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Wed, Nov 22, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (11.22.06): The Psychology Of Emergencies

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.")

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network.

Aero-Tips 11.22.06

There are several factors that may affect a pilot's ability to respond correctly to an abnormal or emergency situation:

  • Denial. Pilots are generally optimistic by nature, and may deny a problem exists when the indications appear.
    • Example: A student of mine could not believe that his 50-total-time-since-new engine failed in flight, requiring me to take the controls and guide us toward a safe landing. The situation seemed so unlikely in my student's mind that, when it occurred, he simply refused to accept it.
  • Distraction. Other tasks may demand the pilot's attention, so that he/she does not respond to an abnormality.
    • Example: Air Traffic Control calls and vectors were so frequent for me on climbout one day that I forgot to lean the mixture after leveling off, and flew about 20 minutes at "full rich" before catching it-which could have led to a fuel exhaustion accident if I were flying a maximum-endurance mission.
  • Omission. Indications that should be obvious go unseen.
    • Example: On a training cross-country flight I surreptitiously pulled the compass slaving system circuit breaker. A red flag appeared on the directional gyro portion of the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI); the Stormscope slaving went off line and the autopilot quit. My student took over to hand-fly but did not notice the failed heading indicator (and its red flag) until nearly five minutes later.
  • Expectation. Just because something has happened one way every time to date does not mean it will inevitably turn out the same way the next time.
    • Example: Many, many pilots get in the habit of saying "three green" aloud upon extending retractable landing gear, but sometimes they make the "three green" callout before the gear is finished extending. They "see" (or at least say) three green lights because they expect that will be the result.
  • Fear. Fear of damaging the airplane may paralyze a pilot's thought processes or encourage an inappropriate response.
    • Example: A pilot loses an engine on takeoff and begins an immediate return to the departure runway even when there's not enough altitude to safely make it back.

Combat this impediments to safety with:

  • Acceptance that problems may arise.
  • Confirmation of necessary tasks by using printed checklists as a back-up to memory procedures in all phases of flight.
  • Cross-checking indications to ensure nothing abnormal exists.
  • Verification of indications through reliable and time-appropriate means.
  • Prioritization of tasks and actions to ensure a safe outcome, with the airplane itself being expendable.

Aero-tip of the day: Recognize the psychological impediments to properly dealing with an abnormal or emergency situation, and take active steps to combat the causes of bad emergency decision-making.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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