Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner (Mastery Flight Training, Inc./Flight Instructor Hall of Fame inductee)

(Ed. Note: Thomas uses another actual occurrence to illustrate the fact that in many aviation situations the same things can apply regardless of aircraft type)

“A report released by the U.S. Air Force points to pilot error as the primary cause of a Hercules crash that killed all nine service-members onboard ... According to the report, the crew failed to respond appropriately when one of the aircraft’s four engines lost power on the take-off roll. In spite of the power loss, the aircraft was able to make it into the air. Almost immediately after take-off, the problem was identified, and the pilot made the decision to return to the airport. 

The investigation concluded that the aircraft was still flyable, but a series of procedural and aircraft handling failures, compounded by confusion and uncertainty in the cockpit, led the pilot to turn toward the inoperative engine at a low airspeed and higher-than-recommended bank angle. This was followed by a hard left rudder input "which resulted in a subsequent skid below three-engine minimum controllable airspeed, a left-wing stall, and the aircraft’s departure from controlled flight.”

The reportlists several factors that contributed to the crash, including:

·       the crew’s failure to adequately prepare for emergencies 

·       failure to reject the take-off

·       improperly executed after take-off and engine shutdown checklists and procedures

·       failure of the maintenance crew to properly diagnose and repair the engine.

Often, a system failure or other emergency is only the set-up for an eventual crash. Discipline, adherence to procedures, and systems knowledge, backed up with emergency procedures and checklists, will determine the outcome when something goes terribly wrong.

We tend to think of inflight emergencies as isolated events; individual problems to be identified and solved. This is especially true for the vast majority of general aviation pilots who receive all their instruction in actual aircraft - where it is difficult and at times even impossible to accurately and/or safely present emergency scenarios, because doing so is just too risky in actual flight. Typical practice scenarios might be:

·      Lose an engine

               Establish Best Glide or “blue line” speed, as appropriate, 

         Identify where you will go, maybe glide or manoeuvre in that condition for a bit, then power up and recover. 

·      Electrical fire in flight?

             Run through the checklist (or “talk your way through the procedure”, because you don’t want to actually turn off electrical power), 

              then call it good and move on to the next task. 

But Instead, we need to think about each abnormal or emergency condition as the first item in a series of actions and decisions that end with the airplane safely on the ground. Instead of dealing with a simulated problem and then moving on to the next syllabus item, think about everything you’d need to do after noting the new status, through and including getting your passengers and yourself out of the airplane on the ground.

I’m working with an Instrument Instructor candidate who in flight today used a phrase I’ve repeated many times before: “What are you doing now? What happens next? What happens after that?” That line of questions is often used to prepare for upcoming actions while proceeding along an instrument approach or missed approach course. Mishap history shows, however, that we should apply the same thinking to teaching, practicing and actually flying abnormal and emergency procedures. 

 For example, that electrical fire might proceed something like this:

  • Electrical smoke or fire condition identified.

  • Emergency procedure: turn off alternator/generator and battery

  • Panel goes dark. Some flight instruments rendered inoperative. Autopilot, if engaged, turns off. Communication and navigation go away.

  • Instantaneous transition from autopilot-coupled, GPS-guided flight to hand-flown, partial panel/lost comm. flight in a dark cockpit … while still dealing with electrical smoke or fire!

  • Continue with the Electrical Fire checklist while hand-flying partial panel. Ventilate the cabin.

  • Possible need to enter an Emergency Descent if the fire does not go out. Probable off-airport landing (possibly out of low clouds), or a lost-comm. arrival to a runway. 

  • If the fire goes out, turn everything off (still hand-flying partial panel), then turn on essential items and ensure nothing you restore begins to smoke or burn again.

  • Re-acquire situational awareness and communication. Select a suitable nearby airport. Acquire information and brief for approach and landing. Reduced-capability descent and approach (possibly in IMC). 

  • What if the runway environment is not visible at minimums? Do you miss the approach? Do you continue anyway, making a landing (or controlled crash) on or somewhere near the runway? 

  • After landing and coming to a stop, evacuate the aircraft.

 I’m something of an old-school type where the current philosophy of Scenario-Based Training (SBT) is concerned. I wholeheartedly agree that instructors should incorporate realistic scenarios into training. Where I differ from the modern mainstream is that I think we need to hone task-based skills first, and then add scenarios to make it real. 

Concert pianistslearn the basics, then apply that learning to advance situations. And the good ones keep practicing the basics throughout their entire career. Similarlypilots need to do the same thing: master the basics, then apply them to specific situations. Done well, the pilot can then correlate what he/she has learned and practiced to an unusual situation that presents itself in flight. Every decade or so we find regulators unveiling the latest “back to basics” program …  because the basics are that important.

Where I don’t see it happening much is in scenario-based abnormal and emergency procedures training ... especially if we train exclusively in actual aircraft. We need to continue to practice and improve on our emergency skills preparedness.... When you practice emergencies or study emergency checklists, approach it like that instructor candidate: ask yourself not only what you’ll do now, but also what you’ll do next, and what you’ll do after that, all the way to exiting or evacuating the aircraft on the ground”.


Tony Birth