"What in the wide, wide, world of sports is a goin' on here?"
— Slim Pickens
. . . In a word: updates. I write these things as events unfold, in reaction to questions, or just as matter of what strikes my fancy on any given day. I do this at least once a month but sometimes every week. How do you know what is the newest, freshest stuff? Right here.
If you are looking for updates to the International Operations Flight Manual, the are here: IOFM Updates.
If you want to know what was most recently changed, most everything is arranged by date right here. The newest stuff is on top.
One way to ruin an otherwise enjoyable flight is to have it conclude with tower or another air traffic control agency say, “I need you to give me a call, let me know when you are ready to take my phone number.” You can’t have been a professional pilot for more than a few years without hearing the tale of a fellow pilot who was presumed guilty until proven innocent.
The good news is that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is now more interested in prevention of future events than any punitive actions. The bad news is that flying remains a complicated business, none of us are perfect, and these “call me when you land” events will continue.
Over the years I've had several malfunctions that were greeted by the mechanics with, "that can't happen." I've tried to diagnose problems with a student's flying technique (or my own technique) and wasn't able to remember the sequence of events that made me question it in the first place.
The advent of digital cameras have helped enormously. And now that most cell phones have cameras up to the task, you will never again have to say, "I wish I had a camera with me." But using a camera in the cockpit can be problematic if you aren't careful. Let's tackle that right now.
You could say this hard landing resulting in substantial aircraft damage was caused by the fact the pilots positioned an automatic anti-ice system from AUTO to ALL a little early. You could. But it was really caused by the fact the pilots didn't understand the relationship of the anti-ice system and their fly-by-wire system, and they ran a few checklists from memory, missing the steps that would have prevented all this.
If you are operating a fly-by-wire airplane, this case study should be a sobering reminder that your aircraft is too complicated for you to "wing it." You need to take advantage of every checklist, every written procedure. But no matter what kind of airplane you are flying, this is a sobering reminder that not all airplanes fly alike. You need to become a type specialist.
I wish I could say every experience at recurrent training has been positive for me, but that would be a lie. I sometimes come away thinking that I’ve wasted my time and my company’s money. Despite this, my next recurrent may be just the opposite: the instructors may keep me fully engaged, every day may bring a new “A ha!” learning experience, and I will think I’ve become a better pilot because of the experience. The only difference between the good and the bad training was the instructor.
No matter your experience level in the instruction business, please allow me to make a few points. If you are brand new to the simulator instructor role, I hope this puts you on the right foot and gives you the motivation to stay there. If you are a seasoned pro, I hope this gives you a “heading check” of sorts.
You can be tempted to show up to your simulator recurrent training with no preparation at all and the worst thing that can happen at that point is that you get away with it. You are coasting on previous preparation and nobody realizes that you are attending “cold,” just “winging it.” I’ve been there. At best, you are cheating yourself of the full learning experience. At worst, you may fail to learn a lifesaving lesson.
The solution is to ritualize the month prior to recurrent. If you get into the habit of specific self-study goals starting 30 days prior to the start of the recurrent, you will show up better prepared, you will do better in class, you will shine in the simulator, and you will walk away having maximized the training opportunity. Besides, your performance will make you look good. After several decades of doing this, not doing this, and remembering to do this again, I’ve settled on a seven-step program to prepare for recurrent.
The Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) program has been with us since 1996 and we have been expecting ramp inspections throughout Europe ever since. The European Union made it mandatory for its member states to do these SAFA checks and they seem to trip us up now and then. You may think that as long as you are doing things the best way possible there won't be any issues. The problem is "the best way possible" is in the eye of the beholder.
You may have heard that SAFA has been replaced by the "RIP". That is not true. The Ramp Inspection Program (RIP) encompasses SAFA and SACA, where the second acronym is intended for Community Aircraft, those from EU member states. Inspectors use specific guidance to check 53 areas. The traditional way to prepare for an inspection is with an abbreviated checklist. I think a better way is to know what guidance the inspector is using, and be ready for every inspection item that inspector will be examining.
Many of us in the Northeastern United States have become so well practiced at the art of departing on a day with snow and ice, we can border on complacency. This can be especially problematic for anyone changing aircraft types, since some aircraft have unique procedures that are critically important.
So, we cannot hope to produce a “one-size-fits-all” checklist for your next departure in snow. But what follows can serve as a quality control check for the checklist you already have, or the foundation of the checklist you’ve needed all along.
False precision is an engineering concept that basically says you cannot assume a level of precision of a result greater than the precision of the numbers used to produce that result. It is easy concept to understand with a few examples, but it is a concept many seem to be fooled by in real life.
Is this important for a pilot? It might be or it might not. But you should understand that rounding errors only get worse as we manipulate them.
My boss in the 747 squadron would introduce me as "our test pilot," and I would have to correct him each time, I was a functional check pilot. An Air Force functional check pilot flies according to very strict rules and even when testing something, there is a very detailed manual to follow. We never did anything that we hadn't carefully studied ahead of time.
Over the years before and since those duties, I have been witness to pilots saying, "I wonder what would happen if," and then go on to find out. Those are good pilots to avoid.
There is just so much to know as a professional pilot you have to be careful that the stuff you know is not only correct, but relevant. I do find incorrect information being taught out there, sometimes. But more often than not, much of the information out there just doesn't matter. It is knowledge that is inert.
At best it is knowledge that takes up your time learning something meaningless to you and what you do for a living. At worst, it can distract you from something important. There are lessons for us here.
This is just a quick note to say thank you for all the great support over the years and to give you an update on my plans for this website and future writing projects.
Bottom line: I still have much left to do, but there is an end in sight.
Many non-pilots are fond of saying "less talking, more doing." Pilots realize that sometimes a good briefing, even to yourself, can make the doing easier. This is especially true on a crew airplane. The problem, however, is some of the talking becomes so monotonous, so repetitive, that it can be tuned out. Have you ever given an approach briefing, for example, and thought that you've already given it? Or have you given a before takeoff briefing that meticulously covered the departure procedure, but then forgotten your plan while actually flying it? Me too.
So let's talk about Pre-Trip briefings, Pre-Flight briefings, Before Takeoff briefings, and Approach briefings. And in each case, we'll discuss why one size does not fit all. You may have heard about "Threat Forward" briefings. As it turns out, those tend to miss the forest for the trees. But they are a step in the right direction.
The airlines and other collections of professional pilots in large groups have several advantages over those of us in small flight departments. (I am including myself; we have four pilots, two mechanics, a dispatcher, and a line technician.) These larger organizations have dedicated training and standardization departments that dedicate themselves to making sure you are an SOP maven. These pilots do not normally fly with you on the line, so they don't have a vested interest in keeping on good terms with you. You either follow SOP, or your career will be at risk.
As much as we tend to hate checkrides, orals, and written exams, there is something else we hate that doesn't require a ruthless check airman: looking bad in front of our professional pilot peers. And that is the key to avoiding the hazards I've listed here: put a peer you respect in the jump seat and ask for some constructive criticism. It isn't a checkride. It is a peer review.
In one of my Air Force squadrons a favorite reply to any unusual request was, simply, “We can do that!” It was the height of bravado and team spirit and was looked upon favorably by fellow crewmembers and by the chain of command. My introduction to this elan was in my Boeing 707 (EC-135) squadron in Hawaii and I was one of its greatest practitioners. But in the years I had flying that airplane I slowly began to understand that sometimes the better thought would have been, “Should we do that?”
It took a few years to cure me of the “We Can Do That!” spirit. I am thankful that nobody got hurt and that I never bent any metal in the process of getting my mind right. How could have I been so blind for so long? As it turns out, we pilots are highly susceptible to this mental handicap. We can look at a few examples as a way of inoculating ourselves.
Flying IFR is a challenge for any pilot flying any aircraft. You might think a pilot flying solo would have double the workload of a pilot in a two-pilot cockpit; but I think it is probably triple.
I've asked the finest pilots I know who fly as single pilots to come up with what they think are the most important things to place on a safety checklist. Here is what they came up with.
Flying aircraft is, for the most part, an exacting science of aerodynamics, physics, meteorology, and geometry. We do our best to learn and understand what needs to be understood, but we train and memorize rote procedures to make sure we get it right, every time. There is, however, an exception to this scientific approach to flying: the landing flare. We are told that what happens in the last twenty or thirty feet of flight is an art. Magic, really. We all remember that one day during training when the light clicked on, and we had it, we knew how to land. But then we lost it, and "pranged" one on. These days the same thing happens on the line, one day you have the magic, the next day you don’t. It is an art they say.
After a lifetime of research, I am here to tell you that the landing flare can be broken into smaller, achievable steps that can be explained by science. Understand the science, and your landings will become more consistently on speed, in the touchdown zone, and – dare I say it – more pleasing to your passengers.
There are two schools of thought about drift down: you should always do it because you are the emergency aircraft, or you should never do it because you might create a second emergency aircraft if you drift into their path. I think there is a third way. You should only do a drift down if you are in controlled airspace and have communications with the controlling agency and are assured the path below you is clear.
So if you subscribe to that thought, you should know how to do a proper drift down in your aircraft. We have guides for several Gulfstreams. If you aren't flying one of those Gulfstreams, the guides have pages that will apply to you to get you started.
What, another change? Yes, this time because the airspace is getting more crowded and we need to standardize a little more around the world.
The "Quad Four" maneuver has been replaced and you handle oceanic contingencies around the world in pretty much the same way. The most notable exception is for lost communications in the Pacific. But it has gotten easier.
My first Gulfstream was a GIII, before the days of modern "full glass" electronic flight instruments. Instead, it had 72 capsules in a master caution panel. That seemed like a lot compared to earlier aircraft without a master caution panel of any kind.
Fast forward a few years and the master caution panel has given way to the Crew Alerting System (CAS) and, in my latest aircraft, the number of possible messages is in the hundreds, perhaps over a thousand. No wonder we can be confused. What follows is a short story of an oddball CAS in the middle of the Pacific from fifteen years ago, a cascade of messages from earlier this year, a few from fellow travelers, and a plan for dealing with it all.
Mike got into a little trouble flying an Airbus so now he is stuck somewhere in France, so he asked Eddie to substitute host for him. The topic: The Peter Pilot Principle.
We all know there are many steps along the way to becoming a successful professional pilot and it is tempting to skip a few steps when given the chance. All that is good, but sometimes pilots can skip too many.
On the fiftieth anniversary of this accident it is sobering to realize that we continue to fly aircraft into the ground for completely preventable reasons. Looking back can be instructive.
"The Beav" studies the accident and concludes that literally cutting corners places lives at risk and, in this case, resulted in the deaths of 31. He points out that we can learn the lesson of what was called "Gold Flight," even fifty years later.
At long last, here is the fifth and final volume of Eddie's journey.
After twenty years as an Air Force pilot I was hired to fly a Canadair Challenger 604 for a major computer company. It was my first job as a civilian pilot but not my first flying what many call VVIPs, Very Very Important Persons. Through it all, I learned how to fly airplanes, how to instruct, and how to lead men and women in large and small flight departments. I also thought I knew the art of what has become known as Crew Resource Management, or CRM. But I was wrong. Here we have a sneak peak into this unique perspective into CRM.
I am posting this case study fifty years to the day after Trans International Airlines Flight 863 took off from KJFK with crew only, scheduled to fly to KIAD to pick up passengers on their way to London.
A lot has changed in those five decades and most operators and pilots have fully absorbed the lessons from this crash. I worry that some pilots, young and old, might not have witnessed just how dangerous the simply mundane can be. This is a good one to reinforce that no details are too small to consider in aviation.
When I think back to my last several unstable approaches — I've had a few over the years — there are usually a few reasons behind each.
Chances are they were caused by: (1) actions by other aircraft, (2) actions by ATC, (3) actions by sudden weather changes, or (4) actions internal to my aircraft, in other words, me. While there are things we can do to shape the outcomes and perhaps the inciting events of (1), (2), and (3), they are for the most part outside our control. The last item, however, are within our grasp of control. Or are they?
I embraced computers early on. As an engineering student in 1974, our interaction with computers was via punch cards where you counted lines of codes by the thickness of your card deck. In 1983 I wrote a program for my Boeing 707 squadron to automate the chore of computing navigation and fuel logs and I thought that was great.
But since then I have personally witnessed the electrons misbehaving and have chronicled accident after accident caused by the electrons not behaving as intended. We tend to think of these problems as "garbage in, garbage out." In other words, the pilot punched the wrong keys. But sometimes the error was by the person who did the original design. Understanding that will help you adopt the right level of paranoia. (Yes, there is a right level of paranoia.)
The "duck under" into water just short of the runway seems to be something that has vexed pilots for a very long time. And we keep on doing it. What's going on here?
"The Beav" looks at Flying Tiger Line 45, from fifty years ago to the day as we publish this. While technology has made this kind of mishap less likely, they are still happening. Two airliners in the last eight years, in fact. Perhaps it would help to look at his case study with an eye to what we can do better in the future.
I've spent just about every year of my now 40+ year professional pilot career wondering about what will happen if I didn't make it past the next medical and trying to have a good Plan B should that happen. Now, nearing retirement, Plan B is about to be put into action.
I've noticed pilots tend to either have a good Plan B or put all their eggs into the Plan A basket. That doesn't always work out. Here are a few real examples to consider.
Question: “As a pilot have you ever felt exhilaration having accomplished something daring, dramatic, and heroic?”
A good answer: "As professional pilots these days, we try very hard to keep things out of the daring, dramatic, and heroic categories." One hundred years ago, people were exploring the unknown and in the process risked their lives in the spirit of discovery. This case study is such a story.
The answer to many things in aviation, "because we've always done it this way," is another way of saying, "I don't know." More importantly, it disguises the follow up question, "is there a reason we shouldn't be doing it this way?"
Am I saying we should stop all of these practices? Not really. What I am saying is we should not accept doing these things "because we always have" and look for safer alternatives where those alternatives are available. In my flight department, we no longer allow circling below VFR minimums, for example. For these examples and others, there are ways to mitigate the risk and often the best mitigation is avoidance.
Most of the country is just starting to loosen up their lockdown from a recent pandemic that may or may not be justified, but it is real either way. To say we have subjected ourselves to a huge amount of change would be an understatement.
I gave a speech on this very topic a year ago and wrote about it on these pages back in January. I've been asked to reprise it all, in light of the current world situation. So here it is, how to deal with change.
When you graduated from small airplanes to large, you also graduated from low inertia to high. Larger mass means once things start going in a certain direction and speed, it is harder to change that. In small aircraft you could easily overcome a bit of wind gust with a lot of throttle. In larger airplanes, you need to add to your approach speed because the relative impact of throttle becomes smaller as the aircraft becomes larger. (Plus we also have spool up time, etc.) We are often told that on approach we are flying at 1.3 times the stall speed, so the margins are "huge." Not really.
So how large is your stall margin on final approach? If you are adding to your approach speed because of wind, what wind? Headwind? Crosswind? Gust? Once you've done that, do you keep the additive all the way to the threshold? If you do that, how will that impact your stopping distance?
You cannot hope to experience the best lessons of leadership until you are truly in a position to fail. But very few leaders are willing to give their subordinates enough rope to hang themselves; having a subordinate fail brings into question their competence as well. But an effective leader understands this is the best way to grow future leaders and is a risk worth taking.
If you've been given the chance to lead, either by formal position or just an informal result of chance, you will sooner or later get some kind of feedback. I think it is very important to listen especially to the negative feedback. But even when all the feedback is positive, you may find clues as to what you are doing wrong. For example, if the next level of your organization thinks you are the best, it could be that the bottom level is wondering why you aren't protecting them from the abuse of your subordinate leaders. I think the best leadership teacher is experience, but if you aren't in a position to gain from that experience you can still learn from the experiences of others. So let's get started.
After forty-plus years, Eddie has learned a few things about how to deal with emergencies, abnormals, or those times when things don't go as planned.
He was asked to pontificate about his philosophy when a check airman put it all into three pithy sayings. He gave a speech to the Air Charter Foundation and has been asked to publish it in podcast form. So here it is, all three fundamentals with stories attached to each.
We gave up all of our paper except the aircraft flight and maintenance log almost two years ago. Now we've given that up to. We have no pens, pencils, or paper in our cockpit. That's one way to do this. You might have nothing but paper. Okay, that's another solution.
Chances are you are somewhere between those two extremes. Let's look at ways of getting rid of some, much, or all of your paper. Why? It lowers your costs, it raises your efficiency, and it actually increases your levels of safety. (Provided you do it correctly.) Let's see how. Note: some of the procedures in this original article have changed, the links will take you to an article which has been updated.
My first set of autothrottles was good for an ILS approach and autoland, but not much else. (It could not be trusted for takeoff or climb.) It wasn't until I got to the GV that I had an airplane that allowed you to engage the autothrottles for takeoff and then simply forget about them until after landing. And, I must admit, sometimes I forget about them.
But mostly I don't trust them during the climb because, with the wrong mode of the autopilot they can result in a stall. Oh yes, I don't trust them en route because changing environmental conditions can leave us short of thrust. And then there is the descent. And don't get me started about the approach phase! Okay, okay. I guess I just don't trust them. But I do use them from takeoff to landing, they free my brain up for other things. Why so paranoid? There have been a lot of accidents over the years where autothrottles had a role to play leading up to the scene of the accident. Here are just four, each with an autothrottle problem. Let's see if we can come up with a solution.
I feel fortunate to have started my aviation career in the United States Air Force back in the days where pilots were expendable and aircraft misbehavior was more or less tolerated. That may seem to be an odd statement, and it is. But having survived it I think it gives me some perspective on how to spot organizations that have a similar mindset about pilot expendability and aircraft problems.
Rest assured the Air Force no longer has this mindset and these days even a single crash is cause to ground fleets and take a close look at everything from the bottom up. So let's see if we can take a look at the leadership of a flight organization to spot these attitudes before the crash. I call these "smoke signals" because of a common warning heard during my year of pilot training: "You don't want to become a smoking hole in the desert."
This was a surprising accident on many fronts. First, Emirates has a sterling safety record; they were perfect with the Boeing 777. Second, from the what I've seen of Boeing manuals they take all of this very seriously. And finally, the incident itself seemed at first to be one of those cases of a perfectly good airplane destroyed for reasons unknown.
Here is what we knew right off the bat: The Boeing 777 appeared to be coming off a stable approach into gusty winds and a hot runway with thermals. Everything appeared normal into the flare. While the touchdown was a little late, it wasn't too bad. The airplane appeared to go around, climb briefly, and then fall to the runway. Passengers evacuated (some with their carry ons in hand) and the airplane was engulfed in flames. What? Looking at the accident report, we see the reason for what happened: the pilot took his hands off the throttles. Yup.
One hundred years ago the effort to fly where no one has flown before, set speed and altitude records, and take risks that were more likely to fail than succeed was pretty much the way things were. If you wanted to expand the horizons of aviation, that's what you did. This is the story of one such effort, the attempt to link London and Cape Town.
I write about this only to discuss that such risks might be necessary at times to expand our horizons or rally the national spirit. The Royal Air Force had a vested interest in this particular record as a way of exercising national power. But that was then and this, as they say, is now. These days the lure of setting records are a bit silly. These days, a more methodical approach is called for. With the increased speed and mass of airplanes the probability of walking away from a crash are diminished. As population density worldwide has increased dramatically in the last 100 years, the chances of collateral damage are also increased.
After forty years of flying high performance jets, I am tempted to look back at all the engine failures, cabin fires, and other times where I had to dive into the emergency procedures section of my manuals. I wonder what matter of luck was issued to me when I first ventured into the skies back in 1976.
A more important question for those of us who manage to survive this kind of excitement is what magic was performed by our instructors that so ably prepared us to recall just what we needed to know at precisely the time we needed to know it?
Mike is back flying but this month he is stuck in Falcon 2000 initial, so he asked Eddie to substitute host for him. The topic: Oceanic fuel planning.
Eddie provides an example flying over the North Atlantic and shows how each consideration impacts the previous and that sometimes not only can you not have enough fuel, sometimes you can have too much.
Most people do not react favorably to change. It is just human nature. But others, for some reason, don't appear bothered by it. I was once told that I seem to thrive on ambiguity. I don't think "thrive" is the word I would choose. I would choose "tolerate." Whatever you call it, the very nature of life means you have to know how to deal with change. The very nature of flying airplanes means you have to know how to survive it. Here are a few thoughts on how to do that.
I am writing this exactly forty years after I passed my first checkride in the Northrop T-38 Talon, and that was a month or so after completing training in the Cessna T-37. Going from a "dog whistle on wings" to a "white rocket" was quite a change, to say the least. There were quite a few more to come.
I have the good fortune to work for a very good company that tries very hard to allow its employees to not only excel at whatever it is they do professionally, but to stretch themselves in ways even they do not know they are capable of. That sounds like a lot of human resources pabulum, but it isn't. Here is an example that has a flight lesson at the end, but it will take a while to get there.
How do you motivate a large group of professionals that are self motivated? It is an important question because you cannot continue to throw money at people and expect them to do their best and be happy. There are a lot of ways, of course, and my company uses many techniques. One of the more unusual ways is the annual Christmas gift.
Now that the official accident report on the crash of Lion Air 610 is out, the dividing lines have been set for why this Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed on October 29, 2018. Those of us in the formerly “If it ain’t Boeing I ain’t going” crowd (and I do count myself as a member) may feel personally injured that the company that would forever grant control of the airplane to pilots (unlike the heathens at Brand X) has been caught giving some supremacy to the computers. Non-Boeing lovers will say the rest of us might as well throw in the towel and agree that if the electrons are to rule, go with a company that realized that early on. I think the former crowd is ignoring the trajectory of aerospace engineering and the latter crowd is forgetting the tremendous design advantage inherent in every Boeing product.
What follows here are my opinions, for what they are worth. (Address all “you don’t know what you are talking about” letters to Eddie, contact information below.) Unlike legal jurisprudence, the effort in flight safety is not to assign blame, but to prevent recurrence. And that is my aim here; I hope to instill in pilots a healthy amount of skepticism towards safety claims and a desire to learn more about their aircraft and work on basic stick and rudder skills.
There are two competing thoughts about the wisdom or advisability of keeping qualified in two different aircraft types. In one viewpoint, doing so makes you less proficient and capable in both. The opposing view is that it makes you a better stick and rudder pilot in both aircraft and less susceptible to becoming complacent in either. Having maintained dual qualification a few times in my career, I am a believer in the former view. Maintaining dual qualification reduced my confidence in both aircraft.
But quite often we don’t have a choice and the demands of the job dictate dual qualification. Some operations dictate more than one type, be it because of range, cabin size, operating cost, or the aircraft’s external dimensions. No matter the motivation, it will please the accountants to have dual qualified crews because it appears cost effective. But at the same time this arrangement will make the safety officer cringe. While I sympathize with the bean counter, it is the body count I am really worried about.
The flying public has a lot of misconceptions about aviation in general and how we do our jobs in specific. It is even worse when members of our profession — or just pilots of any kind — have these same misconceptions. Let's look at a few.
Much of this is hearsay and that is okay. It may provide a laugh or two or it might enlighten us to be on the lookout for these examples of "fake news."
An early initiation for most pilots includes the humor of poorly written maintenance write ups, or “squawks.” We all laugh about the nonsensical pilot entries made on the left side of an aircraft’s maintenance log destined to be corrected by a funnier mechanic’s entry on the right.
As we progress from renting airplanes to flying professionally, the complexity of the airplanes increases as does the likelihood that we will have a squawk or two following a flight. If the airplane becomes more complex for the pilot, you can imagine that the task in front of the mechanic has increased as well. If you aren’t providing your mechanics with complete and accurate write ups, you are setting everyone up for failure.
The year 2019 seems to be carrying a fair amount of emotional significance for me. It is 40 years since I started my path as a professional pilot, as of this year. Twenty years as a civilian, as of this year.
Today I was at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, reflecting on my first time in command. Not of a squadron, but of a crew. I was 27. These days the young aircraft commanders are just that young, but their responsibilities are so much greater.
This is one of those things you don't get to really practice, when you have to do it you may not have a lot of notice, and if anyone (you, the cabin crew, or the passengers) makes a mistake, people can die.
Procedures obviously differ by aircraft and operator, I'll offer ours as a starting point. You should consider the impact of delay and panic, as well as those pesky carry ons. I'll offer a few techniques along the way.
Having a positive outlook on life is important. In fact, it is Rule Number 15 for me: Optimism takes work and is rewarded. I've noticed over the years that positive people tend to be happier and more successful. I will often look at negative people and say, "Will you stop hitting me with those negative waves!" (That comes from the Movie Kelly's Heroes between Odd Ball (Donald Sutherland) and Moriarty (Gavin MacLeod): Negative Waves.
By the same token, I've noticed that negative people seem to court negative things in life. But what is worse, they seem to spread their negativity to others. Or perhaps they seem to congregate. Birds of a feather . . .
As pilots we cannot control every variable that goes into a safe, successful flight. We have to assume some risk. We have to, for example, assume the aircraft was designed properly. We have to assume our mechanics knew what they were doing the last time they worked on our aircraft. In an airline the assumptions go even farther. With some airlines, you leave the de-ice/anti-ice up to the ground crew and you have to assume they did a good job. Sometimes these assumptions are wrong.
These pilots were presented with a situation they were ill-prepared to deal with. You should never be content to learn only what the company (airline, simulator vendor, etc.) wants to teach you. These pilots could have been better armed with a little extra knowledge. As it was, they found themselves flying a very large glider; but they did a very good job salvaging a bad situation.
Is it just me or does it seem the average cockpit is getting grayer? There seems to be evidence that the average age of professional pilots is climbing, not because there are more cockpits but because there are so fewer youngsters in line to take the places of us in the "seasoned" pilot class.
I do a fair amount of public speaking to aviation aficionados from entry level to highly experienced, and it does appear the ages across the spectrum are going up. That isn't good. Smaller numbers of newer pilots means the older pilots have to hang on and there will be increasing pressure for single pilot transport category aircraft and, dare I say it, pilotless aircraft. We — all of "we" — need to do something about this.
Do you have high-speed Internet access in the cockpit? Do you have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or do you leave this up to your better judgment? I am placing this in the "psychology" category because it pits our inner demons against operational safety. But that doesn't mean I'm against cockpit Internet usage. Far from it . . .
I’ve heard from my more connected peers about pilots who quickly bring up social media accounts just a few minutes after the wheels are in the well. Some started out saying the Internet was for flight related purposes only, then they added aviation magazines – that’s flight related, isn’t it? – and then came an aviation flick or two. On the other hand, most of the aviation world has turned to the Internet so we can now negotiate slot times, adjust ETAs, arrange destination support, get maintenance help, and do just about anything from the air that was once reserved for after landing. We will have broadband Internet access in our next cockpit. The only thing left to do is come up with a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to avoid all those horror stories.
Have you ever landed your airplane on a wet runway and thought, "that was just like it was dry" and then, on another day, "that might as well have been ice." Me too. For years, I've known that 1/8" is where wet becomes contaminated. But when tower says the runway is wet, I assume it is the less than 1/8" variety of wet.
Even on short final, unless I can see swimming pools of water, I think (and hope) we are just dealing with wet. Besides, 1/8" is hardly anything at all. You could stack two quarters and that would hardly be . . . no, wait. A recent SAFO tells us that an analysis of recent contaminated runway "incidents/accidents indicates that the braking coefficient of friction in each case was significantly lower than expected, and that 30 to 40 percent of additional stopping distance may be required if the runway transitions from wet to contaminated based on the rainfall intensity or reported water contamination (greater than 1/8-inch depth)." Maybe I should pay more attention to this.
After ten years it is time to retire my trusty Gulfstream G450 in trade for a brand new Gulfstream GVII-G500, or simply a "Gee Seven" or "Gee Five Hundred." We take delivery in a few months.
The minute I first laid eyes on the airplane I knew it was something special. As I started to learn more and more about it, I knew it was the right answer to our company's quest for a newer airplane. I signed the paperwork to buy it a year and a half ago. Now that I finally have the training under my belt, I am looking forward to it more than ever.
How often do you make a mistake and wish you had a chance to do it all over again? Well I had that chance through this reader's situation. Perhaps it can come in handy the next time you need to make a course correction when it seems you have little to no control.
Changing the course of a very large organization is difficult if you aren't the captain. Even offering a small course correction can be a challenge for the newest member of a flight department when "we've always done it this way" is the answer. Here are a series of emails about just this. I had experienced the exact same situation from a different location in Texas flying to the same locations in Asia and Europe. I got the organization to stop doing what they were doing but it got pretty ugly for a while. So, when offering advice, I finally figured out how to get it done without the loss of political capital.
If your title is the director of aviation, the flight department manager, or anything else that involves keeping all the pilots of an organization pointed in the right direction, that makes you a chief pilot in my book.
The uniqueness of the role cannot be simply explained because each organization tailors the uniqueness further still. As with many things in life, a way to understand how to do something correctly is to observe it being done incorrectly. Perhaps a few examples will help.
It has been a few months since the last question and answer article and we have six more q's . . . and six more a's.
Our questions include: Is an electronic flight manual okay? How do you set a sea level cabin in Gulfstream G450/550/G50? Do you need an LOA to fly the RNP(APCH) into Nice, France? What is the difference between an RNP AR and other RNAV and/or RNP approaches? How do you service hydraulics in a G450/550? Are smaller aircraft required to cross published runway threshold height numbers?
Many of us have done things in the cockpit that we aren't proud of; it is a burden we have to carry and hopefully learn from. In the best case, you've learned from it and can use it as a teaching tool for others. This is a case of two pilots who have positions of authority at a major manufacturer behaving badly and posting the results on YouTube.
I think setting a city pair record (fastest time) should be more about the airplane and the luck of the conditions, hardly a matter of pilot skill. But in this case two company pilots managed to do this by ignoring rules, regulations, and common sense. And they invited a reporter to document their transgressions. Another way to set records in noncompliance for all to see is in front of an airshow crowd. As you will see, I am not with my own sins.
Have you ever been told: "Ninety-seven percent of all scientists agree that - - -, therefore it is settled science!"
That is intended to stop debate and end all discussion, ignoring the facts that (a) no science is ever settled because science is a process of hypothesis-testing-proving/disproving-rehypothesizing, and (b) statistics claiming percentages of approvals are often skewed to favor the theories of whomever is paying for the statistic. This holds true in all endeavors, aviation is no exception. Let's look at the crux of the problem, a few examples from "settled science" and then apply that to the settled science that is pilot procedures and technique.
Like most people my age, I can recall exactly where I was on January 28, 1986 when I heard the news that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded and broke apart just 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crewmembers. I was driving onto an Air Force base getting ready for instrument instructor pilot training. The guard at the gate asked if I had heard. I didn’t even realize there was a launch that day. The shuttle launches had become, in a word, routine.
Writing about Challenger, Professor Diane Vaughn coined the term “The Normalization of Deviance” to describe what happened at NASA. That makes her book an excellent case study for all pilots, even those of us who confine our aviation to the atmosphere. I ended up flying a Bombardier Challenger where I learned how to finally conquer the demon of the Normalization of Deviance by anticipating its arrival, and stepping out of the way.
It has been two months since the last question and answer article and we have eight more q's . . . and eight more a's.
Our questions include: "Is it true the bottom message of your top color CAS is where the problem came from?" "Do you really need to drift down between the tracks before turning around?" "How do I adjust my en route timing when ATC says I have a mandatory oceanic entry time?" "Is it a good idea to zero out your FMS fuel quantity now and then?" "Why don't the runway distance numbers on the 10-9A always add up?" "When do you enter 29.92 during a climb?" "What are those cross hairs on my instrument panels?" "How do I compute an MDA on a very steep approach?"
If you are the Pilot in Command (PIC) and the Pilot Flying (PF) in the left seat, can the Second in Command (SIC) / Pilot Monitoring (PM) call abort? If he or she does that, will you abort? Even more interesting (and controversial) is the opposite scenario. If you are the PIC / PM in either seat, can the SIC / PF initiate an abort without your consent? You probably think both answers are obvious. You may be surprised that not everyone thinks you are right.
The answers depend more on who you are flying for than what you are flying. At one extreme, the captain has total and absolute abort authority and the first officer can do nothing more than offer an opinion. On the other extreme, both pilots can call for the abort and the other pilot must abort. Which way is right? It depends. So let's look at that.
As an Air Force Safety Officer, I was taught my prime purpose in life was to prevent recurrence. We investigated accidents, figured out what happened, and made recommendations to ensure it never happened again. The NTSB usually does a good job of this. But in this case, they did not.
If you read the NTSB Final Report, you come away mostly with deficiencies in the operator's 135 program, which were indeed deficient. You come away with the deficiencies in the pilots, and they were deficient. And you find out the operator didn't have wind additive guidance in their SOPs. That is all true. But they missed the cause, which was the pilots failed to understand the purpose of the circling maneuver and how to safely execute that maneuver.
The ICAO cleaned up the disparate procedures for oceanic contingencies nicely about 2007, but the procedures in the North Atlantic change March 28, 2019.
There are two basic procedures now. For everywhere in the world except the North Atlantic, you should remember 45 degrees and 15 nautical miles offset. In the North Atlantic, it is 30 degrees and 5 nautical miles. But in both cases there are other complications. Confused? It is all summarized in easy two page guides you can download in PDF or DOC format.
I mentioned that my flight department plots paperlessly while on stage at the 2018 NBAA International Operator's Conference so they invited me back to talk about it at the 2019 IOC.
This speech created quite a stir because, in part, it was presented entirely on an iPad. I was told this had never been done at an IOC before. The speech was very well received. I don't think it was recorded, however. There has been some demand to have it online, so I've recreated it here. I go into much more detail here: Plotting.
Over the years I've probably got several thousands of questions on the web and, I am afraid to say, I hardly ever make a record of them. I know this because sometimes when I am researching an answer, I realize that I once answered the question before. If only I had captured it the first time! Well let's see if we can fix that.
I think I average five to ten "Eddie" emails every day and usually one or two questions. I try to answer everything but it quite often takes me a while. I think my record so far is two years to find an answer. I hope I can do better if you have a question for me.
I attended the 10th anniversary of the SOCAL Aviation Association in 2018 where the theme was "Safety 2.0: Succeeding in the Future."
It was a great event with very good turnout and a very engaged audience. I spoke about "Skipping Complacency" by studying history, improving one's expertise, inviting critique, and considering a new way to train.
When I started flying big airplanes, it seemed the accepted technique for getting stopped on a short runway was to fly about a dot low on an ILS or "slightly below glide path" on a Precision Approach Radar (PAR) approach, hoping to spot the runway early and then aim for brick one once visual. This was called the "duck under" and was officially frowned upon by all parts of the Air Force except at some squadrons where it was the accepted way to land on short runways.
That was a long time ago and that airplane didn't have a lot of technology to automate the landing in poor weather. But modern aircraft are not immune to the duck under. Every few years we have another victim of the duck under. Fortunately, there are antidotes to the disease.
If you are flying a G450, G550, or a G650 you are lucky to be flying well designed aircraft, with lots of systems redundancies, and a wealth of information in very complete Airplane Flight and Aircraft Operating Manuals. It can, however, be tough learning and keeping all that knowledge in your head. Fortunately, for you (and me), Ivan Luciani has devoted himself to distilling all that knowledge into easy to digest notes.
Using the application Noteshelf 2, his system's knowledge, and a deft hand, he produced wonderful notes on the G550 and then the G650. I was always jealous of these notes and hoped one day he would qualify in the G450. Fortunately, a friend of his (and mine) provided the extra expertise. He worked with Steven Foltz to produce notes for us G450 operators that we can call our own.
The idea that we have become too reliant on automation and have let our basic stick and rudder skills atrophy isn't new. Every few years there is a noteworthy crash, hand wringing, and the call for pilots to take a little more stick time. This has been around for almost as long as I have been flying. But I don't think more stick time will answer the problem. What we need is better stick time, hand-flying the airplane when it is safe to do so and then do so in a way that helps us improve.
I have to admit I am guilty as the next pilot. These days most experts place the blame on a lack of stick time, we just don't hand fly enough. But I think that misses half the problem. Many automation related accidents could have been easily avoided had the pilot flying realized his or her role shifts to the pilot monitoring the automation. It isn't so much that our hands are disengaged from the flying, it is that our brains have. I agree more stick time is in order, but when we practice, we need to so with a purpose in mind. Otherwise, our practice will not improve our skills.
Do you have to plot when flying oceanic? Do you have to plot using a paper plotting chart and pencil? No, you can use that fancy iPad of yours instead.
But the process isn't entirely intuitive. Just because you know how to plot with that paper chart doesn't mean you can transfer those skills to the iPad. But once you learn how, paperless oceanic operations are faster, more efficient, cheaper, and are more accurate. That accuracy means it is all safer too. Note this story has been replaced because the rules have since changed, the links will take you to the current article.
Part of a young pilot’s ritual is to thrive on learning a new skill while wistfully wishing the arrows to come were already part of one’s quiver. When you are still on the first page of your logbook it is easy to keep a positive attitude because everything is new to you and the knowledge that you have conquered gravity goes far to motivate you for more.
But after a while it is easy to get bogged down by your lack of progress, someone else's seemingly effortless progress, or just the fact that things never seem to improve. We rarely pause to take a breath and realize just how lucky we are to be doing what it is we are doing to make a living.
These days, we tend to program the performance function of our Flight Management System (FMS), a laptop computer, or our iPads to churn out all the numbers we need to safely takeoff, abort the takeoff, or climb out with an engine failure and subsequent emergency return.
Most of us rarely give the numbers a second glance. But this nonchalance has killed before and will likely kill again as we become even more distant from the number crunching. There is a way you can double check the numbers without too much trouble and, at the same time, develop a sense for what numbers are right and what numbers are wrong.
Let me break this to you gently: you will always be a student pilot. And that's the way it should be.
This was a speech presented the Epic Aircraft Company fly in, September 7, 2018.
It's a scary world out there, especially considering how much of your personal life resides on your personal electronic devices.
One common rationalization for not worrying about it is that you are a small fish in a very large pond. Why would they target you? That used to be valid thinking, in that the attackers were going for the big money payouts. But lately they've realized the little guys are not as well protected and it will be easier to take a little from a lot of targets that aren't as well defended. So you need to be defended.
It is often said that the two most dangerous words in aviation are "watch this." There is no shortage of bad ideas out there but the ones that concern me are old sayings that have a history of being wrong but are still held by some pilots. Let's look at a few.
A common denominator seems to be that some pilots absolutely believe what they are doing is safe, until they end up breaking something. At that point they point the blame to the airplane, their training, or something else. I've had my share of bad ideas over the years. But once I figure that out, I am the first to say, "I screwed up," and then I try to spread the word so nobody else falls for the same stupid idea.
I spoke to the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) International Operator's Conference (IOC), in March of 2018. I was one of three speakers on the topic of international trip planning.
My topics included what I call "standard" airport selection considerations (domestic or international), legal authorizations, the "Point A to Point B" considerations, the problems with NOTAMS, and where to look for extra intel.
There is a theory in military aviation that enemy flak, anti-aircraft rounds, or even missiles don't matter because only the one that has your name on it is meant for you. If it was your time to go, the "Golden BB" with your name was going to get you no matter what you did. My theory is a little different. I do believe there are Golden BBs out there, but they don't have your name on them. They are first come, first serve. Your job as a professional pilot is to learn how to dodge them. And after you've done that, it is your duty to teach others the lessons you have learned.
So all this begs the question, how do you dodge that Golden BB if you can't see it coming for you? Well, you have to be observant. And then you can study cases where the Golden BB found its mark. Remember, these Golden BBs never travel alone. Just because someone else got hit, doesn't mean there isn't another identical round looking for another victim.
I think I learned this rule while growing up with a mom who spoke very little English while my dad was overseas every few years as a Navy officer. When things around the house go wrong you deal with it, even if you are 15 years old. But this particular lesson continues through life and only gets better.
You've probably heard of the Five Stages of Grief. They are, of course, real. But we don't all experience them the same way, in the same order, or experience all of the stages. This fact by itself can cause even more grief. "Am I normal?" No matter how you experience grief, in the end you have to get on with life. "Deal with it" seems harsh when you are in the moment. But in the end, it is what you have to do. Some of these stories may seem petty compared to the word "grief." But that in itself is important too.
I am often asked where I get my ideas and who my favorite sources are. I do have a good network of friends and few of them have aviation blogs that I visit often.
Here are just a few of them. Please give them a visit. Not all of them may interest you, but I think you will find one or two you may want to become a regular visitor to.
Do you get nervous before a check ride? It's only natural. Have you ever made a mistake early during a check ride and then worry about it as you are trying to concentrate during the rest of the check ride? Natural. So let's learn how to deal with that.
In the Air Force, one of the purposes of the check ride was to put a student under considerable stress to ensure their performance in the training environment will accurately reflect their performance "out there." I suppose there is some validity to that. But learning to deal with stress in a check ride will pay dividends in the real world. Besides, it makes the check ride easier.
Every year or so we have another case of a passenger-carrying-airplane sliding off the end of a runway and a fair amount of recriminations from all the usual suspects. More often than not, pilot error is implicated and more of the usual suspects issue a call for pilots to stop floating down the runway and to be more serious about the things that make the airplane stop.
But measuring a runway's "slipperiness" has always been a problem and turning whatever that measure is into aircraft performance is even harder. The new Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) was supposed to help, but the information given to pilots in AIM and other pilot periodicals are dumbed down to the point of meaningless. Studying the AC given airport operators and talking to a few airport managers can fix all that.
We aren't as smart as we think we are. I need a reminder now and then, but whenever I am reminded, I seem to fall for the trap again. Fortunately, my biggest mistakes are ancient history.
But it seems we pilots as a breed never run out of ways of being stupid. I think the best way to learn how not to be stupid is to look at others who are. It may be worth a laugh — "I would never do that!" — but keep in mind you may be tempted to do something along the same lines. You must always be on guard for the next stupid thing.
There are many things we do in cockpits designed to keep us safe and most of those are widely accepted as best practices. I say widely accepted because wise pilots who know better tend to have a quiver full of such arrows.
But not every pilot is so wise. In fact, pilots in the second group tend to think pilots in the first group are paranoid. Guess which group I am in? So here are a few examples of my paranoia and case studies where a little of that paranoia would have saved lives, or at the very least, would have spared the aircraft from significant damage.
You've been hearing this your entire career as a way of telling you not to take too much. But is it true?
As with many things in aviation, the answer is: "It depends." It depends if the weight of the aircraft is going to impact your altitude selection.
Mike is Stuck in a bit of a mood, so it is up to Eddie to sub for him again.
Eddie thinks what Mike really needs is a shot in the arm to reignite his passion for aviation. So this episode is all about Eddie's top ten favorite movies.
We have this nagging feeling that in our effort to make safety routine, it has become routine. We know that is a recipe for complacency, but what can we do about that? What's next?
I think there is a way going forward. Allow me the chance to elaborate.
First, what is sophistry? It is the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.
Why does it matter to a pilot? It matters because it is a leading technique of instructors who are inept or are in positions where they need to feel intellectually superior to students. We see a lot of this in business aviation because those out in the field often have more experience than those in the school houses, make more money, and quite often know their airplanes better than those teaching it. I've witnessed several instances where the instructor in question was teaching things that could get people killed. Half the students realized it was all wrong and ignored it. The other half dutifully took notes. Those of us who know better owe it to those that don't to raise the "BS Flag" and call them out.
Mike made a few bad decisions when operating his tires under-inflated and then not getting them properly serviced. Now he's stuck in a Motel 6 in Fairbanks, Alaska. So Eddie fills in again.
Eddie decides to talk about how to take care of aircraft tires from a pilot's perspective. How do you check tire pressure? Why you should use nitrogen and not ordinary air? Can you, the pilot, do any of this?
This crash would not have happened with a more experienced set of pilots, no doubt about it. But that isn't to say we need to blame the pilots here. They were, in many ways, ordinary pilots. And therein lies the problem.
But I don't agree that this situation is without a solution. The days of pilots who are well schooled at dealing with all manner of things going wrong are coming to an end. That generation of pilots has long ago started retiring and pretty soon they will all be footnotes in history. You cannot train this kind of thing in a simulator, where the absent risk of real injury are death cannot be simulated. But we can, I think, train pilots to realize when things are not as they should be, and how to return a situation uncertain into a situation recognizable.
The patron saint of reliability engineering is Captain Edward Murphy, though he may or may not deserve credit or praise. He designed G-force gages for use in test rocket sleds and centrifuges. When these were needed for a rocket sled making deceleration tests, his unclear instructions led to faulty installation and lost test data. Some say he passed the blame onto his subordinates, while he was later interviewed and accepted the blame. The people running the program rephrased one of Murphy's explanations as "If it can happen, it will happen."
As pilots, we can learn from the History of Murphy's Law and how it relates to Reliability Engineering. That way we can come up with our own corollary: "If something unsafe can happen, it is up to us to predict it so we can prevent it."
This was a speech to the Twin Cessna Flyer meeting in Nashville, TN on May 31, 2018.
We cover the origin of checklists, Challenge-Do-Verify versus Do-Verify (the "flow"), single pilot cockpit techniques, as well as the "Three Senses" technique. Oh yes, we cover some surgery techniques too.
Yes, I've covered this before. Yes, it gets complicated. But the rules for an N-numbered airplane flying overseas have changed. But even if you aren't planning on using your EFVS for lowering your minimums internationally, those rules can give you a better way of doing what you have been doing.
Prior to December 13, 2016, the regulations for EFVS operations to 100 feet above the touchdown zone elevation (TDZE) were located in § 91.175(l) and (m). The EFVS final rule published on December 13, 2016 revised these regulations and moved them to § 91.176(b). The transition period for operators to comply with the new requirements of § 91.176(b) ended on March 13, 2018. Operators who conduct EFVS operations to 100 feet above the TDZE must comply with § 91.176(b) and the requirements of § 61.66. Do you need OpSpec or LOA approval? It depends. Are you operating commercially and using EVS from touchdown to rollout? Then yes. Are you operating internationally down to 100 feet above the TDZE? Then maybe. It is complicated . . .
By the time I saw the film, I had met two or three graduates of the Navy's Fighter Weapons School. I was impressed by each of them for their sober demeanor, no nonsense approach to flying, and professionalism.
I learned a few things about how Top Gun pilots learn, and I think they can be of use to us flying in the more genteel world of flying passengers from Point A to Point B. The key is knowing how to debrief your "missions."
Mike is stuck in a safe space, hiding from an angry mechanic. So Eddie gets to pick a topic when filling in.
Eddie decides to talk about how to give and receive criticism, covering the "what's wrong and not who's wrong" and the "leave your ego at the door" techniques. For more of the techniques, see: Criticism.
I've had a few jobs where one of my primary duties was to teach others how to fly internationally. I liked to end the training with this: "The art of international operations includes the science of knowing how to pickup the pieces when they fall."
One of the more dire ways things can fail is having to bail out of an oceanic track. How do you escape that track without hitting another airplane? Your AFM has a few suggestions and chances are your flight planning service provider computed your Equal Time Points based on those procedures and performance numbers. Guess what, it is probably using a straight line to your ETP using optimal drift down procedures. That isn't going to be pretty if you are crossing tracks. There are ways to survive this.
For almost a year after the crash of Gulfstream IV N121JM on May 31, 2014, you couldn't open an aviation magazine or attend a safety symposium without hearing the term, "The Normalization of Deviance." But here we are, three years later, and it seems we as an industry have already forgotten our promises to fix what is broken.
I must admit that I have also struggled with this thought. But then I realized I am uniquely qualified to solve this problem because I am uniquely mired in it. So I have all the ingredients for being a pilot who has normalized deviance baked into me. But I'm also an engineer who knows how to take things apart and put them back together again. So I am here to announce I have a cure for the normalization of deviance, it comes in three parts, but we can’t unveil the solution until we understand the problem first.
I think I am high tech, no doubt about it. I program in C. I write the HTML for this website in raw code. Even my motorcycle has throttle-by-wire. This carries through to the airplane where we've issued every pilot a fully loaded iPad Pro and have paid for a full suite of iPad applications. But I had a very hard time giving up my paper plotting chart. But I have, in fact, done just that. But it was the months-long process of writing this article that gave me that final push.
This comes from a series of flights where we made the move from paper to paperless, from paper to plastic. Some of our first attempts were laughable, but there isn't a lot out there on how to do this. So perhaps you can bypass our missteps and go right to something that works. Note: Some of the procedures written in this article have changed so the links will take you to a different article, which reflects those changes.
When we are paired with the same cockpit crew for weeks, months, and years in succession, we learn to anticipate the “flow” of information between pilots and how to make things happen almost automatically. It is as if we have learned to read each other's mind.
While I don’t think it possible for us to read minds, I do believe we can develop skills to accurately anticipate what needs to happen in a cockpit so crew coordination between pilots becomes more effective. We can reduce cockpit error even as we reduce the need for long verbal exchanges. There are times accidents can be avoided if one pilot simply asks the other, “Did you really mean for me to . . . ?” But eliminating the need for further explanations can make things safer still. The best way to reduce confusion in a cockpit is to ensure everyone works from the same procedures. We all need to be on “the same sheet of music.”
We in the aviation community take it as an article of faith that those who fill the seats in an airplane cockpit for a living are, in every sense of the word, professionals. Whether you wear the epaulets of a commercial flight crew or the coat and tie of a private operator, there is no doubt in your mind that you are a professional. When a noteworthy crash or even a “near crash” reminds us that not all who fly for a living live up to these ideals, our faith is unshaken. We are professionals.
But what does the word really mean? What are the requirements for entry into this lofty club of gravity defiers? Is there a litmus test of some sort? We are, of course, entering the “touchy feely” region of aviation here. But I think the effort will be worth it because coming to grips with the meaning of professionalism can provide us a way of establishing a level of safety amongst aviation practitioners. It will also provide a way for us to detect those who fall short.
I think roughly half of all pilots are on my side on this issue: we need to use checklists as they were designed, line by line: "Challenge-Do-Verify." The other half nod politely, usually not saying anything. Every now and then somebody offers a counter point. But roughly half don't agree that checklists need to be done so formally and advocate what some call "the flow," but is more properly called the "Do-Verify" method.
So let's look at checklists with a fresh set of eyes, from the medical community. Then let's look at the early days of checklists in aviation, the official view (from the FAA), the most common objections (and counter-objections), and a real life example showing the pros and cons of using checklists using Challenge-Do-Verify.
If you use data link, PBCS is something you need to be concerned about. It provides a way to monitor your system's performance and your ability to respond to CPDLC in a timely manner.
The ability to respond in a timely manner will determine whether or not you can fly in the world's most congested airspace. But even if you don't need to do that, your A056 authorization will need to be updated if it was issued before the PBCS changes due March 29, 2018.
"The Rules" are twenty-six ideas I've collected over the years that seemed relevant enough to life in general that I've written each down with a short story to reinforce each in particular. This is Rule Number Twenty-One.
Just because you have a thought, doesn't mean it is worth sharing. It could be wrong. But even if it is right, it may not add anything to the conversation. But even if it does, there may be a better way to get your point across. And even if it gets your point across, the cost may be too high. This was a difficult lesson. But it was worthwhile.
What do you do if you've sustained aircraft damage from hail, or just got out of an upset and the recovery took more G-forces than you thought the aircraft could withstand, or you took a lightning strike and suspect your flight computers have gone haywire, or . . . whatever it was, you now doubt the airworthiness of your aircraft and you still have an approach and landing in your future? Now what?
There isn't a lot written on the subject, that's for sure. But if you know how to do one, it can be a life saver. Let's look at a few examples, the available guidance, and then explore a generic procedure that can give you the confidence to attempt that landing knowing how to configure your aircraft and what speeds to fly.
A brief discussion of 14 CFR 91.13: Careless and Reckless Operation of an Aircraft
Eddie reflects on a few examples of careless and reckless operation he had seen over the years, and a more recent example.
I've never noticed a laser beam aimed my way in an airplane but understand it is quite a problem. Some of my friends in the airlines say it is an over-hyped issue while others say it is only a matter of time before a pilot is injured permanently and an airplane is put into jeopardy.
We'll take a look at a few opinions about the dangers, the "official" FAA approach to mitigation, and some help on deciding if you need medical attention after a exposure to a laser beam. Finally, we'll also point you in the right direction on how to report such an incident in the United States.
They say you need thick skin to be a professional pilot and I think that is probably true. But no matter your derma's thickness, there is an art to dishing out criticism so that it has a positive impact.
There is a continuum of pilot types that ranges from laid-back to hyper-wound-up and everything in between. No matter the pilot type, most of these profess to not care about outside criticism because they've compartmentalized feelings outside of the space reserved for all things aviation. We are cool, dispassionate, and have ice water running in our veins. All that is great. But it isn't true. Pilots are ego driven and that means we do actually care about what is said about us.
In all manner of Gulfstreams you've grown up flying clean down to 200 knots, flaps 10° down to 180 knots, and flaps 20° down to 160 knots. (Perhaps even a little slower in the GV or G550.)
You never give it a second thought, except perhaps when you are particularly heavy or landing at a high pressure altitude airport. Nobody questions this, but is it right?
Mike is stuck out again this week, so he asks Eddie to guest host. Eddie decides it would be a good time to talk about immediate action items and how to memorize them.
If you would like more detail on this subject, take a look at the previous posting . . .
How often in your cockpit are you required to do something so quickly that you have no time to read your checklist, no time to consult the crew, or no time to think?
Growing up in the Air Force I had immediate actions that I not only had to memorize, but memorize word-for-word. In most civilian aircraft the memorization simply means getting the steps in the right order without forgetting anything. But in some aircraft there are no memorization items at all. Should you memorize those things that have to be done without reference to a checklist?
Most of us learn to take notes in high school or earlier, and we tend to settle on a method that works best for us. What works for History 101 may or may not help you with Powerplant 101 or how to cope with flight procedures.
So I have for you a story about how I started, how I learned the value of writing when learning, the value of keeping notes you can edit, the value of sharing those notes, and finally a few examples of how it can be done to the next level. Even if you never share a note or instruct another person, the act of taking notes will make you a better professional.
Can you fly with an expired navigation database? Sure. But can you do so legally?
The answer depends on where you fly. And even if you are permitted to do so, there are a few steps you need to take to ensure the database is okay. If it isn't, you are pretty much grounded just about everywhere.
Do you use "standard weights" when figuring your aircraft's weight and balance? If so, and if you are operating under 14 CFR 135, you will need OpSpec A097 and must have a method of making standard weights work for you. Even if you are operating under 14 CFR 91, you should still understand how to make standard weights work.
I've attacked this problem several times over the years and the reaction has almost always been: too much math! You only have to do the math once and from that point on, all you need to do is use your narrower (curtailed) center of gravity limits. It is easy and safer.
Eddie is on vacation from August 1st to September 2nd, but he will be posting photos and sarcasm throughout.
By the date I've posted this we will have made it to Vancouver, Canada, and onto a cruise ship to Alaska. But there's more to come.
Anybody can be a standards captain and quite often the worst pilot in an organization ends up with the check airman moniker because he or she outlasted the competition. Even a very good pilot can be a lousy standards captain if saddled with an unchecked ego or poor interpersonal skills. So let's just say such a pilot won't be reading this and move on.
You are a great pilot and you get along with your peers — that's half the battle. If you had a good reputation as a captain, you can solidify that as a standards captain. More importantly, you can capitalize on that.
Aviation safety professionals will tell you that pilot error is one of the most controllable factors leading to aircraft accidents. If you eliminate pilot errors, you can eliminate most aircraft accidents. I think they have that all wrong. Pilot error is inevitable. The problem is that we as pilots don't know how to deal with the very concept of pilot error. We are doing it all wrong.
Contrary to public opinion, pilot error is not the root cause of all (or even most) aviation accidents. While it is tempting to say all pilot error is evil and we must strive for perfection, that mindset may cause you to deny even the smallest errors and keep from analyzing those that can be prevented with a little research. I think freely admitting those errors and using them as "teachable moments" will allow us to improve on those while allowing us to put a greater focus on errors that really are more critical.
Have you ever been a mere passenger seated in row one of an airplane? (That's the seat with the best view and all those pretty screens and/or dials.)
We sometimes forget the most basic tasks every pilot must complete. At other times, we cede control of our aircraft to others who may not even be pilots. And, in a paradox of our Crew Resource Management training, we sometimes give up control of the aircraft to a crew who isn’t aware, leaving the airplane in no one’s control. How do professionally competent pilots find themselves in these out of control situations?
Flying the Blue Spruce Routes in the North Atlantic is a contingency maneuver for me, something I've never done. But for many airplanes it is the normal procedure. So how does one prepare for these routes?
For me, it would be a last minute and frantic decision. So I would study the Jeppesen North Atlantic Orientation chart and learn quickly. If you are flying an airplane that has to fly use the Blue Spruce Routes to cross the pond, then a little more orderly approach is called for. Jason Herman provides us with his notes.
The world has gone to SLOP. You can (and should) employ SLOP in almost every oceanic area. There is a debate about using SLOP over land, but the legal and official answer is you cannot with only very rare exceptions. But there is news:
SLOP is now mandatory in the North Atlantic. There are a few other updates around the world. The Flight Service Bureau also offers some SLOP guidance given in light of a recent A380 wake turbulence encounter.
Though I've never landed at the wrong airport, I know a few pilots who have or who have come pretty close. But these were in the days before GPS.
The truth is that it is easy to make this mistake when you are flying a very fast airplane with very small windows and are being pressured to do things very quickly. Looking at a few examples, however, can show you how easy it is to get this wrong. Moreover, thinking about it ahead of time can give you the techniques needed to avoid the same mistakes.
Many of us longtime Gulfstream drivers are fond of saying, "She's built like a tank!" Or, "the Gulfstream flies conventionally." In fact, I am guilty of saying these things on many of these pages. And that is, for the most part, true. But the G450 is an exception.
If you've grown up in anything older than the GV, thinking this aircraft flies like any other can bite you. Even if this is your first Gulfstream, you need to understand that the G450 is unique and has many unsavory traits that require you to rethink what you know about airplanes.
What is a circling approach? Does it require keeping the airplane precisely on the Minimum Descent Altitude within the published visibility distance or TERPS circling radii? If you think that is true, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary challenges at Teterboro.
When approach control or tower tell you to circle to another runway they are not telling you to fly a circling approach procedure the same way the check airman is: you don't have to keep the airplane within circling radii or at the minimum descent altitude. Just remember your goal is to roll out on final no lower than 500' above the landing surface's elevation and that will take a mile and a half final to do that.
Eddie confronts the NOTAM system head on and is given a rare glimpse of the NOTAM King.
Discover with Eddie just how dangerously inept our NOTAM system is and the key to survival.
If you've been flying for more than a few years you already know this: the NOTAM system is broken and has been almost since the beginning. The case of Malaysia Airlines MH17 should have erased all doubt about this.
So what can we do about this? Well, first we need to understand the secret purpose of all NOTAMs. Then we need to find an ally when it comes to figuring out where it is too dangerous to fly. And, finally, we need a strategy for discerning which NOTAMS are important and which are simply garbage.
You may have heard there is a pilot shortage right now. Well, that isn't true. There are lots of pilots out there. What we have a shortage of is highly qualified pilots. Believe me, I've been looking!
So let's tackle the obvious questions (qualifications, resumes, and so forth). But let's dive deeper into those questions and others. What constitutes a "red flag" on a resume? How can you really discover what an applicant is really like during a series of interviews? How do you do a background check? If you are in the business of hiring pilots, perhaps we can trade a few secrets. If you are in the business of being hired, perhaps you can learn a few.
I've been told by many international operations instructors that you should never insert an ETP into an FMS because it will change the course line between waypoints. At first, I just assumed they knew what they were talking about. But as it turns out, they didn't.
So let's try to kill this myth right now. You should not enter the ETP into your FMS flight plan, that's true. But not because it changes the course -- it doesn't. But you shouldn't enter the ETP because it will generate a CPDLC event contract, and you don't want that. What if you don't have CPDLC? You should still leave the ETP out because it does change your distances between waypoints and complicates your crosschecking.
We in the aviation world are quick to beg, borrow, and steal procedural innovations in the name of safety. When one operator innovates, other airlines and flight departments are quick to follow suit. Pilots are eager to share techniques, knowing one aviator’s idea can save lives worldwide. We are, to say the least, selfless in the pursuit of safer skies.
But are we casting our nets wide enough to capture every good idea out there? The next time you board a train in Japan, you might notice a technique well suited for your cockpit. Known by various names, including “Shisa Kanko,” the Japan Railway standard procedure can be translated to mean: Pointing and Calling.
Can you fly without an MEL? What about an MMEL? Is an MMEL good enough? The answer to all those questions is: it depends.
How about this: under Part 91 do you have to comply with the repair time intervals? As much as you are going to hate to hear this, the answer is yes. I seem to get into this argument whenever I move to a new operation where the maintainers are highly steeped in the ways of general aviation. Things are not always as they seem.
I spoke to the Air Charter Safety Foundation in early March, 2017, about the pilots on N121JM, the Gulfstream IV that crashed in 2014 at Bedford, Massachusetts.
They asked me to hypothesize about the human factors involved that would lead two professional pilots to act with (as the NTSB put it) Habitual, Intentional Noncompliance. My theory is that they were once good pilots, but they had gone bad. This is a video of the speech. I also wrote an article about this for Business & Commercial Aviation magazine in an article called, "Fixing Problem Pilots."
The "Big Sky Theory" postulates that the sky is so big and airplanes are so small, that we should have to worry about a midair collision. Of course nobody admits to using this theory in actual practice, but many pilots conduct themselves as if they did.
With a better understanding of how our eyes actually work, we can make better use of them for the first half of the "see and avoid" directive placed on all pilots, even those operating under Instrument Flight Rules. We should also understand the help available as well as the limitations of air traffic control, ground based radar, ACAS/TCAS, and ADS-B In. The best way to avoid a midair collision remains to employ better situational awareness and to fly predictable so as to increase situational awareness for all those that share they sky with you.
We concluded a four part series on leadership with a look at a civilian flight department.
I've had several times at bat as a civilian chief pilot, flight department manager, or whatever you want to call the position. But I will look at another pilot's attempt at it because, (a) he was very good, and (b) I want to introduce quite a few elements to distance this flight department from ones that I was a part of. The point of this lesson is to give some pointers in story form while protecting the identities of the people involved. That's why we are looking at the Acme Paper clip Company's flight department.
In the late nineties a great book on leadership made its rounds around the U.S. Army, "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun," by Wes Roberts.
Not many in the Air Force would admit to reading it; the conventional wisdom was Attila was a ground pounder from days of yore. I thought it was the best book on leadership I had ever read. Apparently its lessons were lost on some of us blue suiters. But even there, we find lessons.
What style of leadership is best? Does a particular style of leadership always work?
As I took command of a flying squadron I was to apply the lessons learned over the years, thinking I would have the right solution my first time at bat. I certainly didn't make the same mistakes as my predecessors. But it took me a few years to realize that I did make a mistake.
How does a young pilot approach crew leadership for the first time? We had our share of leadership courses in the Air Force, but none of them really taught the "how" we need to run a crew or a flight department.
For that you need experience. Lacking that? Find a good mentor. Fortunately I had the best. The Nick is four years older than me. He is wise beyond his years and his lessons are as applicable today as when this story was written, way back in 1984.
How do you balance your hectic life as a professional pilot with all the demands placed on you by your non-pilot life?
Eddie gets that exact question for a reader and provides his answer which begins and ends at the same point. It may not be the right answer for you, but perhaps it will provoke some thought along your way to discovering your own answer.
The long awaited for pilot shortage is here. That's good news, right?
The problem is that the most experienced professionals are "out there" flying, too busy to mentor the next generation. We need more mentors, but we need more mentors of the highest caliber. Here are a few aviation gurus trying to mentor the next generation of gurus.
One of the hot items during these ramp checks in late 2016 has been an inadequate documentation of fuel reserves on aircraft flight plans for arrival or departure.
You need to have the minimum required reserve fuel listed as just that, reserve fuel. If you don't need an alternate, do you have the required holding fuel? If you do need an alternate, is the computed fuel realistic?
As pilots for the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base (now Joint Base Andrews), we had hammered into our heads the idea of “Safety, Comfort, Reliability.”
“Safety > Comfort > Reliability.” The preceding elements are more important than the subsequent. But theory is often overwhelmed by reality. I cover the various interpretations of this motto in Flight Lessons 3: Experience, the third book of that series. The danger for crews at the 89th and for us in commercial aviation, is that we can be corrupted into thinking of the motto as "Reliability, Reliability, Reliability."
There is a general reluctance to declare an emergency by pilots who believe it is either "less than manly" or will lead to a mountain of paperwork and unforeseen costs.
If you think the safety of your airplane is in danger unless you are guaranteed everything you need from the rest of the world, you need to declare an emergency. And do so using that word: "I am declaring an emergency." Air traffic control should understand. If they don't, try this: "If you do not approve this, people will die." Yes, you need to be blunt.
I got an angry letter to the editor for the Business & Commercial Aviation magazine version of this article. A mechanic thought I was being unfair . . .
A doctor who jeopardizes a patient's life through unskilled, improper, or negligent treatment is guilty of medical malpractice. Any person in the maintenance profession — from the lowest mechanic to the highest VP — can be guilty of maintenance malpractice through unskilled, improper, or negligent treatment of an airplane. Malpractice. Is that too strong a word? No.
We all know the vital role accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies play AFTER an accident has happened. Their primary role is to learn from the past so that we may avoid future accidents. All that is great.
But what role do we line pilots have in all this? I contend that we would be the perfect PRE-Accident Investigators. We should be able to learn from everything at our disposal so that we can investigate the causes of accidents BEFORE they happen to prevent them in the first place. I think a perfect case in point is the case of what I call the "Ambiguous Gulfstream Auto-Throttles." If you aren't a Gulfstream pilot, I am betting you could find a similar system on your airplane that could use some good PRE-accident investigation. I gave a speech on this topic to the Teterboro Users Group, in June, 2016.
Weight and balance tends to be a math intensive subject and you should understand the principles. Because some airplanes are more sensitive than others and even those that are center-of-gravity-sensitive tend to be okay most of the time, we tend to let our guards down on this subject.
Even if you aren't a math wizard, having a "feel" for weight and balance can come in handy. If you can visualize where on your airplane the center of gravity resides, the forward and aft limits of your center of gravity, and how the seats and fuel tanks all relate to those points, you will have the skills you need to approach your weight and balance sensually. Sensually? Yes: weight and balance by feel.
When we have incomplete knowledge about an upcoming decision we tend to say it is an issue mired in a gray area and therefore open to our personal judgment.
That kind of latitude leads to rule bending and more times than not, the wrong answer. A better way to respond to a question from the gray area is with the answer: it depends. Of course there are many so-called gray areas that need clarifying. But if you have the methodology down you can tackle them all. We'll look at a few here.
The glamour days of the test pilot are long gone. It makes absolutely no sense to strap on an airplane that has never flown before, go up there an "punch a hole in that thar envelope."
You could very well be called upon to do a functional check flight in your business jet and those that came before you will say it is no big deal. You may start to believe that, because the pilot who had the task before you was nothing special. How hard can it be? I recommend you read this: "I've never been so scared." And then you should get serious about the task at hand.
If I asked five pilots how to best deal with departure obstacles, I would get five different answers.
No wonder, this stuff is complicated! You can be a math wizard or math-phobic, but either way you should understand what will happen if you lose an engine anywhere from V1 through the moment you have cleared the last obstacle. And here is the bad news: some of that software that promises to keep you safe is lying to you.
We are told that on May 31, 2014, the professional pilot world got a wake up call when two pilots crashed their Gulfstream IV and killed all on board. The NTSB rightfully calls their performance an act of "intentional, habitual noncompliance" but this is being charitable.
We analyze the accident itself and debunk the thought that the "cause" was the design of the gust lock. It was not. The cause was the design of the two pilots up front. Then we'll look at checklist philosophy; it is more clear cut than you might think. Finally, we'll look at pilot complacency and a way to cure that.
We in the high altitude jet set train extensively for the chance we may one day suddenly lose cabin pressurization and need to immediately don oxygen and execute an emergency descent. But how often does that really happen? Almost never.
But we are trained for this. When it happens, it will be obvious and we will know what to do. A rapid depressurization has never resulted in the loss on an airplane, at least not that we know of. The real dangers lurks when the loss of pressurization happens gradually. Slow onset hypoxia has killed and you are at risk.
Don't you just hate it when old Air Force pilots talk in jargon as if everyone has the same set of experiences? I try very hard to avoid that but it has been pointed out I failed with regards to "brick one."
"Brick One" refers to the very first inch of pavement on a runway. I don't know where that comes from, other than I heard it a lot in the Air Force.
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