Thursday, 17 December 2015


(Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/John Zimmerman)

Admit it – you hate recurrent training! But you KNOW that regular training increases safety and confidence. It’s good for you, right up there with eating more vegetables and exercising daily. But we treat proficiency flights like a trip to the dentist.

This reluctance isn’t a sign of laziness. It’s also not primarily about the cost. A flight review isn’t too expensive, and simulators offer an even less expensive way to stay current.

The real reasons have a lot more to do with emotion, particularly fun and pride. Since most of us are in aviation for the fun, if it’s not fun why do it? The pride part is even more powerful, because most pilots are successful people. For an accomplished businessman or doctor to subject him/herself to judgment and possible embarrassment at the hands of a flight instructor is no small task. If you’re used to excelling at life, it’s hard to admit it when you fall short.

One obvious way to combat this mindset is to turn recurrent training into an ongoing process. To amplify the dentist analogy, most adults don’t dread brushing their teeth every day, because it’s both familiar and not subject to someone else’s judgment. We can approach flying in much the same way. 

If “recurrent” means a single event every two years it feels like a test. But if we view currency as a normal part of every flight, it becomes a habit. A good goal is to deliberately do something on every flight to maintain your flying skills. Track the centreline on the runway, use short field technique on your next landing, avoid the boring touch-and-go routine and make a short cross country flight that accomplishes the same thing. Fly to a nearby airport for lunch, practice an en-route diversion along the way, do a no-flap landing when you get there, and throw in some steep turns on the way home.

It’s also worth remembering that you don’t have to hire a CFI in order to evaluate your flying skills. There are plenty of ways to self-critique and avoid the pain of public embarrassment – if you’re willing to be honest with yourself. You can record your performance over time to see when you’re sharp and when you need more practice.

A GoPro video camera is relatively inexpensive, and records high quality video and audio. It’s a good way to revisit your flight and see how you did – a VFR pilot might focus outside the airplane, an IFR pilot might focus on the instruments, and both can listen to ATC communications. There’s a lot to learn here, and you can do it all on your own.

How we approach recurrent training determines what we get out of it. If we approach the currency check as a chance to learn something new, we’re more likely to have a positive experience than if we view it as a test (which it’s not – you can’t fail a flight review!).

It all comes down to attitude. Perhaps the most important difference between a professional and an amateur is whether you embrace continuous learning. Be a pro, even if you only fly 40 hours a year.
Season’s greetings!


Friday, 11 December 2015


(Acknowledgements: GASCO Flight Safety/Matt Lane)

Matt says that in many instruction programmes the emphasis is placed upon total EFATO, whereby the Instructor retards the throttle to idle in the climb-out and announces the simulated engine failure; whereupon the Student adopts glide attitude and speed, carries out drills and proceeds with the approach for a forced landing ahead. The Instructor then calls for go-around when satisfied with the Student’s response. And certainly in the event of either Fire or Mechanical Failure, immediate total engine shutdown followed by a prompt forced landing is obviously the procedure to follow and thus should be trained for accordingly.
However, it is very likely that on occasions during their flying lives pilots will encounter power loss due to Non-Mechanical Failure, where a propeller may progressively slow down to windmilling for no immediately-apparent reason, or where there is a reduction in power or a degree of rough running caused perhaps by an incorrect control selection by the pilot, or by a fuel-flow/air-flow issue due to possible carburettor icing, or by a minor mechanical or ignition system issue. In such cases the power loss may be partial rather than total, and may therefore not require an immediate shutdown as trained in respect of EFATO.  
Certainly, Matt Lane’s own career has featured only one total engine seizure, whereas there have been several issues of partial power loss on climb-out, and so he includes an un-briefed PEFATO scenario in his course material. He will reduce power during the climb-out to cruise setting and announce for example “simulated rough running and vibration, touch drills only, continue your response until told to go-around”, and then observe the reaction of the Student which will generally be one of the following in the most likely order:
  • Immediate pitch down and setup for forced landing ahead, with throttle left untouched resulting in a fast and high approach inappropriate for a forced landing
  • Aircraft levelled off to stagger on at low level while the Student wonders what to do
  • An un-briefed and uncontrolled attempt to turn back towards the airfield
  • A vain attempt to maintain the climb in the face of falling airspeed until approaching stall
Any of the above would probably result in an undesirable outcome following a missed opportunity for recovering the situation, and when presented with this scenario the Students’ response in most cases has been complete surprise, having been conditioned to expect a total EFATO exercise.

So, Matt says, we have three choices to counter a partial EFATO situation:
  • Resolve the problem and safely climb away (carb heat? fuel pump? throttle vibrated away from full power? passenger accidentally altered a control?)
  • Commit to forced landing ahead (power off, shutdown, perform as for total EFATO)
  • Use residual power if sufficient to manoeuvre back to the airfield or at least a  more favourable landing area
Matt’s procedure for dealing with PEFATO is summarised as follows:
  • Pitch down and maintain at least Best Glide Speed
  • Confirm full throttle
  • Assess performance
  • If above 500ft and able to climb or maintain level flight:
  •        Consider turning downwind, or manoeuvre to a desirable landing area
  •        Prepare for Glide Approach
  •        If time allows, perform non-mechanical failure actions
  •        If engine fails to recover, position for Glide Approach
  •        When committed, close throttle and perform forced landing
  • If below 500ft and unable to climb, commit to landing ahead, close throttle, and perform forced landing as per total EFATO procedure

Thursday, 19 November 2015


Everyone who writes about aviation safety eventually comes around to the subject of risk management. Managing risks is not as simple as a checklist. Risk management can be done only through a deal the pilot makes with his/herself.

You can tell a kid a thousand times not to venture out on an apparently frozen pond, but in the end each individual has to come to a conclusion about what is risky, what is not, and what level of risk is acceptable.

Because bad decisions lead to accidents, a good understanding of the risks and of the fact that when improperly or recklessly done, flying can be extremely dangerous, is required. A strong sense of self-preservation is also a definite risk-management asset. No checklist will ever take the place of these things.

The risk is lowest when flying a well-maintained simple aeroplane on a clear and calm day. Beyond that, the risk increases. General aviation flying isn’t going to get any “safer”, but that doesn’t mean that each individual pilot can’t improve his or her personal safety potential.

The best way to learn about risks is to look at the mistakes other pilots have made and learn from them. These are chronicled in the accident reports issued by the CAA and others. In many cases it transpires that a pilot got to a point where even fancy footwork and a burst of brilliance could not save the day.

As kids we learn that “if at first you don’t succeed, try try try again”, but in aeroplanes the risk increases greatly when you do. Maybe the saying should be modified, to advise doing something more easily managed rather than simply to repeat that which got the better of you the first time.

One engine or two? There may be valid reasons for buying a twin rather than a single. They climb better, go faster, and carry more. But the riskiest part of twin flying comes when a pilot does something in a twin that he wouldn’t do in a single. All propeller aeroplanes are viewed as equals by things like weather and flight envelopes. A pilot is operating in a high-risk zone if this is not acknowledged.

Also, any thought about “buying” safety is a risky one. The Cirrus is an aeroplane you can buy with an airframe parachute fitted as standard. Yet the Cirrus fatal accident rate is no better than that of similar aeroplanes. That is no reflection on the aeroplane but it does say a lot about the risks that pilots take in the aeroplane.

An extremely risky moment comes when a pilot flies with this thought: “I think I can make it.” A basic high level of confidence is certainly required of a pilot, but overconfidence is not good. We need to know what we are doing and then do it well. If there is any doubt, don’t.

The final risky moment I’ll share with you applies to motorcycles, hot cars and power boats as well as aeroplanes. It comes when a person thinks or says, “Watch this!”


Thursday, 12 November 2015


(Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/Richard Collins)

In 86% of fatal GA accidents in the USA “pilot error” is given as the cause. If only it were that simple! To use a rugby metaphor, it really starts with a “pilot fumble”. The ball is dropped, but the option is still there to recover, and the error does not actually occur until the pilot fails to do so. 10% of fatalities occurred on missed approaches or go-arounds, and as only a tiny percentage of total hours are flown while doing these procedures, they can be defined as being quite hazardous.

One more rugby metaphor: The practice of holding onto the ball with both hands when a potential hazard looms. In flying, we need a version of this, and it needs to be a pilot’s operating mode which becomes active before a time of potential stress becomes critical. 

A go-around is a time for a burst of brilliance and fancy footwork, but you have to be locked, loaded and ready to deliver. There is a lot going on requiring heavy-duty pushing and shoving, which might be more apparent on a go-around than in other situations. For example, the more flap you have extended, the more aggressive you need to be.

There is also a need to think carefully about how you use the elevator trim as the manoeuvre unfolds. Elevator trim is speed-related, and an aeroplane will seek the speed for which it is trimmed. Flap retraction on a go-around, usually from full to take-off initially, will result in a pitch change. The trim for the full-flap approach speed is likely to be quite different from the trim required in the subsequent climb-out.

Better to leave the trim alone until the required changes in configuration have been made and until the airspeed is on the desired value, and then trim away the forces. Accept the increased pushing and pulling as a reminder of the difference between what the aeroplane wants to do and what you want it to do.
A pilot flying a go-around is at a disadvantage because, unless it is prompted by some conflict with other traffic, he or she has usually already messed up! Key indications were ignored, bad decisions were made, and the airplane was flown into a difficult situation. 

A go-around is unlike a take-off, in that it usually starts with full flap and with the pitch trim set for a full-flap approach. Thus the aeroplane will be out of trim, and the reduction in flap will induce what feels like a sinking spell requiring a substantial change in pitch attitude with a correspondingly high stick force. After making the errors that got the aeroplane to such a bad place some pilots may exhibit a reluctance to be aggressive with the power and the controls, but this is a time for decisive action.

Some pilots may also like to maintain a nose-up trim throughout the landing process as they feel it  keeps the pitch forces low, but pilots so doing could find themselves at a disadvantage should the landing have to be aborted.

Go-arounds, not only “touch-and-gos”, should thus get plenty of attention in both initial and refresher training.