"Maneuvering Flight - Hazardous to Your Health?" Seminar
by ANN Correspondent Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien
If you're like me, when
a pilot tells you, "watch this!", you cringe inside. "Watch This!"
were the first words of the latest AOPA Air Safety Foundation
seminar, Maneuvering Flight - Hazardous to Your
Health? From that attention-grabbing opening to its tidy
conclusion, the seminar holds your attention and - to my great
surprise - shakes some well-established preconceptions to their
I caught a 1-hour preview of the 2-hour seminar on 1st November,
at AOPA Expo 2003 in Philadelphia. Mark Grady of the Air Safety
Foundation (ASF) presented the seminar to a packed house, and if
reaction to the preview is anything to go by, it will be well
received among the local pilots' groups, type clubs, and ad-hoc
safety meetings that are ASF's delivery means for its vaunted
How'd it Go?
Mark (below, right) began with the obligatory "instructor's
joke." Soon we learned that he wasn't simply following a
tried-and-true recipe - he has a naturally humorous delivery, and
kept the mood in the hall light even while we were discussing
gravely serious subjects.
ASF developed the seminar in close cooperation with the FAA's
safety personnel, as usual: "We all want to be singing off the same
hymn sheet!" Mark explained.
The first thing to
establish was a working definition of maneuvering flight. The
definition was a negative one: flight that is not takeoff phase,
landing phase, or direct cruising between point A and B. Examples
of maneuvering flight include student/training air work, traffic
patterns, aerial missions (traffic report, pipeline patrol, banner
towing, aerial application, etc.), and, of course, aerobatics.
There is also the Maneuver that Dare Not Speak its Name: buzzing
(more on that anon).
Video Enhances the Seminar
Characters Buzz McClanahan and Loop D. Loop are the good cop/bad
cop of the video. Buzz is the good guy, the voice of reason. He
presents the Darwin Awards, as he helpfully explains, "for
improving the gene pool by removing himself from it." (This goes
over well - the Darwin Awards are a hoary old Internet joke, but
enough pilots have never heard of them for the joke to sound as
funny as it did the first time you heard it. Loopy is the other
guy. He is very likely to collect one of the Darwins if he doesn't
straighten up and fly right. They engage in banter and Loopy
performs some braincase-challenged things. He can't stop himself,
but I guess that no one has told him that Gravity is Not Just a
Good Idea: It's the Law. Some people commented that they thought
the levity was too much; many more seemed to enjoy it. If you know
the ASF series, you know that they tend to have painfully corny
While the characters in the video are played for yucks, the
substance of the presentation is serious business. I was taken
aback to know that maneuvering flight, which produces a significant
but hardly leading percentage of GA accidents, produces a very much
higher percentage of GA fatal accidents. The reason: an accident
while maneuvering is much more likely than average to be fatal than
a takeoff, landing, or cruise prang. Fully 44% of maneuvering
accidents are fatal.
Fatal accidents are the ones we most ardently wish to
prevent… and the data presented in the seminar make it clear
that we haven't been doing as good a job on fatals as we have done
on accidents in general. Since 1938, aircraft accidents have
dropped from 125.9 per 100,000 flight hours, to 6.28 per 100,000.
But fatals, after a little improvement in the 1930s and 1940s, have
hovered at about the same number - around 1.5 fatal accidents per
100,000 flight hours.
You Mean Buzzing, Don't You?
The seminar addresses the widespread misconception - a
misconception that I certainly shared - that maneuvering accidents
are usually buzzing accidents. Buzzing, while an excellent way to
collect a posthumous Darwin, is only a small part of maneuvering
flight. To put it in statistical terms, a high percentage of
buzzing flights end in a maneuvering mishap, but a much smaller
percentage of flights that end in a maneuvering mishap involve
If not buzzing, what then? Well, maneuvering flight also
includes, says the seminar: the traffic pattern, aerial work,
formation flying, and practicing stalls and spins, among other
things. Each has its own hazards, and the hazards and
risk-management strategies for each are reviewed in depth.
An interesting part of the seminar dealt with spins. Aerobatic
pilot and instructor Nancy Lynn demonstrated a spin in an Extra
300L aerobatic monoplane… showing the altitude loss inherent
in a spin and recovery, even with the snappy recovery of this
top-drawer pilot in a top-drawer competitive bird. The verdict: if
you spin at low altitude, knowing how to recover won't help you. At
that point, better to make Pascal's wager and spend your last few
seconds in frantic prayer. (I'm joking about that of course; if you
ever get in trouble remember Bob Hoover's admonition, "Keep flying
into the crash. Don't stop flying until all the pieces have stopped
moving." God will forgive you; Newton will not).
[Aside: spin recovery performance differs dramatically from one
type to the next - a lightly loaded, i.e. to Utility category
limits, Cessna trainer, recovers with less loss of altitude than
the aerodynamically cleaner Extra, but many other common GA planes
either require more altitude, and some can't be recovered at
Nancy also appears in another video segment, playing a rogue
pilot who terrifies her passenger with a long takeoff roll followed
by a zoom takeoff in an ordinary Cessna. As she bubbles, "Isn't
this fun?" the passenger gets increasingly queasy, the audience
laughs, and one hope, the ASF's message: "don't fly like this,"
gets imprinted. (Nancy, a veteran ASF Safety Seminar presenter in
her own right, was in the audience for the seminar I attended).
Off We Go Into Opinionland
Mark polled the
audience - just to satisfy his own curiosity - about whether they
thought the FAA's change from requiring private pilot students to
demonstrate spins, to requiring only CFIs to spin, was a good or a
bad one. Like any group of pilots, they split on the issue. My own
opinions on the issue are complicated. While I think it is good
training, and that everyone would be a better pilot if he or she
had met the old two-turns-and-out-on-a-heading standard, I'm also
very conscious of the much greater amount of information that
today's pilot is expected to absorb, and skills he or she must
master, ostensibly in 40 hours. (Yeah, right. In the really real
world most students have sixty-something hours these days before
they are ready for their Private flight test). Also, one thing
interesting to me was that the percentage and number of stall/spin
fatalities has steadily declined. A stall/spin accident that is not
fatal is usually one that happens outside the pattern… maybe
the FAA is right and the current training is working at preventing
stall/spin fatalities, especially the classic base-to-final
skidding turn kind. I don't know, and I'm going to look at the ASF
statistics in more depth before I form a strong opinion on
Another Sacred Cow Feeds the Hungry Multitudes
Misconceptions and conventional wisdom continued to take a
beating as the seminar drove on, powered by Mark's lighthearted
delivery. I was astonished to find that student pilots are some of
the safest, while commercial pilots have the largest numbers of
accidents and fatal accidents. One would think that these
professionals, trained to fly at a higher standard of precision and
almost invariably instrument-rated, would be better than the
private and student pilots. But in this measure, they are not.
Why? There are at least two possibilities. One reason might be
the kind of flying they do - low and slow types of air work such as
pipeline patrol, photography, or wildlife management. Banner towing
and aerial application have their own well-known hazards. While
risks in these operations can be managed (and the seminar discusses
how), they can't be eliminated; they're inherent in the work.
Another possible reason suggests that some of these
commercial-rated pilot accidents might be prevented: some of these
pilots might suffer from complacency and overconfidence.
How Did Mark Start Doing This?
Waiting for my airliner, I ran into Mark again. Juan
Jimenez shortly joined us - weird, but we were all on the same
plane out of Philadelphia. Mark described how he came to do
seminars for ASF: "I've been in radio for years, and I've been
flying for a long time too. I was doing a presentation somewhere,
and Rod Machado was in the audience - I didn't know he was there,
but afterwards he complimented me on the job I did. Well, a few
years later one guy that did these for ASF retired, and one passed
away, and so there were a couple of openings, and Rod remembered me
and recommended me to the board. I interviewed by phone - they took
me on before we ever met face to face."
Mark's aviation background is varied, but includes a number I
bet you don't envy him - 6,600 hours pilot in command of a Cessna
152, flying traffic patrols at 80 knots. This is a classic example
of the maneuvering category that the ASF calls "aerial work,"
scoping out traffic jams from aloft for the edification of the
luckless commuters down there in the bumper-to-bumper.
He did have an unusual law enforcement assist once.
"I heard the call that a man had stolen a handbag, and I spotted
him running. He threw the bag away and slowed to a walk - he was
smart. Then he ducked into a shop and was sitting there calmly. Of
course I saw this, and he must have been surprised when every cop
car in town pulled up in front of that place! You should have seen
the look on his face when the cops were leading him out and he
looked up at my little airplane."
Mark's safety presentations have entertained him and audiences
for several years now, and promise to do so for years to come.
When Maneuvering Flight comes to your area, don't miss it. It's
free, as are all ASF Seminars (ASF is funded by donations, mostly
from individual pilots like us). If you can see it presented by
Mark Grady, that's even better.
Have you ever imagined yourself as a presenter of such a
seminar? Perhaps something like this would inform and entertain
your flying club, EAA chapter, or other group. ASF has made that
easy to do with their Seminar-in-a-Box, which is available for just
a low shipping and handling charge. See the ASF website for more