ARE WE PRACTICING THE RIGHT STUFF?

Recently a Cirrus crashed while attempting to execute a go around. In another accident, a Grumman Tiger overshot a four thousand foot runway and crashed into a lumber mill beyond the end of the runway. In both of these situations, the airplane was clearly capable of doing what the pilot wanted it to do but because of poor airmanship an accident resulted.

Such behavior is not restricted to general aviation pilots only; it is also happening at the airlines. For example, the National Transportation safety Board (NTSB) just released the results of an accident at Denver Colorado wherein a Boeing 737 ran off the side of the runway and was destroyed while attempting a crosswind take off. The NTSB concluded the pilot possessed adequate rudder control and could have avoided the accident. Then there is the Buffalo NY accident where the airline captain was criticized, again by the NTSB, for improper stall recovery procedures.

In each of these and many other accident reports that are available on the NTSB web site, it appears to me that we have pilots who have forgotten or perhaps never acquired some basic airmanship skills.
Based upon what I see while doing flight tests and flight reviews, I fear we are putting more emphasis on the gadgets than we are on the basic flying skills. I know pilots who can use every feature of the Garmin 496 but can’t land on the center line. I also know a pilot who’s alleged check out in his new and very complex aircraft never included stalls or short and soft field take offs and landings. But you should see how he can use the autopilot.

Are our instructors becoming so fascinated with technology that they no longer look at basic airmanship skills during flight reviews and aircraft check outs? Are we as pilots taking the easy way out by not practicing the basic skill maneuvers such as slow flight, stalls and precision landings? While it is great and in fact necessary to learn how to operate all the new gadgets we have in our airplanes, they are not a substitute for basic skills like how to recover from a stall, make a short field landing or a perform a go around.

In a recent blog post, Bob Martens challenged us to look to the Practical Test Standards as a way to measure and improve our proficiency. I support that suggestion. But based upon my observation, I don’t think we as pilots or our instructors are achieving the standards spelled out there.

I would like to challenge pilots to try a few maneuvers to test or refresh your basic skills. I suggest you work on these with your friendly CFI until you are comfortable.

To begin with, do you know what your aircraft operating handbook says about the numbers and procedures for short and soft field take offs and landings. When I ask that question on flight reviews, I often get answers that are very vague. Most handbooks have very specific procedures. After reviewing your handbook, go out and practice using those numbers and procedures.

Landing on the center lineWhile taxiing, put the nose wheel exactly on the center line. Now keep it there on the take off. Next, make a landing with left main wheel on the center line. Most pilots land on the left of the center line and I bet you have to try a few times to get this right. Is it important to be able to land on the center line? Only when you have a crosswind and a narrow runway.

Another great exercise is to perform slow flight in the full flap configuration. This gets the power up and creates all those left turning tendencies. That will get your right foot in the game as it needs to be on a go around or soft field takeoff. Stay with the maneuver long enough to be sure you have the speed, altitude and heading stabilized.

As a flight review finisher, I often put a towel over the instrument panel and ask the pilot to take me home. You will be surprised how well you do without any instruments to distract you. After doing this successfully, you no longer need to worry about the loss of just one of your instruments.

Then of course try some accuracy landings. While on downwind, pick a safe touchdown spot on the runway and then land on it. The pilot who over ran the four thousand foot runway obviously was not able to do this maneuver.

Sure, learn about and play with your new stack of toys, but remember, it is our basic airmanship skills that get the airplane up and down, so let’s be sure we are practicing the “right stuff”.

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