A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

March 2007

You Learn Something New Every Day

"And there I was, with my fuel gauges on empty, the cloud below me, the mountains below the clouds, and I was lost.”   The old pilot looked around the group for a reaction. No one spoke. No one believed him, or had already been there and done that.   Just another story at the hangar-flying session. 

I can’t begin to count the near death experiences of pilots I hear.   Guys who have had engine failures over water, electrical failures at night ... in IMC, hit other aircraft in flight, got lost in cloud, were forced down in snow,   departed from a 900 foot strip with twice the legal weight on board, barely cleared 3 foot trees at the end of the runway .... the stories go on and on.   Each time it gets told, the details get better. Makes you wonder what really happened.  

Any pilots wife could tell you the real story.   Or something very close to it. She heard the first account, and by the time the husband has told it to five or ten more people, she must wonder if it was the same incident he was talking about.   Ever notice that?

There are several publications that carry these “first person” accounts of accidents, incidents and close calls.   They’re actually quite valuable in that the reader probably learns something from the mistakes of the pilots who write them.   Statistics show that there’s a very high percentage of human error involved in the total number of accidents that occur.   It’s funny how so many of these published stories allude to the “other” factors of the authors particular incident. Sometimes though, the writer will face up to the fact that he made a mistake. A guy who does that should be admired.   He’s man enough to let his rear hang out for all to see and laugh at.   Many readers, privately or with their buddies, gloat over the fact that nothing like that would ever happen to them.   But some pilots, and I count myself in this group, appreciate the honesty, and will admit to learning from the experience of others.   So let’s encourage the continuation of submissions from these people.

Most pilots will never experience a close call or an incident which warrants a discussion with Transport Canada.   They go through their entire careers with nothing worthy of contributing to a magazine.   Think of your own little mistakes, like taking off with the carb heat selected to ON, dialing up a wrong frequency, forgetting to put the transponder on ALT, failing to lock a cowling lever down, leaving a flight plan open .... and there are countless others.   Every little oversight doesn’t necessarily lead to an accident.   It’s only when they’re not dealt with properly that things can go wrong.   A door unlatched for instance, shouldn’t cause the aircraft to crash on takeoff.   But we know that it has happened.   Using an incorrect frequency is in itself, not a cause for a mid-air collision.   But again, it has been know to happen. 

The longer we fly without bad things happening to us, the more complacent we become. Checklists can become so routine so as to be irrelevant.   So much gets taken for granted, that one day, it will all bite you.   Your airplane is nothing more than a cannibal in that regard. Just waiting, patiently watching for that little mistake, oversight or lazy procedure.   Read the TSB reports that are available to all each month.   Keep on talking, and listening at your local “hangar-flying” sessions.   Heed the lessons offered by those with enough courage to write about their dumb mistakes and oversights in those “first person” accounts.   Don’t laugh at them.   We can all learn something.   A bad day is the day we fail to make a new discovery.   Or, as is more commonly stated .... you learn something new every day.   But only if your mind is open to it.  

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