are certain fundamental truths in aviation... what goes up must come
airplanes are the quickest way to drain your wallet... et cetera.
What most people do not learn are the other fundamental truths:
ones that keep you safe. Aviation is a game of rules and if you
to survive, you must start with the basics and grow wiser.
trial and error, most pilots figure these out sooner or later and one
or another. Lets start with sooner, and its much better to do it
reading an article on safety rather than recovering from an unusual
This is a follow-up to the article, Things
Your Flight Instructor Wish You Knew.
the lights. Given
the particularly dismal survival rate of mid-air collisions, why
pilots use as much lighting as possible when they are below 3,000 AGL
within 10 NM of an airport? The FAA did a study and found an 80%
decreased risk of bird strikes when the landing light was used
during flight. Mike was flying along humming to his favorite
when ATC issued him a traffic alert. Neither airplane saw each
until they were within a mile of each other. Mike in his 172 and
the pilot of the Lear had a better chance of seeing each other sooner
skills. From running through a VFR flight planning exercise
doing pattern work, you are one who benefits from every investment of
or CFI time you pursue. How are your landings? How are your
slips? How are your approaches? Do you remember how to
stalls & steep turns? When is the last time you practice your
sure the feet
are down. Try landing without the wheels down and it usually
becomes the most expensive landing you'll ever have. Insurance
are starting to classify this as pilot negligence and certificate
are usually next. Don't let anyone distract you during critical
of flight. Steve learned this when a controller changed his
clearance. Get as much instruction as possible if you
from fixed gear to retractable. George learned this when he
gear up when he forgot he had to put the gear down.
things we should have thought of before. Play the "what if"
next time you day dream about your last flight. What would happen
if there was an air bubble in the fuel line for one tank? Silly
like switching gas tanks after run-up have caused pilots to crash on
departure leg. Questions like that will help you to identify
and manage against them. How many of those can you come up with
your aircraft. I'd like to hear your list.
Sometimes the cost of a repair seems to outpace the risk associated
the problem. After the accident, you'll probably change your mind
on the risk-cost analysis you performed. You put a tremendous
of trust in the machine that defies gravity so it makes sense to give
the care and feeding that we fundamentally know it needs. Assist
with annual inspections to learn the real capability of your
Paul, an adventurous pilot who loved performing spins and other mild
in his normal category aircraft saw the light when he saw the stress
on the way-too-small bracket & bolt that holds the wings onto his
In all your actions, smoothness will keep your flight safe and
friendly. Whatever you do, don't over react to a flight condition
because you might cause the problem to get worse. Ernie was on
one day and felt himself getting too far behind the power curve which
the sink rate to go up. He over reacted and reacted too late with
the addition of power. After he added too much power, the nose
up and flattened his tie-down in a tail strike. Remember your
instructor's favourite phrase? "Small Corrections."
when you land. One of the worst sins you might commit is to
to see the windsock before you land so you know the runway
Its also useful to know other airport conditions which you can get from
the unicom or ATIS frequency. You simply must follow proper
procedure in order to have an uneventful landing. You should
strive to land on the centerline, taxi on the centerline using proper
inputs. Brandt a 80 hour pilot was landing with a direct
His instructor gave him a cross wind briefing on downwind. Brandt
failed to keep his wing down into the wind. As a result the wind
got up under the wing and tried to invert him. His flight
proper rudder input prevented the disaster but they ran off the side of
the runway. Luckily they didn't hit any runway lights and the
nose wheel withstood the rough terrain.
Always. When airplanes are forced into a turn, use
rudder inputs to make it clean. In contrast, be sure not to make
flat turns by using rudder only. Uncoordinated flight at low
always leads to a stall-spin event, another top three killer in general
aviation. Coordination is especially important in the traffic
upwind and base-to-final. Keeping that ball inside the cage
will ensure you do not end up short of the runway or just off the other
Weather considerations cause a large number of general aviation
From pre-flight planning to enroute weather checks using Flight Watch
monitoring enroute ATIS/AWOS/HIWAS broadcasts, learn and understand
the weather is doing, and avoid getting too close to weather you
be involved. with. Consider approaching your local community
to see if they have a meteorology course.
Follow the checklist.
Checklists are one of the most important pieces of safety equipment on
the aircraft. They ensure proper configuration of aircraft for flight
So why do people fail to use them? Don't allow yourself to
forget to finish them, they don't take up too much time. Even if
you have a simple aircraft, a checklist is a must. The NTSB
is full of accidents which include the phrase, "pilot's failure to
the checklist...." When you're under stress, the checklist is a
tool to remind you of the right things to do.
are. Whether you are on a cross country or cleared for an
approach, pilots must be situationally aware at all times. This
only includes knowing where you are, but being aware of other aircraft
in the vicinity. Improve your situational awareness by tuning in
unicom frequencies for enroute airports. What would happen if
GPS died? When was the last time you did a cross country with
and ded reckoning?
Don't fly too
close to the ground. This is an absolute sin because its a
killer in that top three list of general aviation accidents.
you are buzzing or scud running, either can lead to premature
Aside from rules related to safe altitudes, do you have the skill to
for extended amounts of time at low altitudes? Remember, even the
experienced aerobatic performers need special permission to exhibit
patterns. Use standard traffic pattern entry when approaching
an airport. Entering on base to final or long final is efficient
but understand and manage the risks associated with non-standard
Know the particulars about airports you aren't familiar with.
like traffic pattern altitude, right or left traffic are set up for a
and available to all in the various directories good pilots use.
Stay close to the airport when flying your pattern. Its good for
two reasons: 1) if your engine quits, you are likely to be set up
to land in the right place, and 2) you'll be visible to others who are
approaching the airport because you are where they expect you to be
of on a 4 mile final. Of course you are using all your lighting
that you are easy to see. In addition, your eyes are looking
to find others who are near the airport.
A safe pilot has a passion for doing things correctly and goes beyond
following the rules. Is your life valuable enough to seek out the
knowledge to excel or are you operating on the "just good enough"
Is your flying precise? Are you flying on-altitude, respecting
and truly seeking out all available information for your proposed
It's not a matter of knowing what's good enough, its a matter of being
satisfied you're prepare to execute a well thought out plan with any
identified and managed. Unless something happens and the FAA
involved, you are the ultimate judge of your own performance. Be
fair, but be critical.
Never give up.
Experience grows a pilot's skill. Rough experiences grow a
wisdom. Don't let the small things like a rough landing or minor
scrape stop your progress. Use the experience to grow your wisdom
and resolve to improve your skills with remedial training. See
associated article, Characteristics
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