Pilot's tip of the week

The Impact of Fatigue


Subscriber question:

"I finished what was a longer day of flying than usual. I was fine until I tried to fly an ILS and was weaving down it like a 'drunken sailor' in no time at all. I was lucky to break out and land before I really lost it. Can fatigue really jump you that quickly ... or is something more serious going on?" — Anonomous


“Research shows that after 17 hours awake, our cognitive and visual-motor skills are similar to someone with a blood alcohol level of .05—over the legal limit according to the FAA. So, you really were flying that approach like a ‘drunken sailor.’

Just like alcohol, fatigue impacts attention, concentration, judgment, reaction time, communication skills, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making. All of these hit when we can least afford it: at the end of a long day of flying. Because many symptoms of fatigue can mimic hypoxia or dehydration, we may think they will go away during descent or after drinking some water. They won’t.

Good sleep hygiene is the best way to prevent fatigue. Have a regular time to wake up and go to bed. Establish a routine to wind down at the end of the day. Keep your room cool and dark. Avoid screens for the last hour or two before going to bed, even if that’s difficult for you. And don’t stay in bed for more than half an hour if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night. Get up, do a boring activity for half an hour. Then get back into bed.

Airline pilots have limits on the length of their duty day. GA pilots need to set our own. Next time you are planning a long flight, make your total time awake at your projected landing time part of your preflight planning. Even if it’s inconvenient, revise the plan if you will be ‘flying under the influence’ by the time you land.”

Learn more about nighttime hazards with this audio lesson from Airmanship 2.0.

Have you ever found yourself piloting an aircraft and realized you were dangerously tired?

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