(Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/Richard Collins)

Here is the second part of Richard's views on Sharp Piloting ....


“That was a dumb mistake” is a frequent pronouncement, but I am not aware of any smart mistakes, especially in airplanes! It takes a relatively high level of innate intelligence to perform well as a pilot: Being well-educated in things other than flying is not relevant.

The word intelligence derives from the Latin verb “intelligere”, meaning to realise or understand. Doctors are smart. Safe pilots are smart. That doesn’t mean all doctors are safe pilots.

In accidents where low altitude and airspeed were a factor but the mechanical things were doing fine, we tend to think of them as primarily related to a pilot who operated from a runway of marginal length, or who attempted a take-off that wasn’t really possible, or a go-around that started too late. Where intelligence comes in is in being smart enough to identify the impossible before it is too late. In a light airplane this is most often done with what you see and feel.

It is easy to see how pilots who can’t concentrate on the right thing, or who do not understand angle-of-attack, get into trouble. The common threads are high and/or fast approaches, touchdowns well down the runway, and then an attempted go-around that is literally impossible. I can’t think of any situation where it is wise to go around once the wheels are on the ground, or following a prop strike after “porpoising”!

A pilot can avoid all this if, at 500 feet and descending on finals, he is smart enough to look at airspeed, rate of descent, the sight-picture of the runway and everything else, and understand it all to be OK to continue. If not, a go-around from that point has a great chance of succeeding. What you see and feel is what counts.

A high percentage of stall/spin accidents would not happen if pilots followed the simple good practice of never exceeding 30 degrees of bank below a certain altitude. That would vary with the airplane but in most airplanes a good level would be 1,000 to 2,000 feet.

For those lucky enough to have access to one it takes intelligence to operate a modern automated airplane. There is also a requirement to understand the ways automation can bite and how to handle it. Automation protects the airplane from the pilot, but if any part of the system (INCLUDING GPS!) loses elements of information, it is basically telling the pilot “You fly it, I am in over my head.” At that point the pilot’s role reverts from computer operator to stick, rudder and power pilot.

Weather is a frequent factor in accidents. An intelligent pilot understands not only the weather that exists, but what is causing that weather. To avoid weather surprises a pilot must have a good knowledge of meteorology and be a really talented thinker. If it looks mean it is mean, and airborne weather radar does not provide yes/no indications – flying VFR in marginal conditions or IFR in instrument meteorological conditions requires intelligent interpretation.

Look out for Part 3 …….

Tony Birth