SERIOUS ABOUT SAFETY - FORMER AIR FORCE CAPTAIN DAWID LAAS AND THE OWNER OF THE ONLY IMPALA JET IN PRIVATE OWNERSHIP EXPLAINING TO AIR CADETS OF THE MONTANA FLYING ACADEMY PROFESSIONALISM IS A LIFESTYLE. THE VALUES AND DISCIPLINE BEGIN AT HOME.HE IS A FIRM BELIEVER IN JESUS CHRIST. HE BELIEVES IT SHOULD BE REFLECTED IN EVERYTHING WE SAY AND DO, INCLUDING FLYING AND OUR APPROACH TO STUDIES AND LIFE. HE DOES NOT PROSCRIBE TO OTHERS, BUT PERSONALLY HAS NEVER ALLOWED A DROP OF ALCOHOL TO TOUCH HIS LIPS. CONTACT HIM ABOUT SAFETY AND MOTIVATIONAL TALKS ON +27 83 655 1155 | email@example.com
AS A YOUNG AIR FORCE PILOT DAWID LAAS REPEATEDLY FLEW RE-SUPPLY MISSIONS TO TROOPS AT LOW LEVEL AT NIGHT DEEP INTO THE OPERATIONAL AREA IN A TURBINE DAKOTA. LIVES DEPENDED ON HIM AND HIS CREW. IF THEY WERE GIVEN TO SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND OTHER VICES FATIGUE WOULD HAVE OVERCOME THEM AS THE GRUELING HOURS OF OPERATION WENT AGAINST CIRCADIAN AND BIO-RHYTHMS. LATER IN HIS CAREER HE ALSO FLEW THE 'GHOST PLANE' I.E. THE HI-TECH DC-4 CONVERTED FOR ADVANCED AIRBORNE COMMUNICATIONS WITH TROOPS AND AIRBORNE UNITS ALIKE AND ONCE NARROWLY ESCAPED WHEN HE HAD A SAM-9 'LOCK-ON' AT NIGHT OUT OVER THE ATLANTIC, OFF THE ANGOLAN COASTLINE. THE SAME KIND OF MISSILE WAS USED TO BRING DOWN THE U-2 SPY PLANE WITH PILOT GARY POWERS IN THE SIXTIES FROM AN ALTITUDE OF 70 000 FT OVER RUSSIA. [THE HAND OF THE LORD MUST HAVE BEEN OVER CAPT. LAAS AND HIS CREW ALL THE TIME - ED.]
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.
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
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: http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov.docs/rpsts/fftt.pdf
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);
- 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.
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 foresight. But, 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 Nimbostratus. Perhaps 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
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)
MORE ON AIR SAFETY & TRAINING...
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 www.pilotspost.com
Index (scroll down)
SECTION I - AIR SAFETY ARTICLES
1. Group dynamics and air safety
SECTION II - BASIC FLIGHT TRAINING
1. The first flight
2. Selecting a flying school
3. The second lesson
4. Straight and Level
5. Climbing and Descending
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
SECTION I - AIR SAFETY
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.
SECTION II - BASIC FLYING TRAINING (SUPPLEMENTARY ARTICLES)
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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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!
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 www.lightandmatter.com 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 www.ntrs.nasa.gov 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 ‘...to 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 (www.asf.org). 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.
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.