Learn to Fly
7 day IFR Rating
Note from Darren: In
the spirit of debunking myths and getting to the truth, a reader of
this website wrote to me about
Seconds to Live. While not disputing
the results, he uncovered and cleared up a few inaccuracies in the
story which appears all over the internet, including this website. Paul is one of the
rare breeds of pilot who is rated Fixed wing and Helicopter. I very much enjoy
these kind of thoughtful and intelligent emails, thanks Paul.
|I have long suspected that
this story--widely quoted--is false or misleading, sort of an aviation
urban legend. At 45 hours of instrument training and preparing for my
checkride, I've never come close to losing control of an airplane. When
I have controlled the airplane poorly it was because I let a
distraction --fishing for a plate, tuning a radio--get the best of me.
I'm just an average pilot, but I think that flying an airplane by
reference to instruments is easy, IF you have all of them, and you
don't have to copy a re-route to Cleveland while you're doing it.
A little research turned up the following...
1. The study was done in 1954, not 1991.
2. The AI, DG and VSI were *covered*.
3. The subjects had received NO prior instrument training whatsoever,
typical for private pilots of that time period.
4. The study was performed in a real airplane, a Bonanza. None of the
students had ever flown a complex high-performance aircraft prior to
After receiving a 2-3 hours of training, all of the subjects
repeated the test without losing control. That was the point of
the study, to show that a little instrument training went a long way in
terms of safety.
The paper itself, entitled "180 Degree Turn Experiment" is not posted
in its entirety anywhere on the internet, but the University of
Illinois at Urbana put up the first couple of pages here and promises
to get all of it up there someday.
Here is a posting archived from the old rec.aviation.student USENET
board, written by someone who claims to have received a copy of the
report from UIUC. The author points out, even while debunking the myths
associated with the report, that the actual average time to an unsafe
flight condition was really 178 seconds.
Here's another article--from aopa.org--where the author refers to the
study. It seems that AOPA sort of sponsored the research.
More from the AOPA about how the study's results turned up as a task in
our modern Private Pilot PTS:
The question still begs, why do these kind of accidents happen? I
certainly don't know the answer. Maybe there's a natural aptitude (and
conversely, inaptitude) for attitude instrument flying. Certainly fear
compounds the problem. I suspect that in practice it (VFR into IMC)
happens often, and it goes unreported because the pilot is able to fly
back to VFR conditions.
Name = Michael
Date = Sunday, 10 October, 2010, 2:19 PM
Comments = My thought on why these
accidents happen is attitude - not of the aircraft, but between the
pilot's ears. Sadly we continue to encourage or at least allow
this attitude that getting lucky now and then is OK. The video
posted by AOPA on 178 seconds to live is a fine example. To be
clear, I stongly support AOPA's and other's efforts to improve safety,
but just watch and listen to the video. After every kind of
warning and opportunity to avoid the obvious weather, after operating
just a few hundred feet above obstacles that are obscured by weather,
and long after becoming uncomfortable with the situation the pilot
continues. Then, and here's my issue with the attitude, the pilot
"suddenly" and "without warning" is in the "soup". Nothing
happened that was sudden, there were certainly many repeated warnings,
and even if he was competent of flight on instruments, our pilot had no
legitimate reason to fly into the "soup" in this scenario. My
point is the myth we continue
to teach is that somehow despite our best efforts to act responsibly
the weather can change so suddenly as to swallow us up without
warning. I don't buy it. There is always at least some
clue, and I believe that we do a generally poor job of teaching what
the more subtle warnings look like. To paraphrase one of the
truly great instructors I had long ago: "If a thing doesn't look right
or feel right, it probably isn't right."