|17 February, 2007|
A PHILOSOPHY OF SAFETY
An excellent safety record is not just a matter luck but belongs to flying organisations, groups and individual pilots who follow a 'PHILOSOPHY OF SAFETY'. The following safety article is reproduced here with the kind permission of Dave Sutton and the Red Star Aviation Museum in the USA. AWAL applauds safety-related input but, pending official review, does not necessarily endorse the stated views.
A PHILOSOPHY OF SAFETY
“There are no new accidents, just new pilots”
Much has been written about safe Warbird operations. I want to touch now on some of the non-tangible things we can do to operate our aircraft as safely as possible. This is the “Safety First” philosophy, which tells us that we are under no life-or-death pressure to fly our aircraft, that there are no “men in the trenches” counting on us to fly. It is the philosophy that we are “doing it for fun”, and when it isn’t fun any longer, we should walk away and fly another day.
Just some short background information to show where these ideas are coming from: I am a professional pilot, flying and instructing in a large corporate jet for a living. The environment that I live in daily is one where we operate from remote areas, often overseas. We are carrying important people, people who are often paying dearly for the transportation that we provide. The pressure on me and my First Officer sometimes becomes extreme; however we can NEVER allow external pressures to influence our safety decisions. It is hard, at times, to tell Mr. Bigshot that we cannot take him to an important meeting because we have some small technical problem with the aircraft, one that “might” just be a bad indication of some secondary system. But the people who write my paycheck subscribe to the “Safety First” philosophy, and would make short work of my career should I decide that expedience is more important than maintaining standards of safety. Here are some of the decision making processes that I use in that environment, ones that are applicable to our operational environment as well. I know from my former position flying in Airline operations that these philosophies are used there as well, and I also know from my own personal experience that US Military aviation uses these practices. If they work in the three major professional aviation environments, they will work for us as well. I’m not going to sugar coat this, guys: We are our own worst enemies when it comes to safety. Our record shows that some of us are getting hurt and killed every year, generally because we do something dumb. Rare is the accident where the factors leading up to the situation are not under the control of the pilot. Sure, sometimes there is a catastrophic mechanical failure that thrusts the crew into a sudden emergency. Generally, however, we as pilots initiate the accident sequence due to some faulty decision making sometimes before the accident occurs. Take the following items for what they are worth. Some of them are generally applicable to all aviation endeavors. Some are more specific to our own specialized operations. Please contemplate them, and try to incorporate them into your own decision making processes.
1: I will not fly unless I, personally, am in a condition for safe flight. I must be rested and healthy, and free of any distracting personal problems that would conflict with my performance. If you have just had that big blowout with your wife about the cost of buying that new P-51 (I should be so lucky!), perhaps flying today isn’t such a good idea. Have a cold or sinus problem? A reverse block could make a descent from altitude VERY painful, and a damaged ear can wreak havoc with your vestibular senses and possibly ground you permanently. It goes without saying that we do not drink before flight, but there is still the occasional accident where alcohol plays a part. A few years back I lost a dear personal friend, a professional aviator with more time in 747’s than I have as total time. He was killed in his Warbird, a Yak-52, performing a low level roll over his home airport. The NTSB report that was just released showed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.10 at the time of the accident, legally drunk in every state. It is a very sad tragedy, and underscores the dangers of drinking and flying. If you have a problem with the sauce, keep out of the kitchen. Enough said.
2: I will not fly unless my aircraft is in a condition for safe flight. I WILL NOT embark on any flight with a known mechanical defect. Sure, you can “get away” with limping the bird back home on one magneto, to fix the other one where your tools and parts are. But it’s bad practice, and one day it WILL catch up to you. A Mustang was recently lost with two killed, and reports suggest that the pilot left with a known fuel leak. Whether this report is true (The NTSB final report has not yet been released) is a moot point, as the scenario is a wake up call in any case. Please, there is NO compelling reason to fly our aircraft. Nobody will be hurt or killed if you do not fly. If you need to get home from an airshow to go to work Monday and your bird is sick, PARK IT, and take the airlines.
3: I will not fly unless I am properly trained in the aircraft. Another Mustang was lost several years ago at an airshow, departing controlled flight during a hard pull-up after a low pass. The NTSB report determined that the aircraft was fully fueled for its departure home and was quite heavy. The aircraft entered an accelerated stall and departed into an unrecoverable excursion. The organization that trained the pilot viewed the video tapes of the accident, and concurred with this finding. The training organization also indicated that the dead pilot had begun a course of training in the aircraft, but had not fully completed the course. He took just enough instruction to perform normal maneuvering and systems management, but didn’t follow through to the portion of the syllabus that included accelerated stalls and high performance flying. Is it smart to economize in training in an airplane worth a half-million dollars? Another accident is similar: A MiG-17 crashed after takeoff, burning and critically injuring the pilot. The NTSB report indicated that the aircraft was heavy with full external tanks, and flew off the runway at an extremely nose-high attitude, striking the ventral fin on the runway before becoming airborne in ground effect. The aircraft never flew out of ground effect and crashed at the end of the runway. The pilot had mistakenly attempted to force the airplane to fly long before it had accelerated to flying speed, and subsequently paid for it with his aircraft and narrowly escaped with his life. I had a phone conversation with a highly respected individual from whom this pilot solicited flight training in the MiG. After hearing that he would need to fly a straight wing jet for several flight before transitioning to the swept wing MiG, and that he would need another 5-8 flights in the MiG to be qualified, the pilot said that this training was “Too expensive, and besides he didn’t need it”. He never completed a quality training program, and on his first takeoff with full underwing tanks was almost killed. Draw your own conclusions. Flight training in a new aircraft is FUN, not work. Make the best of it, and enjoy it. Don’t pay for a shiny new paint job and forget to train the pilot.
4: Do not fly unless you know and are familiar with both normal and abnormal procedures for the aircraft. A T-33 was lost last year when it failed to climb after takeoff and went off the end of the runway. The NTSB report indicates that the aircraft was in a 0 flaps configuration for takeoff, not an approved setting for that phase of flight. To add insult to injury, the pilot abandoned the aircraft on the ground with the engine running, which then caused a fire in the field where the aircraft lay. Not too smart, and certainly not an approved procedure from the T-33 Dash-1 pilots manual! Perhaps pulling the fuel handle and hitting off the master power switch before abandoning the aircraft would have been a bit better procedure to follow.
5: Please, do not perform aerobatics at low altitude. Of all the things that we do, this is the one thing that kills more of us than anything else. Legalities aside, there are some practical reasons that we should abstain from this type of flying. One, of course, is pilot proficiency. An aileron roll is probably the easiest aerobatic maneuver to fly. A true slow roll is by far one of the hardest maneuvers to fly. More pilots have been killed rolling airplanes at low altitude than any other aerobatic maneuver. A second major factor is the type of aircraft we fly. Trainers (and fighters) WERE NOT designed to perform competition type aerobatic maneuvers. They were designed to perform military air combat maneuvering, an entirely different sort of maneuvering. News: Most of our warbirds CAN NOT do a zero altitude-loss slow roll and keep the engine running. If you are not at minus-one G unit while inverted, the airplane is losing altitude while inverted. You can do nice aileron rolls all day long at altitude and never notice the descent. Try one on he deck one day and you might get killed. Watch a good display pilot fly a fighter at an airshow sometime: The rolls are all done with a substantial initial vector UP as the roll is started, so that the descending portion of the maneuver is done in level flight, if not a shallower climb. If you want to do this sort of display flying, enlist the assistance of an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator (ACE), and get PROPER training and evaluation. Remember, you can never beat the record for lowest aerobatic recovery, only tie it. Don’t try. If you cannot do 1000 consecutive slow rolls at altitude without ever losing a foot of altitude, you have no business trying it down on the deck. I know that one of you reading this right now will be killed next year doing this. When you are having a drink with Saint Peter at the O Club in the sky, remember what I said.
6: Remember that proficiency is MAINTAINED, not obtained. It doesn’t matter how good you were way back when. The airplane doesn’t have a memory, and your skills will decrease far faster with lack of practice than you can possibly believe. Professional pilots go into the simulator every six months for a week of grueling practice in al of the types of failures and problems that they (hopefully) never see in the real world. Recurrent training is just as important as keeping well practiced at normal operations. Can you recite cold, RIGHT NOW, the entire emergency checklist for your aircraft? If not, better hit the books. Do you go to the airport on a cold rainy day now and then and sit in the cockpit and to touch-drills for the emergency procedures? Professional pilots use a cockpit procedure trainer to do this, as airplanes are too expensive to park for training. Since you own your own bird, use the cockpit on nasty days to keep yourself sharp.
7: Always remember that when you transition into a new type of aircraft, you are a neophyte pilot in that type. Much of what you know from prior experience will help you, but much will not. It takes time to learn a new machine, and even more if it is an entirely different category of aircraft than what you have a lot of experience in. The Sea Fury that was lost at Sun & Fun a few seasons ago was flown by a man of impeccable credentials, with simply tons of experience in both transport category jets and light aerobatic aircraft. He was a former member of the US Aerobatic Team, and a noted airshow performer. He was killed in a heavy tail-dragger fighter, when he used hard braking and flipped the aircraft on its back. The NTSB noted that lack of experience in type was a factor. The NTSB did not note any mechanical failure. I do not care how many thousands of hours you have in a 747, or Space Shuttle for that matter. You may not be well qualified to fly a J-3 Cub without both training in it and practice. Those first 100 hours are a steep learning curve so be aware, and plan accordingly
8: Don’t fall prey to get-there-itis. Yes, I know that you have washed and waxed and packed for that big airshow 500 miles away. But if the weather is crummy, and if you are not ready to deal with the conditions, don’t try to scud-run to make it before the airshow starts. Maybe it would be better to go a day early, if you have been watching the weather on TV for a few days and realize that a system is moving in. Even if your aircraft is IFR equipped, have you personally insured that you are proficient at instrument flying, should you decide to file and go IFR? I rarely see Warbirds out doing practice instrument approaches. Could you juggle charts, dial the radios, all the while entering a holding pattern? If you could not EASIALLY pass a full instrument check ride in your Warbird, you should not be out in the weather with it. I am a professional pilot, flying instrument procedures daily, and going into the simulator twice a year to prove it (this is called “You bet your job, and is familiar to any professional pilot). My own personal IFR minimums in my Warbirds are this: If I need to legally select an alternate to file IFR, I don’t fly. If it’s less than 1000 feet ceiling in the forecast for my destination at the time of arrival, I don’t fly. I don’t practice all that often in my Warbirds, they aren’t equipped with autopilot or (even better) a co-pilot. I don’t have all the fuel in the world to fool around with in the terminal environment, (3 out of 4 of my fleet are jets, notorious for being fuel-hogs at low altitude). If you want to be the weather hero, be my guest. I’ll enjoy the tapes of the airshow over a cold one sometime later.
9: Don’t fall to external pressures. Sure, there might be three other guys flying formation locally that ask you to join in. “It’s easy, just meet us at 10:30 over the VOR at 5000 feet and fly wing”. Bad idea! Get some special training in these special types of activities, and you will have a ball. Try to teach yourself, and you will have a fool for an instructor and an idiot as a student. If you are not comfortable, don’t do it. Remember, we are in this to have FUN, not stress ourselves out. Keep it fun.
10: Do not fly unless you have taken into consideration the available performance of your aircraft, and considered the “worse case” that could take place. I was relaxing at an airshow last year alongside my Yak-50, which I had flown into the airshow rather than my Fouga Magister, as the runway was obviously far too short to safely operate from. I was amazed when another twin engine jet trainer landed and taxied in. I knew the pilot (and in fact had assisted him in obtaining his LOA for his jet). I quizzed him on his decision making process regarding his operation. “This runway is plenty long enough” he said. I agreed, as long as BOTH engines keep running. But multiengine aircraft (both jets and transport category piston) should work within the limits of accelerate-stop/accelerate-go performance. What, I asked, would happen if he lost an engine at 10 knots before flying speed? Would he have enough runway to either A: Stop on the remaining runway, or B: Continue to accelerate on the good engine and go? No way. I told him that it was all right for him to risk his own ass, but that he would hurt a lot of other people if he had an accident there. He looked at the unpopulated swamp at the end of the runway and said “I don’t see anybody there”. I told him that the people that he would hurt would be other Warbird operators all over the country, ones that would receive bad publicity from the press, get a bad image from the populace, and give the FAA more ammunition to shut down our sport. Think about that before you make your next go/no-go decision. You represent far more than your own airplane. You represent Warbirding.
OK, those who listen up are to be commended. Those who say “It will never happen to me” will not listen anyway. I have tried, now let us each try to keep it safe, and as always: Keep ‘em Flying.