The overloaded aircraft would
have had a wings-level +1g stalling speed of 72 knots. The best angle of
climb speed was 75 knots. As can be seen from the table above, the aircraft
would have stalled at 75 knots with just 22.8 degrees of bank applied. It is
very likely that the Commander 114TC involved in the above accident stalled
during the attempted turn back to the airport. The pilot apparently had
almost regained control at very low level but then stalled and spun with
the facts regarding this accident are taken from AAIB Field Investigation
EW/C2001/6/7 which source is gratefully acknowledged.
— The Missing Ingredient?
Accidents and incidents are
seldom due to a single cause. They are the result of a chain of events that
combine to result in an accident or incident. Many years of accident
investigations, and of the application of lessons learnt from accidents, have
reduced flying accident rates quite dramatically but one root cause has
defied all efforts to eliminate it. That root cause is human error.
Human error comes in many guises and is as varied
as human nature itself. It is probably an unachievable aim to hope to
eliminate human error, but we can attack various aspects
of human error and thus reduce the overall size of the problem.
I believe that many, if not most, accidents and incidents suffered by
private pilots in recreational flying have lack of skilled supervision as a root cause.
Supervision is readily available to student pilots during their ab
training. The quality of this supervision depends upon the quality of their
flying instructors and on the standards set by the training organisation
where the student is studying the art of aviation. Unfortunately, there is no
guarantee that every student pilot will have dedicated, highly motivated and
closely supervised flying instruction because supervision of flying
instructors is not regulated to a common standard. In my experience, the
quality of instruction tends to reflect the standards set by the local CFI.
We are faced with the old conundrum, “Who supervises the
The Military Exemplar
that many private pilots, and their instructors, will react with violent
disagreement to the suggestion that we can learn something from the military
system. Perhaps a comparison of the accident statistics of military flying
and those of recreational flying will give some pause for thought. Yes, I
know that military pilots go through a rigorous selection where the
unsuitable are weeded out; I know that each military pilot’s training
costs n millions of cash; I recognise the riposte from recreational pilots
that if they’d wanted to be like military pilots they would have joined
the Forces. But one thing that military pilots have in their favour is
constant and highly-skilled supervision of all aspects of their flying.
Somebody makes sure they have been adequately trained before they are
required to perform any task. Somebody provides them with the best available
kit for comfort and survival. Many highly trained, skilled and closely
supervised men and women make sure their aircraft is maintained to the
highest standards and is meticulously prepared for each flight. Somebody
makes sure they are in good health and fit to fly by regular medical checks
and by training in aviation medicine. There is even somebody whose task is to
ensure that they are properly fed with a correct diet.
A private pilot has to take personal responsibility for these and
many other tasks if safety is to be ensured. Yet the only selection procedure
involved if one decides to become a private pilot is the ability to sign
valid cheques for large sums of money. The medical standards are not above
normal fitness levels. There are no educational standards, other than an
ability to pass some examinations during training. Once private pilots have
got their PPL they are free to go about their flying without any further
supervision – other than the periodic check flight now required by some
authorities. There is not a pilot in the world who will not develop bad
habits as time goes by.
Examine Your Thought Processes
Before You Fly
nobody else flies your aircraft. It was perfectly alright when you last flew
it so nothing can have changed while it has been sitting on the ground. So it
doesn’t need a detailed and searching pre-flight. WRONG.
- You have
flown out of this strip dozens of times so you don’t need a performance
- You know
the route like the back of your hand so you don’t need a flight plan. WRONG.
weather has been settled for days so you don’t need a forecast. WRONG.
bung that extra bag in the back; it doesn’t look very heavy. WRONG.
It’ll only take an hour or so to get there so there’s plenty of
fuel on board. WRONG.
- Must get
that dicky radio looked at sometime soon. WRONG.
you’d never do any of those silly things and this article doesn’t
apply to you. WRONG.
If you are totally honest with yourself you have
probably done at least one of the things mentioned above, or something pretty
similar. If not, you probably will at some time in the future.
Why do pilots do these things? Not because they want to kill
themselves and their passengers. Probably because they got away with it once
and therefore it doesn’t matter any more. Pilots, being human,
gradually develop bad habits because they are not being supervised and are
not supervising themselves. How long is it since you had a real check flight
with an instructor? Not with a mate, but with someone who will demand
reasonable standards and tell you so before and after the flight?
Bad Habits are Habit Forming
look back at the support and supervision enjoyed by the military pilot and
compare your environment. Military pilots undergo frequent checks on all
aspects of their flying and operational skills. They are surrounded by
equally skilled pilots who will immediately make them aware of the slightest
drop in their standards. Who taught you to do a forced landing after engine
failure? How long ago? How often do you practice? Who last checked your
technique and ability? What is a constant aspect approach? How does ground
effect affect you take-off performance? What does pressure altitude have to
do with performance? When did you last check the tyre pressures?
Nobody can maintain a constantly high standard of piloting ability
over a long period of time without being examined by an instructor. Why do
airline pilots have to spend long hours in simulators and have regular checks
in the air? Because everyone develops bad habits and loses the sharp edge of
A very recent landing accident to a Boeing 757 was caused by the
commander having recently developed a habit of applying full nose-down
elevator after mainwheel touchdown in the belief that this technique would
improve braking and control effectiveness in wet or slippery conditions. The
Air Accidents Investigation Branch noted “an intrinsic feature of such
a habit is the possibility of execution without conscious monitoring.”
The pilot concerned had over 11,000 hours with 5,000 hours on type. Everyone
can, and will, develop bad habits.
How about arranging to spend a few hours with a ground instructor
revising your understanding of your aircraft’s systems and performance
data? How about doing a few practice flight plans – under supervision?
How about a few practice performance calculations – under
Why not go the whole hog and have an hour in the air with an
instructor while you revise whatever aspect of your flying that most needs revision?
Only two kinds of pilots require supervised revision of their skills;
those who fly irregularly and those who fly regularly.
Supervision will improve your flying. Supervision will sharpen your
piloting ability. Supervision will remind you to maintain your standards
– and to book some more supervision.
Good luck and happy flying.
Text and Photographs © 2007 Gremline & Hill House
Publications, unless otherwise stated.
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