By Steven Daun, National Chief Pilot
When I started flying, I remember my first instructor told me always to expect my engine to quit at any time. He said this would keep me on my toes and always aware of a suitable place to land. Some 30+ years later, I still run this exercise in my mind anytime I am flying.
Today, aircraft and their systems are much more reliable. There are backups to backups and redundancies to those backups. Airplanes have automatic emergency landing capabilities and a multitude of other failsafe systems. Regardless of this technology, it is still the pilot’s responsibility to understand the systems and know what to do in case of failure. In other words, know how to manage the backup and redundant systems.
Many people ask me the best way to train for emergencies. My first response is that the best tool is sitting on your shoulders. Think of a situation and play it through in your mind. After several attempts, you will begin to formulate a plan to deal with it. You can run through scenarios regarding engine failure, avionics issues, weather issues, systems issues, and anything in between. This is tough for many pilots because nobody wants to think about bad things happening. In this case, you need to convince yourself that you aren’t thinking about bad things. Instead, you are thinking about a successful outcome.
The next most effective tool is to find a good instructor and a flight simulator. Run through the same scenarios in the simulator. Rather than guessing what will happen in the real world, you can create muscle memory by playing through these scenarios in a simulator. This is especially useful for identifying problems as they are occurring and managing situations as they appear.
If you don’t like the outcome, reset the simulator and do it repeatedly until you are satisfied. This can be used for systems, procedures, maneuvers, and any emergency you can imagine. When professional pilots train, they train in full-flight simulators. The majority of their training consists of emergencies and contingency planning. General aviation pilots should follow the same philosophy.
One group of scenarios that I have found makes most pilots uncomfortable are those dealing with the health of the engine and electrical system. Can you determine if the issue is an indicator or a real issue occurring within the system? Many pilots think that they can, but when push comes to shove, they find themselves guessing and usually making a decision that is either unwarranted or worsens the situation.
The FAA removed the “biennial” from the “flight review” because they felt it sent the wrong message. You shouldn’t only work on your proficiency every two years. Instead, you should constantly work on your it to make yourself a better pilot.
Society as a whole has become ambivalent to mechanical failures. After all, they happen so infrequently in our cars, and when they do, we pull over and call a tow truck. Very seldom do people try to figure out or learn what occurred and why. This has made us less aware of warning signs or indicators that something is about to fail. If you don’t believe this, then think of the last time you were driving your car and made a continued conscious decision to monitor the temperature, voltage, and other systems that are represented on your dashboard.
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