(Acknowledgements: Air Facts – Dick’s blog)

The elusive BIG PICTURE’

Dick says: “This is often referred to as SITUATIONAL AWARENESS. I often ask new pilots in flight what they are thinking about. Too many times the answer is “I don’t know!” The correct answer might have covered where they are, what the airplane is doing, what they are doing, and what comes next, and what comes after that – and so on until the airplane is safely down and parked.

Another question I like to ask when it seems like the airplane is ahead of them on an arrival is how many flying miles they have to go until touchdown. That one can really get blank stares, but it never works out right if there is a lot of altitude and speed and not much distance to fly. A pilot has to stay ahead of the airplane. That simply means that the pilot has to be thinking ahead all the way to touch-down.

I like to relate the big picture to the relationship between the airplane and the weather. There is no way to know exactly what the weather is going to be from minute to minute. What you see is what you get. But the pilot who doesn’t make the effort to project his thinking into and through those clouds that are up ahead doesn’t really have a chance should something bad be lurking.

It is said that accidents are often the result of a series of bad moves. That might be true but it is also usually true that there is a time when the series can be broken and the deal salvaged without damage. I will use an example of bad behaviour to illustrate this.

Occasionally, a pilot may be overcome by the desire to “show” the airplane to people on the ground. Whilst there may be fewer instances of low flying “buzz jobs” now than there used to be, they still lead to some accidents. Of course, properly done, buzz jobs can be safe enough, but when a pilot’s mind moves from thinking about flying to thinking about the quality of the buzz job, that means trouble. Most accidents during buzz jobs do not occur on the first pass - they come as the pilot attempts to improve on the first one. So, BEST NEVER TO BUZZ - it is dangerous, but if you must do it, do it right first time and go away!

Having command of the big picture includes knowing when to quit. When the weather is low, pilots often crash while attempting one or more approaches after the first one doesn’t work. That has proved to be lethal. There are only a few things in flying where you can use the old “cut-and-try again” method, but if the big picture is well in mind, that should never be necessary.”

Tony Birth