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Have You Ever Just "LOST IT" In An Airplane?

by 'Jim Trusty 2005

If you have ever "lost it" in an airplane, as a result did you do something that was very unprofessional or just plain stupid? What did you use for an excuse? Distracted? Lack of concentration or focus? Flying at night? Instrument failure? Disorientation? Strange airport? Student? Different aircraft? Co-pilot? Memory lapse? Alzheimers? Motivation Deficit Disorder (MDD)? DUH? Medication, prescription/ otherwise? Or any other very good excuses for what almost happened. Would you like to know what really happened and start preparing now so that it never rears its ugly head again?

First and foremost, and as long as you are listed as the Pilot in Command, it's your fault! Whatever it was, no matter how it happened or where or why, it is your fault as the PIC.

And second, as long as you continue to be involved in aviation, it will happen again! It has been explained to me that all humans make mistakes, errors in judgment, and wrong assumptions, and that they will continue doing this until they die. That might be true, but I really think we are able to counteract some of this by proper training and preparation. Supposedly we are trained professionals, highly skilled to fly an airplane, and as such we should be held to a higher level of expertise than others. Let's see if we can at least become better prepared for the next time than we were for the first. A clear definition is not really needed, but you do need to feel secure in your own mind that you can take control in any situation.

The biggest reason for most everything that happens to us in an airplane is something that your instructor told you on the first flight - YOU ARE BEHIND THE AIRPLANE. And it happens as we are on the way to the airport, during taxi, takeoff, in flight, landing, and again on the way home. We fill that peanut head with everything in the world for hours on end - news, family, war, work, play - and then BOOM, let's go flying! We are actually NOT mentally prepared for that challenge, but off we go anyway. Now all we need to do to complete the circuit is to be just a little late, not enough to hurt anything but enough to skip the checklist, the walk around, or the weather briefing for both ends of the flight, and that sets us up to do something goofy. Preoccupation can be deadly.

This article came to mind as I watched the latest RUNWAY SAFETY DVD from the FAA and saw actual pilots, in tail draggers to big iron, drive right through a HOLD, taxi to the wrong runway, and read back a clearance and then do just the opposite.

I'm going to tell you something that you should already know. Flying an airplane is not a walk in the park. It is hard work, it takes concentration, it takes experience, and it takes YOU to be ready for that flight. Don't be fooled when some PC (politically correct) people try to tell you that what happened to you is because your mama spanked you as a child or that you were mistreated in the Army or that your spouse doesn't understand you. Believe me, it's not going to work if someone gets hurt or with whoever or whatever you tore up, and it certainly is not going to fly as an excuse or reason with the FAA or NTSB. Those organizations are looking first at pilot error, and when that happens it leaves a trail a mile wide. So if something like this does happen to you, be prepared for some legal trouble with them.

What can we do to stop this kind of misadventure from happening? Drones, maybe? A three-person crew? Critical inspection before each flight by a regulating agency? Mandatory recurrency every six months? A physical every six months? Required attendance at safety seminars? I don't know.

I have seen fully trained, current, young, healthy, vibrant pilots fly to their death 10 minutes after takeoff. What could have possibly taken place during that time to change that person into a zombie? There's just no easy answer.

I still put a lot of faith in continued training, safety meetings, reading NTSB reports, identifying a problem and getting some help with it, knowing the limits for you and your craft and staying within them, adding something to your ticket, and always, always THINK! I wish I had that all inclusive answer that would fit every one of us and every situation, but there is none. As aviation gets smarter by the hour and pilots fail to realize that something is missing from them personally, more accidents, incidents, mishaps and crashes will occur.

The simple truth is that if we as the pilots of these airplanes don't do something to slow down these flagrant violations that lead to accidents and deaths, then some government agency will take over that task from us. They will not find that magic answer or cure all but they will be able to add one more stick to our load, and for most of us that is not a good thing.

Let's just sit down right now and have a little talk with ourselves (although you might not want to mention that you do this on your next FAA Medical exam). Let's make a promise or three that we will get back into a routine that has proven itself to be safe for many other pilots and for a long time. Let's arrive, leave, fly, land and return home safely by following the prescribed methods that we spent years as pilots learning. Write down this last statement and be safe: ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT ACCIDENTS ARE CAUSED AND ARE THEREFORE PREVENTABLE!

Permission required to reprint this copyrighted article. (2005)

Jim Trusty, ATP/CFI, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 and 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate Pilot/"Gold Seal" Flight & Ground Instructor/FAA Aviation Safety Counselor/National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been reading his work since 1973 in publications worldwide