Friday, September 10, 2010

Too Dumb To Fly

Editorial in the Sept-Oct issue of AOPA's magazine, Australian Pilot.
"A group of us was standing around the other day discussing the death of a fellow pilot in a crash. The newspaper story on the accident which took the pilot's life (and that of his passenger), told the usual story about what a great bloke he had been and how he had died "doing what he loved."
We all made the appropriate noises about how terrible the whole thing was for the man's family, especially for the family of the passenger who died.
Then one member of our group muttered that the crash had not come as a surprise to him and that he would never have flown with the pilot. "He was an accident waiting to happen, that bloke," he said.
Others mumbled their agreement, obviously reluctant to speak of the dead.
I hadn't knowm the pilot and so pressed them for more information. Gradually, the members of the group who had known the dead pilot, admitted more and more information about him.
They told me he had been warned several times by other pilots about his dangerous flying behaviour, that he'd been warned not to try to do aerobatic flying in an aircraft not suitable for it, and warned not to do seat-of-your-pants flying with a passenger on board if he was not qualified to do so.
Despite the warning, he had continued to fly that way, obviously supremely confident of his own ability. He got away with it every time too, until that last time.
The dead pilot had received the same rigourous training as we all have, so common sense suggests merely insisting on more training would not have been a solution to preventing this accident.
The problem turned out to be in his mind, not in his hands.
...
Maybe the only way to bring down the road toll and to weed out dangerous pilots is to prevent people with bad attitudes from getting behind the wheel in the first place."

Tony Kern's excellent book, Darker Shades of Blue: The Rogue Pilot, deals with the same subject in much more detail. Hey, isn't that a Decathlon on the cover? Could he be writing about us?

I've been promoting peer reviews per CASA's Aerobatics CAAP 155-1 for some time. I've had some vocal opposition on the basis that "we already do that" - nope, read the above editorial again - that is what you are doing and it rarely works. Peer reviews have one important difference which makes all the difference - the pilots asks people that he respects for opinions on his safety. If he doesn't ask, then that's fine with me, it is not compulsory but it doesn't take much time or effort and it doesn't cost anything. If he does ask then he should be given a truthful response not just a "feel good" stamp of approval.

A few years ago, one of my friends rang me to say he saw a flying instructor barrel roll a Warrior and asked for my advice - "tell the owner of the flying school" - but he didn't. The flying school eventually sacked him for other reasons. He didn't last long at the next flying school either. Some of the aeroplanes he has damaged over the years are known about. I wonder how many pilots were impressed by his feats of derring-do and will repeat them in future.
We must not tolerate people like that - they need to find a different career.

An Instructor's Obligation by Rick Durden:
"I've been to visit that little room where I put the memories of friends and acquaintances now dead. (It's a blunt, hard, cold word. We won't use euphemisms; they are dead.) There is a special corner in that room for those, fortunately few, who have died in airplanes. In that corner, there is a dark nook for two special pilots. They are special because I was certain they were going to kill themselves in airplanes and, even though I was a flight instructor, I either didn't or couldn't do anything about it. Despite the fact it has been over a year since the second one died, it is still a painful journey to go into that nook, because I cannot help but have the nagging feeling that I could have done more to prevent their deaths. I know the journey is one that more than a few experienced flight instructors take from time to time, usually only very late at night, and when they are alone. They agonize over what more they could have done to prevent a death.
They are the instructors who have a little deeper lines in their faces and who become very quiet from time to time.
.......
Over the years I have come to believe firmly that flight instructors have a duty to aviation. On those rare times that the experienced instructor gets to know or flies with someone who is close to that instructor's personal line on the pilot spectrum, I believe the instructor has an obligation to raise the issue with the pilot. We instructors may lose a friend or two. We may upset a pilot or four, but to not step up and try to reach the person is to shirk the responsibility we instructors so clearly have.Sometimes instruction is not fun. At those times the measly $40 per hour I charge isn't even close to being enough.
I'm not going home yet.
I just hope I will not be putting a third friend in that little nook in that room in the back of my mind."