Copyright – Chris Kyle
Here’s the thing:
“They flew into the mountain just a few metres from the crest – can’t understand how or why!” or “the aircraft was seen to impact the ground from a steep banking and nose down attitude!” and “Bits of the aircraft were found strewn over a large area on the ground! There were big thunder storms!”
So it goes on and on with the same results causing history to repeat itself over and over again – same fatal accidents different pilot/s, different passengers, another day – more tears and families and friends torn apart and jolted by the sudden departure of loved ones and friends.
Difficult for people to understand why all of this happens and why it is going to happen again?
Not at all, here are the basics:
Continuation of VFR flight into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (VMC) and continuation of flight into other adverse conditions.
· Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) where in-flight visibility is such that a perfectly good aeroplane, flown in a controlled manner is unintentionally simply flown into mother earth.
· Uncontrolled flight into terrain (UFIT) That is loss of control of the aircraft due to spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness usually resulting in a Spiral Dive. (Also Stall and Spin)
· Continuation of flight into Thunder Storms.
· Ops within close proximity to Thunder Storms where hazardous Wind Shear and rapidly changing wind directions and speeds are likely.
· Flight into Icing Conditions and Severe Turbulence.
· Strong downdrafts caused by ‘Rotors’ in the vicinity of mountains and undulating terrain.
· Also to be mentioned very strongly is sound consideration of aircraft take off, climb and landing performance and the effect that Density Altitude has on this.
Don’t for a minute think that these accidents only happen to low hour inexperienced pilots. To the contrary many highly experienced pilots have been involved in accidents of this nature. The low hour pilot usually tends to be a little more cautious as opposed to the more experienced pilot who might have a tendency to be a little overconfident or even display a degree of complacency.
As pilots we all know this stuff but why do we keep on making the same mistakes and falling into the same traps! We know what the results are! Easy to say what the problem is but it’s not so easy to fix it!
Here are a few stories of typical scenarios related by various pilots:
A young pilot and his girlfriend are moping about the Barberton airfield one early morning. The weather is really bad. I had just landed after safely executing the Cloud Break Procedure off of the TB NDB (now defunct) when I was asked by the young C172 pilot what the weather was like in Johannesburg. I explained to him that on departure it was IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) but that was only part of the problem since the en-route weather was definitely not conducive to VFR flight and was below VFR Minima and that there were embedded thunderstorms too. Forecasts showed that conditions would not improve till later the next day.
What he said to me next made me become ‘Big Daddy’. He said the reason he was asking was because his intentions were to depart shortly on the trip and that he would “just fly around the mountains and bad weather”. This made my hair stand on end and so I told him in no uncertain terms that this would not be the case as long as I was around for the day! He asked me how come I could do the trip after which followed a long discussion on the difference between VFR and IFR and the qualifications and equipment required in order to carry out the flight safely in such conditions. Somehow he still didn’t get the full point and was continually trying to ‘think’ the weather better and kept coming up with “but if I try this” – “nothing” I said “but if you want to go then go but I’ll see you at another time soon at a very sad occasion where your girlfriend will be wearing a black dress and she’ll be crying. She is going nowhere right now!”. I’m sure he thought that I had designs on her. Anyway we spent the day together during which we recapped on the rules and VFR Minima and discussions of airmanship and all of the bad things that could happen if recommended practice and the rules were not obeyed. We also discussed the good things to follow if the right decisions and thought processes were entered into. They stayed the night in the local hotel. He called me at around ten the next morning to confirm that the weather actually had improved in JHB as per the forecast and he also verified that all looked clear now to go and that he’d checked the forecasts carefully! They made the flight safely home but I often wonder what would have happened if there wasn’t a ‘buddy’ there to help him make a rational decision. He seems to have changed his views. I’ve heard nothing to the contrary about his safety. He is still flying now many years later. Maybe all he really needed was a buddy at that time that cared and not others questioning his ability as a pilot and why he could not do the flight!
ALL PILOTS SHOULD BE CAPABLE OF MAKING SAFE DECISIONS ON THEIR OWN THOUGH!!!
Here’s another one:
What was he thinking?
Then there’s the guy strutting up and down the apron wanting to engage in a local pleasure flight with some friends. He keeps glancing Southward at the approaching thunderstorm while all of the other pilots and instructors are relaxing and enjoying a beverage of some sort, resigned to the fact that there would be no more flying for the day.
We watch him – he’s having much difficulty in making a decision – Go or No Go. Up and down the apron he paces, grimacing at the storm while making frequent phone calls perhaps to Met in the hope that they would give better news than what he could already see. At one stage he even summonses his friends to board the aircraft and then shortly after instructs them to disembark again just as all heck breaks loose. They make it to clubhouse with their clothes flapping in the strong wind gusts just in time before being drenched. What was he thinking! What pressure was there to do this flight? His ego maybe? Maybe he also needed a buddy to say to him “Leave it now, come inside and enjoy the good company!”
Heres another one but a good decision having been made by the pilot:
What kind of pilot are you?
The pilot of a Cessna 210 carrying three passengers from Zim to Lanseria squints through the windscreen at the blackened sky covering his track. He is approaching Pietersburg (Polokwane). He decides that he is landing at Pietersburg Civil. He briefs the passengers who immediately begin muttering about this decision. He ignores them and lands and explains that they all would be staying in Polokwane for the night. There were huge discussions about them having to get home that evening. He was questioned about his piloting abilities and skills and was asked “What kind of pilot are you?”
Next morning, sadly as it turned out, another light aircraft had gone missing in the mountains just south of Polokwane in those very thunder storms that the pilot had cut the flight short for.
Headlines in the local chronicle read: “Search on for missing plane”. The pilot placed this front page neatly in the centre of the breakfast table for all to see and proceeded to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast after which he calmly stated “that could have been us!”
The mood on the flight home was subdued with the passengers feeling grateful to be with this pilot that had made safe decisions, besides they’d only be a few hours late for activities – a small price to pay!
As individual pilots we are essentially on our own in General Aviation – we do not have the privilege and support of an advanced Flight Ops Facility or ongoing and continuous training. So we need to create within our clubs, flight schools and circles of aviators, cultures that promote support systems and safety. We need to be our own ‘watchdog’! As groups we should not tolerate bad and unsafe behavior. We need to talk to one another openly. We need to take advice and positive criticism on the chin!
Command abilities and assertiveness is about leadership and part of being a good leader is the ability to say NO! The key is to identify when to say NO!
If a pilot says no to a flight and it turns out he could have gone, then everyone is the judge! That should be easy enough to live with!
Is it that some pilot’s do not have the ability to make a good judgment call/s and arrive at a safe decision/s, or is it that some don’t understand the rules of the game?
If this is the case then serious thought should be given as to whether they should be flying at all!
Or do some pilots understand all of this but are willing to accept higher levels of risk than others?
It’s all about the way we think, plan, apply and act out sound principles of ‘Threat and Error Management!’
Which brings to mind how good are you at decoding Metars and Tafs?
See how you do with these two below – perhaps you need a little recapping!
METAR: 2013/01/29 04:00 FARB 290400Z 23002KT 9999 BKN030 22/19 Q1020
TAF: 2012/03/16 10:00 TAF FARB 160900Z 1610/1618 06015KT CAVOK BECMG 1612/1614 BKN025 TEMPO 1615/1618 5000 SHRA BKN020 TX30/1612ZTN24/1618Z
If these minima are not present, the aircraft may not be flown under VFR.
An Aircraft may also not be flown under VFR above more than 3/8 of cloud.
VFR MINIMA SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD AND MEMORISED BY EVERY VFR PILOT.
Some do’s and some don’ts for VFR pilots.
· Don’t ever push on into weather that is below VFR Minima or conditions that you know could be hazardous.
· Don’t allow external unqualified inputs affect your decision or coerce you to do what you know is not right.
· Don’t ever let any pilot or person make you feel inadequate if you feel that you would
rather abort the flight.
· Don’t ever follow another more experienced or instrument rated pilot into bad weather – chances are he’ll leave you in the lurch if things get really bad.
· Don’t ever take chances with thunder storms and squall lines – never try to fly through one. If you can fly around an isolated Cb then by all means give it a wide birth.
· Don’t ever fly into a valley in marginal weather thinking you can make it through to the other side. Could be a boxed in valley with insufficient space to turn around – there could be power lines – rising ground in the valley could exceed the climb performance of the aircraft and could also lead you into cloud.
· Don’t think that if you inadvertently enter cloud in mountainous terrain you can safely
make a turn to exit – 99% chance is that you’ll fly straight into the side of a mountain.
· Don’t fall prone to the false sense of security that GPS equipment has to offer. Yes it will give good navigational guidance but it could also lead you straight into bad weather because of this.
· Don’t ever consider pressing on above cloud while routing towards the coast and
then think you can make a safe descent through cloud over the ocean – remember
the 3/8 rule.
· Don’t ever try scratch over the top of a mountain range or mountainous areas. Most CFIT accidents occur within a few metres of the mountain ridge – a possible explanation for this is that perhaps sunlight or light filters through the cloud and illuminates the ridge to some extent giving the impression that there is a clearance between cloud and the terrain.
· Don’t hesitate to turn around and proceed to a safe place before the trouble starts.
So many stories of aircraft flying right over a perfectly good airfield straight into the
teeth of bad weather instead of opting to land there.
· Don’t go scratching around below cloud at an unmanned airfield where a Cloud Break
Procedure exists without understanding and recognizing the meaning of what is
being said by the pilot executing the Cloud Break Procedure unless you want the
surprise of your life when an aircraft suddenly bursts through the base of the cloud
· Never use your basic instrument flying skills to intentionally enter cloud! Use them
only if you need to get out of trouble that you should not have gotten into in the first
· Don’t use a VFR Night Rating for extended flights at night (difficult to see weather conditions ahead) rather use it for an early departure before sunrise and an arrival shortly after official sunset or pleasure jolly locally.
· DO SAY NO IF YOU CANNOT DO THE FLIGHT!
(tell them that you’re very busy doing the crossword!)
· Do have the utmost regard for the safety of your passengers.
· Make sure you know and understand everything pertaining to Visual Flight Rules, VFR
Minima (How it applies to all airspaces).
· Study the weather for your flight intensely. Ensure that you are proficient at decoding
Met information, Metars, Tafs, Specis etc.
· Plan your flight with well thought out alternate plans A,B and even C.
· Make sure that you are up to date with all AIPs, AICs, Notams, CATS & CARs.
(once knew a pilot that flew to an airfield that was notam’d to be closed due to work on the runway, when
he got there the weather deteriorated to the extent that he had to land there anyway ,no other choice, and
broke the left hand under carriage clean off in a ditch, prop strike and all that other expensive stuff.
Insurance had a good chuckle!
· Ensure that you maintain proficiency at doing precautionary landings and that your
aircraft handling skills are such that you can consistently touch down on a pre-selected
spot at the desired speed.
· Ensure that you are proficient at doing track reversal turns on instruments (rate one turns) and that your basic instrument flying skills are up to scratch. Never use these skills to intentionally enter conditions below VFR Minima.
· Do make sure that you know how to identify and recover from a Spiral Dive and other unusual attitudes.
· Do make sure that you carefully consider terrain clearance minimum heights especially at night.
· Do make sure that you attend safety meetings or topics.
· Do make sure that you receive frequent and ongoing training.
· Do make sure that you select your flying friends and circles very carefully. Avoid the bad influence of ‘Cowboys/girls” at all costs.
· Do step in as a ‘buddy’ if you see someone doing wrong things! He might not know that what he is doing is wrong!
So how do we fix this problem and change the history of the future? Note the keyword here is ‘WE’. Whose we? That’s us, all of us! Our future is in our own hands by the choices we make as groups and individuals!
Madam Weather can be sweet and offer the most pleasant flying conditions but she can also turn extremely nasty and dish up her most violent anger. Weather is one of the biggest stress factors for pilots. Weather and atmospheric conditions are for ever changing and offer different and new challenges to each flight. It’s up to us to intelligently sense these conditions and changes and then manage and plan our way around Madam Weathers’ moods. One thing though, weather is not like a leopard lying in wait to ambush it’s prey and so if we do sensible research and forward planning on the ground and then keep a close eye on changes during flight and plan accordingly then we will be able to make reasonable and safe decisions.
Remember that: Emotional thinking will make you go when it is not safe to go. But rational thinking will allow you to go when it is safe to go! (see previous article ‘Heads and Hearts)
Happy and safe landings!
The contents of this article is not meant to be prescriptive but was created to offer guidelines only. Information may not be technically correct and should therefore not be used for actual flight situations.