting  an Australian flying school’s website to compare one is tempted to  enlist for their version of the night rating, though corresponding to  SACAA requirements, if only ‘ see the beauty of the city lights  from the air by night’. Other spooky factors come into play by night. ‘Blossoming effect’  is one such rarely talked about example, as first-hand observers rarely  live to tell the tale. At night the most lethal ‘specs’ in the air at  first glance appear to be stationary. A light ‘just sitting there’ is  usually neither Harry Potter on a broom, nor Mary Poppins, but an  aircraft closing in. The sudden ‘expansion’ across the field of vision,   or ‘blossoming’, can advisedly be explosive and bloody if no evasive  action is taken in time.

From  various vantage points the intrepid night flyer is urged to scan.  However, considering the various optical illusions which occur at night,  it’s a bit like ‘picking your poison’. On the one hand temporary or  peripheral blindness or Troxler Effect can occur if a pilot focuses too long a stationary point of light. It would also result in ‘auto-kinetic effect’;  or the apparent movement of a point of light focused upon. To top it  all, if one would look around to scan for other aircraft and maintain  visual orientation, the swirling of head juices in the vestibular system  can cause disorientation or vertigo on account of ‘Coriolis effect’. Add to this that a narrow runway can deceive you into believing you’re too high on final at night, or vice versa.

According  to the A.O.P.A. USA website mid-air collisions, or ‘MAC’, take out  pilots in the circuit half the time – crueler and faster than Jackie  Mesmer or ‘Mac the Knife’. Four out of five times aviation’s ‘MAC’ take  out ‘planes on final approach or while landing. Evidently there’s more  to night flying than the legally prescribed five hours in the simulator,  five under the hood and five actually at night. Nearly ten percent of  MAC victims succumb during take-off and climb phases (  According to the N.T.S.B. the one in four MAC occurrences occur during  cruise and can be attributed to inattention by crews. The remedy is to  see and be seen. Over water or sparsely populated areas the black hole effect  can have devastating consequences. Private pilot John F. Kennedy Junior  had been on the brink of gaining his instrument rating when he’d lost  control of his Piper Saratoga II TC on July 16, 1999. Haze had obscured  the horizon. The fatigued JFK Junior evidently succumbed to optical  illusions and human factors associated with flight without reliable  external references.

Visual Flight Rules  (CATS 91.06.21) requires five km horizontal visibility in flight between  ground and flight level 100 by night; whilst keeping a horizontal  clearance of 2000 feet and vertically 500 feet. I have flown numerous  buck shooters (hunters are something else) to game farms. Not many of  them could judge distances between 50 and 150 meters accurately from a  stationary pick-up truck, let alone in an aircraft by night.

The  USA’s Ninth Air Force dares to caution aircrews to whenever aids are  available, to strictly adhere to precision instrument approaches at  night; using all cockpit aids at their disposal, whilst liaising and  coordinating with A.T.C. before night  sorties. Crews even have to visit alternate aerodromes by day first.  They have to brush up on CRM techniques, watch out for birds and be  especially vigilant to coordinate well during transitions and braking.  The next time you rocket away to a holiday destination or some fun place  at night, think first… Maybe the Ninth Air Force guys are just some  nervous over-trained crews. Maybe they have lost their nerve a little,  considering many have been shot at in their F-22 Raptors in conflict  areas like the Middle East.  

Or, maybe some of us are just too plain arrogant to be afraid of ‘things which go bump in the night’?

 18. Night rating training (continued)

A stitch in time saves nine

DESPITE  a host of experience, the most sophisticated equipment and highest  levels of realism in flight simulator training devices, the evidence  still shows pilots continue to mess up the ‘basics’.

Much  to most people’s surprise, findings of the Air France Flight 447  disaster attested to the crew having been unaware of one another’s  actions. The authority gradient between the senior and junior co-pilots  occupying the flight deck had been ineffectively shallow. As mitigating  factor one might bear in mind they had been battling with a so-called  ‘mesoscale convective system’ of weather in the Inter-tropical  Conversion Zone or ‘I.T.C.Z.’. In plain language they had to contend  with a line-squall of thunderclouds with tops over 50, 000 feet near the  equator. Nonetheless, due to their inability to recognize and react  effectively to a basic aerodynamically stalled  condition, 228 people had perished when an otherwise perfectly  serviceable Airbus A330-203 went into the icy Atlantic just after 2 a.m.  on June1, 2009 – about halfway into a flight from Rio de Janeiro to  Paris.

In terms of sophistication a  Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 is not far behind the Airbus. However, one cannot  always blame automation for causing accidents. The N.T.S.B. findings of  the Colgan Air Flight 3407 disaster conclusively showed that 50 people  had died on February 12, 2009 as a result of the captain and co-pilot  failing to coordinate effectively, causing an aerodynamically stalled  condition. The crew had lost control during the final approach to land  with the aid of an Instrument Landing System or I.L.S. for Buffalo,  Niagara’s runway 23. They were merely five nautical miles from  touch-down. In the process of approaching the aerodynamically stalled  condition, the co-pilot had asked permission to retract the landing  gear. Neither she nor the captain seemed to have clearly differentiated  between ‘missed approach’ and ‘recovery from a stall’ procedures.   

Loss  of control attributable to deep stalls predates even the landmark  Tenerife air disaster of March 27, 1977 when two Boeing 747s had  collided on the runway, claiming 583 lives. The essentially surface  bound event had supposedly sparked off CRM training. However, on Sunday,  June 18, 1972, in the so-called ‘Staines Air Disaster’, the failure by  aircrew to coordinate whilst interacting properly with the autopilot  system had resulted in a Hawker Siddeley Trident 1C entering a ‘deep stall’  shortly after take-off. Neither the 15, 800 hour captain, nor either of  two co-pilots could recognize or prevent the aircraft from entering a  deep stall, after leveling off after take-off as noise abatement  procedure. The British European Airways Flight 548 crashed seconds  afterwards, mere minutes after take-off from London’s Heathrow Airport.  The flight to Brussels had been packed in anticipation of union action  by aircrews commencing the next day. Six crew and 112 passengers had  perished.

An article in ‘Business &  Commercial Aviation’ by Richard N. Aarons (March 2011; pp. 58 – 63)  shows even in Part 91 or ‘private operations’ pilots make similar  mistakes. On February 1, 2008, just before noon, an instrument rated  owner-pilot and ‘ride-along’ professional were killed along with six  passengers at Surry County Airport in the USA. They had entered an  aerodynamically stalled condition and lost control of the Beech C90A in  dismal weather conditions. Despite descending below instrument landing  minima the aircraft was never reconfigured for a missed approach. The  N.T.S.B. found the crew had ‘deliberately’, as recorded in  conversations, descended below published minimums. Engine power was  never increased to ‘Max Allowable’ after leveling off for the visual  circling approach. Based on all evidence including eyewitness reports,  the Board found the aircraft had entered an aerodynamically stalled condition shortly before impacting the ground.

This  all leaves instructor Joe Soap in the Piper Arrow or Cessna 172 Cutlass  at a loss, if not in a terrible predicament. That is, if Joe is the  kind of instructor ‘biding time’ till finding a better position. Often,  quite unwittingly, Joe and his counterparts ‘way down in the food chain’  form part of a long chain of events. CRM presenter Brandie Branders’  favorite slide portrays a quote effectively stating that whenever  someone ‘goes down’ in an aircraft accident, the sum total of all  knowledge, attitudes and values everyone (‘we’) had ever attempted to  impart, had gone down with that individual. Wow!

Few  are destined to fly airliners one day. But, the evidence shows that  often in the case of air crashes and air disasters fundamental training  must have been lacking; such discrepancies remaining undetected to show  up many years later in some cases. Talking casually to Karl Jensen, a  South African Airways ‘golden oldie’ (in his own words) recently at  Wonderboom Airport, a new insight emerged. Karl said ‘I never bothered  to assess a candidate when he or she was still fresh. However, I have  seen many young pilots fall on their backs when an emergency such as an  engine failure was sprung on them after a grueling session, during a  missed approach procedure’.

Some instructors  approach the basic instrument training for the night rating very  casually. Whilst old Joe Soap might never have even entered a big  Boeing, Airbus or Trident flight-deck in reality, his due diligence  today may have an effect on what happens there one day.  Night rating  candidates often combine conversion to type training with elementary  instrument flying. Nothing’s wrong with that. With a bit of  farsightedness and insight the tendency to optimize offers ideal  learning opportunities; provided sufficient attention is paid to  procedures laid down in the SA Civil Aviation Technical Standards or  CATS, F.C.L. 61-321. Going back a few steps, during basic training for  the private pilot’s license, exercises 12 E & 13 E (c) are often not  adequately accomplished or repeated enough. During renewal tests many  candidates fail to react properly to go-around instructions. In  practice, in a busy circuit pattern, go-around actions tend to ‘mess up’  the traffic pattern, whilst few would like to sacrifice otherwise  perfect landing practice opportunities in this manner.  

Go-around  actions and recovery procedures from the stall or approaching stall are  often neglected. These exercises should preferably be attempted in the  landing configuration. Many studies have shown that under conditions of  severe stress and loss of situational awareness, crews tend to revert to  the earliest or ‘original’ actions learned. Considering that the  life-expectancy of the carbon vanes in a vacuum pump which drive the  attitude and direction gyroscopic indicators is 1, 000 hours, chances  are vacuum pump failure may happen to any of us at some stage –  especially in rental aircraft with tens of thousands of hours.  Proficiency in recovering on limited panel from the stall, retracting  the flaps in the correct sequence, in stages along with the gear, whilst  adjusting the mixture, pitch and throttle controls must therefore be  repeated until becoming ‘first nature’ and not ‘second nature’, like my  friend Dawid Laas always says.

Older  instructors tend to be ‘cruel to be kind’ – requiring students to enter a  climbing turn and level off at assigned headings and altitudes. It may  seem ‘over the top’ to some, but thank them. Someday in future such  higher demands and realism in training under the instrument conditions  may come ‘automatically’ for the intrepid airline pilot; to perhaps save  many lives, especially in icing conditions, at minima, under severe  occupational strain. In the not too distant future of a training career,  during multi-engine conversion training, the proof of the pudding may  come when an engine is simulated to be inoperative after take-off. When  the margins between the ‘minimum single engine control speed’, ‘single  engine optimum climb rate speed’ and ‘single engine stall speed’ are  narrowed down, the corn and chaff are separated. Making the most of training for the night rating might indeed one day imply ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’  

19. More one group dynamics and air safety

Vital link often overlooked

THE  vital link between air safety and group dynamics is often overlooked as  accident causal (or prevention) factor. The aspect is indirectly dealt  with in Crew Resource Management (CRM) training. It is by implication a  ‘browsed over’ factor in Human Factors as subject.

The  air safety sub-culture of group dynamics as expression of society may  ultimately explain our vulnerability as aviators. A negative  predisposition precipitates numerous unsafe aerial decisions. General  Aviation (GA) participants and especially professional aircrew are often  doubly exposed to negative group dynamics.

Factors  influencing our behavior and decisions are rooted in society. As  expressions or exponents of society, the driving forces reside within  us. The societal perspective of group dynamics nearly always affecting  us also provides a thinking model which makes circumstantial factors and  influences more readily discernible.

As  aviators we have listen ‘ad nausea’ to expressions that we need to  change or modify or bad attitudes. These are often, sometimes  justifiably so, reduced to ‘pride, arrogance and resentment against  rules and authority’. But, what if I don’t really want to be an unsafe  pilot? What if I am powerless to change outside influences rendering me  unsafe? To the individual with a deemed bad attitude he or she may be  wittingly or unwittingly responding or reacting to a culture of bad  attitudes.

Group induced pressures

We  are in fact responding to group induced pressures. This may culminate  in unsafe decisions that go against objective (not properly considered)  facts, knowledge and insight and against our better judgement.

As  members of society we are all linked to society by means of primary  groups. All aspects of society ultimately devolve into small groups at  the final point of decision making. As pilots ‘we carry the can’. But,  we hardly ever, although we at times may believe so, function in  isolation.

We derive a  sense of ‘self’, ‘we’ and belonging from our primary groups. At the  workplace we are formally arranged into small groups or task groups, or  informally arrange ourselves this way, relying on such groupings for  communication networks and emotional support.

Even  while flying solo, we remain linked to our primary groups. On a charter  flight, sometimes as group outsider in terms of our passengers or  bosses we act with reference to our primary groups. If physically  removed, like on contract flying or on a weekend getaway, we remain  connected ‘in our heads’.

Group life cycles

Our  passengers, either voluntary or involuntary, form their own primary  groupings and we react to the dynamics. The groupings may be the  continuation of formerly formed groups, or temporary for the duration of  the venture or flight. Such groups have a very definite and predictable  life cycle, like seen on the various ‘Survivor series’ on TV. They vie  for power and affection during these cycles and over-dependent and  under-dependent persons cause various forms of conflict at various  stages.

Group norms which  may be deviant and unsafe in terms of air safety rules may develop  during these stages. Power vacuums originate. Unless the pilot knows how  to recognize and deal with the various manifestations, all may be  experienced as group induced or reacted to unsafe behavior; culminating  e.g. in aerial stunt flying in non-aerobatic aircraft, overloading, low  flying, decisions not to turn around when faced by adversity and/or  being overly eager to please the group attempting to use the aircraft as  private airliner. Editorial space restrictions limit the vast number of  expressions.

Inner conflict

In  terms of group dynamics we are all subject to inner conflicts that need  to be balanced to function as ‘normal’ law abiding citizens. In terms  of groups the diametrically opposed urges to remain independent whilst  desperately wanting to belong are always at play. Once we are accepted  into a particular grouping, we face the next aspect of wanting to  dominate the pack; or if chased away, we seek other primary groups among  which we can spread the risks of acceptance and rejection.

In  CRM terms on the airline flight deck such disturbances become very  evident in the two opposites of being either too mission or too people  oriented. In the Experimental Aircraft environment we may wish to  express our ‘superior skills’ to either dominate or to display our  higher value as individual and hence our acceptability to the group;  which in the latter scenario can consist of our family, friends or  would-be friends accompanying us to the airfield or fly-in – even if I  may be flying solo. Wanting to impress gets a whole new meaning if  understood in terms of group dynamics and the societal forces driving  our behavior.

Looking at the  various printing/publishing locations various air safety books all seem  to ‘silently suggest’ that these have been written in milieus of  culturally homogeneous and stable societies. Even then, the margins for  error seem to be far less than pilots often anticipate.

In  transitional societies like South   Africa primary groups like the  basic family unit are under severe threat. Groups in itself are being  transformed and are invariably suffering various identity crises, due to  factors like new social mobility, economic hardship and re-locations.

Against  such a backdrop it may be far more difficult to become the ‘radical’  group outsider and wanting to conform to what may be viewed as tedious  and irrelevant rules and regulations; i.e. against the group norm of  ‘let’s get there’ and in accomplishing the vitally required modal  thinking change when e.g. traversing from a relatively lawless road  traffic environment into the rule and regulation rich aviation  environment.

‘Who’s the boss?’

As  pilots we may be faced with ‘who’s the boss’ contests in group terms  with the MD in the back of the aircraft and press the limits in  Instrument Meteorological Conditions (I.M.C.). Our passengers invariably  outweigh and outnumber us. We may become overly compliant or eager too  please passengers in their capacity of ‘always right clients’. Unless we  recognize the powerful influences of negative group dynamics, turning  around or delaying or terminating a flight when faced by bad weather,  sometimes only at a diversion airfield, becomes only a remote  possibility. With merely five passengers on board, especially GA pilots  are faced with dealing with as many as 20 direct and indirect  interpersonal relations.

We  suffer from other influences unless approved by the group culminating in  feelings of being ‘in a group but not part of it’; known as alienation.  As we derive our sense of self and our very purpose from our primary  groups in our immediate vicinity, may even suffer from anomie (which in  purest form means a sense of no name). In its severest form of  expression alienation and anomie were identified as strong deviant  influences in three out of four US presidential assassins, according  various sociological studies.

‘We have a problem’

In  flying terms, group dynamics would give a whole new understanding to  the self-fulfilling prophetic words ‘Well, then we have a problem’ on  the Cockpit Voice Recorder of the ill-fated Tupolev TU-154M three-engine  airliner on the first of three approaches in fog at Smolensk Airbase in  Western Russia on April 10 this year. The words were by the Director of  Diplomatic Protocol of Poland, in response to the pilot in command’s  observation: ‘under these conditions that we have now, we will not  manage to land’. With a group comprising the country’s president Lech  Kaczynski (60) plus key cabinet ministers and the heads of the army,  navy and special forces in the back of the airliner the odds were  powerfully stacked against the group of aircrew members. The operational  facts, i.e. two previous approaches had been unsuccessful and an  Ilyushin IL-76 had diverted to Minsk Airfield near Moscow in the face of  deteriorating weather conditions, could not outweigh such group dynamic  induced air safety imbalance. The result was 96 lives lost.      

20. Single-pilot Instrument Flying, or 'S.P.I.F.R.' 

Juggling act or flight management?

SELF  DEFENSE expert and aviation optometrist Wally Blumenthal attributes the  ease with which he turns ‘attackers’ half his age on their backs almost  nonchalantly to ‘pattern recognition’. He anticipates opponents’ next  moves and makes it work for him and against them. The art is in reading  signs and patterns other people would miss, e.g. narrowing pupils,  expression changes, subtle shifts of balance, muscle tone, stance, etc.

In  May 2000 Wally, who is also an experienced private pilot and son, Ryan,  were fortunate to survive a forced landing. They experienced a complete  engine failure in a Grumman AA-1B inbound from Phalaborwa to Wonderboom  Airport with only three nautical miles to go.

Talking  to father and son individually the differences in recollecting the same  event is surprising. Wally almost sees it as a non-event. Ryan on the  other hand had strong suspicions at certain stages of the flight it  would be ‘tickets’ for them… ticket on the toe sort of.  Despite shock  and injuries the young medical student would almost automatically reset  dad Wally’s dislocated wrist. As a pathologist and amateur sleight of  hand artist he would later publish a well written book Mentalist Martial Arts dealing with pattern recognition in context of self-preservation. (The book fortunately has nothing to do with 'Eastern Philosophies' which is not endorsed here - far from it!) 

In  one chapter Ryan uses a ‘falling’ aircraft disappearing behind a hill  as example to explain the instinctive human trait of pattern prediction  and anticipation to explain to self-defenders and sleight of hand  artists how to gain the upper hand. In an interview with Ryan he at one  point ended up wearing my spectacles, which I could have sworn I had  never taken off. Before parting ways he asked if I would like my wrist  watch returned.  From my bemused vantage point it dawned on me the  flying father and son duo had vastly different recollections of the same  event and had been affected differently precisely on account of the  different pattern predictions. To Wally as an experienced pilot with 556  hours at the time the ‘logical’ outcome must have been a safe landing  as practiced many times before. A young medical intern working at a  trauma unit would have seen vastly different potential outcomes.

Instructors  focus on instilling automatic sets of patterns or vital actions and  standard procedures. The best test is not when one is quietly sitting in  a simulator, but when an engine is simulated to be inoperative during a  missed approach in instrument conditions after dealing with a system  failure for just over an hour. As a charter pilot it was always one  thing to undergo training and an entire different beast at half past  eight at night after a long day, problems with the passengers, customs  officials and dodging the weather. Then we would rely on patterns and  almost instinctive drills embedded in our tired sub-conscious brains.  Ironically, herein sometimes resorts our own undoing and demise.  

In  studies on automation related faults pilots encountering equipment  interface problems, e.g. in the sense that computerized systems work in  path to terminator sets and sequences and are difficult to interrupt or  change, often tried to resort to the original set of actions learned.  Under pressure of e.g. runway and associated instrument approach pattern  changes, many tried to disengage the automation system and ‘hand fly’  in attempt to resort to the earliest learn pattern of having control.

To  the intrepid single-pilot instrument flyer pattern recognition,  anticipation and prediction has a significant bearing on the recurring  mistakes we make. Much has been written about the Batelle Laboratories  study about the single-pilot under I.F.R. in 1981. Aviators are advised  to do a Google search for articles by Mike Busch of the AVweb website.

The  Batelle study had shown pilots’ hours and level of experience had very  little to do with avoiding recurring mistakes. Most of the test subjects  had logged over 2000 hours at the time. Altitude busts had made up the  vast majority of repeated errors. One of the most significant  discoveries was that ‘self-briefings’ although a valuable and vital aid  before attempting a procedure, had made pilots under workload of  single-pilot instrument conditions almost inflexible to specific  instructions from  air traffic controllers (A.T.C.).

The  next biggest categories of infringements were found to be heading and  pattern incursions or errors. In a nutshell, pilots under stress of  multi-tasking tend to lose the plot, ironically by sticking to the plot  in their mind’s eye. Somehow, we remain creatures of habit. Discussing  this with an experienced instrument rated private pilot and engineer  Karl Eschberger (54) with nearly 1000 hours on his Seneca II, one  revelation is that pilots are never trained for ‘solo flying’ under  instrument conditions before their ratings are issued. They are  therefore never coped to deal with e.g. vertigo after the second attempt  to get into a destination after two and a half hours of dealing with  bad weather. He therefore uses as many opportunities possible to  practice solo instrument flying in actual I.M.C.

A  common denominator in nearly all infringements, altitude or level busts  and even accidents is the loss of situational and/or positional  awareness. The supposed pictures and proposed patterns we propose ‘in  our heads’ and reality differ. Unlike what we have been taught, the  ground does not really rise and smite thee… Accident victims are sort of  not where they’re supposed to be.

I have  often wondered how the heck I have managed to bring those Seneca  six-seat ‘planes home; those Barons, Cessna 310s, the Cessna 400s, etc.  At times I have thought myself too ‘laid-back’ for the game. But, then  again: How could I have brought some ‘planes home on one engine in bad  weather at night? Perhaps herein lay my survival and absolution: I have  always treated each flight as unique. I have considered that each ‘plane  could bite me. I have always maintained nobody is bigger than the game.  With each flight I have always retired early the night before to study  not only the obvious predictable patterns, but the go-around and reverse  procedures. I have respected a Seneca as much as a Citation.

Good  cockpit procedures of resetting heading bugs each time a heading  clearance is changed, writing down each assigned altitude on a piece of  sticky paper each time, setting not only assigned frequencies but the  go-around frequencies and mentally reviewing the next assignment have  helped a lot. Unless you have a good three-axis autopilot or a rated  co-pilot, do not attempt anything more than a 20 minute segment in  clouds or just a cloud-break as the law prescribes. Remain respectful  and never ‘assume’ any anticipated pattern to be a safety guarantee in  flight. Fly safely!

21. VOR/DME ARC approaches - be alert! 

THE  VOR/DME Arc approach can kick your butt any day of the week. The Air  Information Circular (AIC 25.4 of 08.06.06) attests technology has gone  ahead of some ICAO recognised surface based navigational equipment and  associated procedures. The recently introduced European Geostationary  Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) in association with Localiser  Performance with Vertical Guidance approaches making use of GPS  augmented approaches seem set to save many lives in Europe and the UK.  Companies like Garmin have pioneered the way.

Locally  we seem not too far behind. The above mentioned AIC paved the way by  spelling out requirements for using generically termed global navigation  satellite systems or GNSS in conjunction with Distance Measuring  Equipment (DME), VHF omni-directional radio ranging (VOR) equipment and  instrument landing system localizer, the latter providing the lateral  guidance in the precision approach. Automatic Direction Finders (ADF)  are included in clause ‘f’ allowing the use of GPS to identify ‘approach  fixes’. ADF mentioned in the AIC has peculiar shortcomings. ‘Homing’ to  the station, as the needle dictates, invariably describes a bowed  course in windy conditions. ADF suffers from bad weather, night effect  and coastline refraction. DME on the other hand used to be the general  aviator’s friend in days gone by, still providing instant ‘fixes’ at  radial and distance intersections along an arc.

Operating  in the ultra-high frequency (UHF) frequency band between 962 and 1213  MHz the downside of DME is line-of-sight range. Generally, one of the  purposes of establishing a VOR/DME Arc approach at a facility is to  provide an inbound track at safe distance just ‘outside’ high terrain.  Range in nautical miles is found by multiplying a factor of 1.4 with the  square root of aircraft height in feet. The equipment requires a  two-way electromagnetic pulse from airborne ‘interrogating’ equipment  and the surface station.  Sometimes the landing zone and surface  equipment are not co-located. Remember the Korean Airlines Boeing 747  colliding with Nimitz Hill at 01h42 on August 6, 1997? Our AIC 25.4  point ‘d.’ therefore insists upon ‘receiver autonomous integrity  monitoring’ (RAIM). ‘GPS may be used to identify all DME and ADF  fixes – including those which are part of the initial approach fix (IAP)  as GPS waypoint’. The fact is you can hardly dare to attempt the procedure in real life without GPS augmentation.

The  DME ‘slant range’ represents the distance along the hypotenuse of the  triangle between the aircraft and the surface station. The effect could  be negligible far from the station, but less theoretical when closer. A  real problem is beacon saturation. More often than not, a read-out  cannot be obtained unless and until in relatively close proximity. On  actual instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) days ‘everyone and his  dog’ seem to take to the air, tuning to the beacon.

Teaching  the VOR/DME Arc procedure can be ‘relatively’ simple. But, a healthy  dose of caution should be administered. In a flight simulator training  device (FSTD) or instrument procedural trainer (IPT) the lessons become  interesting at this stage, but ‘out there’ it may be easy to become  ensnared – as accident data bases reveal. 

The  method most popularly used in South Africa is in accordance with the  Instrument Rating Training Manual by designated examiner Francois Naude,  whilst at least five different techniques can be found on the Internet.  The South African technique seems most popular, generally commencing  with an initial inbound track leading to an initial approach fix. The  arc most tends to form the intermediate segment, leading to interception  of an inbound final approach course. The initial radial is determined  by reading the ‘bottom’ of the omni-bearing selector (OBS) on the VOR  dial with the needle centred and a ‘TO’ indication. Various sources  recommend commencing the initial clockwise or counter-clockwise turn 0.5  nm before the fix if below 150 knots groundspeed. Above 150 knots the  ‘ideal curve diameter’ is ten percent of groundspeed. Therefore at e.g.  160 knots start turning 90 degrees away from the initial fix (either  left or right) 1.6 nm before the fix.

On  a map the arc is intended to follow a course along the outer segment of  a circle. The path which is actually being followed, if plotted along a  theoretical 360 degree outline, would resemble a 36-sided polygon, or a  ‘triacontakaihexagon’ – right there between ‘tri’ and ‘triad’ in your  Oxford Dictionary. Not so? After the initial turn the ‘turn-10,  twist-10’ method is recommended. The path along the arc describes a  series of ten degree segments. For each ten degrees the aircraft will  follow a path ‘inside’ the circle for half the distance. Once the needle  centres, the aircraft will fly ‘outside’ of the circle till the needle  is deflected two-and-a-half dots or five degrees. Then, the OBS is once  more twisted ten degrees towards the next or advanced radial. The  procedure is repeated till within 20 to 30 degrees of the final approach  course, when an interception takes place.

The  procedure absolutely lends itself to a GPS assisted approach. Simply  ensuring that the aircraft remains within 0.5 nm inside the turn,  considering one nm either side is allowed, the aircraft should describe a  path along an ‘ideal circle’ an automatically compensate for wind. The  procedure lends itself to crew coordination and interaction exercises.  Various accident databases reveal ‘step-down’ approaches are among the  highest accident precipitating factors. Repeated practice of VOR/DME Arc  step-down approaches is therefore vital. The approach should not be  attempted unless as coupled approach with the aid of autopilot. In one  accident the low time instrument rated pilot of a Twin Commander had  simply ‘lost it’ during the complex procedure, crying ‘Mayday’ shortly  after citing his predicament as ‘disorientation’. If ever there was an  exercise ‘to induce’ loss of situational awareness and teaching crews to  recover, the DME/VOR Arc with multiple step-down procedure is ‘the  one’.  Regional commuters under pressure of adhering to a schedule seem  most vulnerable. VOR/DME Arc step-down approaches tolerate neither lack  of patience as rather lengthy procedure, nor deviation from company  standardised operating procedures.