Ounce of Prevention Part 12 of 12

Preventive Medicine

December 1, 2001

Safety strategies for 2002

Over the past year, we've taken a detailed look at the causes of aircraft accidents and determined what you can do to reduce your risk of being involved in one. Now we'd like to provide a plan to help you incorporate these practices into your flying schedule with some key strategies.

Because if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Although statistics for the year 2000 are still being compiled for publication in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's 2001 Nall Report, Executive Director Bruce Landsberg reports, "There's nothing new here." What we know will hurt us can, indeed, hurt us.

A monthly ounce of prevention

  • Month one: night currency
  • Month two: instrument currency
  • Month three: landing currency
  • Month four: stall recognition and recovery
  • Month five: preflight planning
  • Month six: takeoffs and high-density-altitude ops
  • Month seven: collision avoidance and airport ops
  • Month eight: aircraft maintenance review
  • Month nine: partial-panel IFR procedures and decision making

We also know that pilots who fly regularly are less exposed to the risks of rust and gain experience to help them cope with unusual or challenging situations. But unless you're a professional pilot, it can be tough to get in the hour every week that you promised yourself when you started this whole aviation project.

Just as many of us have learned to schedule appointments for medical checkups, dates with significant others, and even exercise, we need to set aside dedicated time for practicing our craft. And although flying around the countryside keeping the world safe for aviation has its place, we can use one flight per month to brush up on particular tasks — and gradually lower our odds of turning one of those flights in-to an NTSB report.

You can make these flights on your own, find another pilot to go with you, or schedule time with an instructor. When the 12-installation "Ounce of Prevention" series began, we encouraged you to use the safety strategies included each month on your next flight; now we challenge you to go one step further and commit yourself to taking that monthly dose of preventive medicine. For nine sample proficiency flights, read on.

First things first

Start off your year of flying safely with some work during the dark hours. "The number of accidents are out of proportion" to the number of hours flown at night, says Landsberg. Winter nights are cold, and they're also long, so you need not stay up too late to get some good night practice. When you do fly at night, pay attention to the gauges: Flying visually in the dark is more like instrument flying than day VFR, and flying night IFR is more hazardous than its daytime counterpart. During this training session, review unusual attitudes and emergency procedures, especially electrical system failures. And fly to other airports for practice visual approaches into different runway environments. The result? You'll be night current for the next three months — as you wait for the longer summer days to come.

For instrument pilots, the next month's flight may serve as an instrument proficiency check (IPC). Your quest: to seek out approaches you've never flown before and try them on under the hood or, better yet, in actual conditions. Focus on missed approach procedures and using GPS and other avionics properly. For those without an instrument rating, here's an opportunity to get some hood time to add to the limited amount you may have flown for your private ticket. A little refresher can give you just enough talent to turn yourself around should you encounter low visibility or clouds.

The third proficiency base to cover is landings. We make at least one at the end of every flight, so we should be good at them, right? Well, accident stats continue to show the error of this reasoning. Landing accidents historically spike in the spring as the wind picks up, according to Landsberg. The only solution is practice and following the checklist for perfect landings: Fly a good pattern, retrim when you change configuration, use landmarks to guide your descent, stabilize your approach, keep your airspeed in check, and aim for the second stripe. Seek out a crosswind to test your skill, and don't hesitate to go around and land elsewhere if your skill isn't up to the crosswind you find. Also, if you fly tailwheel aircraft, this is a good opportunity to tune up your conventional-gear landings.

Building on the basics

Low-level maneuvering accidents, though often the result of one pilot trying to demonstrate his prowess to others, stem from a lack of knowledge about the airplane's performance envelope, particularly at low speeds. Turns to base that end in stalls and spins get classified in this category, as do improper aerobatics and low passes that misjudge the airplane's climb capability. Devote some time to slow flight and imminent stalls one month, or give yourself a treat and take an unusual attitudes or aerobatics course from an experienced instructor. Such practice also gives you confidence in the event of a wake turbulence encounter.

Once you've reviewed aircraft handling, it's time to revisit your preflight skills. "Well begun is half done," says Mary Poppins in the classic Disney movie, and she has a point — good planning starts the flight off right and helps you cope with unforeseen circumstances. If you haven't launched a cross-country flight in a while, make one your mission for month five. If you regularly fly trips, pay special attention to alternates and options, and take a hard look at your fuel management techniques to see if they need polishing. No matter what, prepare for your next trip as though preparing for a checkride — and note the places where you haven't been as thorough as an examiner would demand.

When the summer comes around, density altitude rises along with the temperature. Review takeoff performance for your airplane and construct a scenario where you might have the airplane near max gross weight. If you plan to operate from a field at more than 3,000 feet msl, take a careful look at how hot it needs to be before you reconsider a takeoff. You may find it's not as hot as you think. Just because you can land at an airport doesn't mean you can take off from the same runway under similar conditions. Wait until cooler morning or evening hours to launch.

Sharpening the edge

Take the opportunity during one of the hectic summer months to tune up your scan. Fine weather means busy skies and busy airports — make it a point to look both ways any time you cross a runway or taxiway, whether you be-lieve it to be active or not. Say no yourself, "Runway 30 is clear; Runway 12 is clear," for example, prior to taxiing across another runway as you clear each final approach path. Review airport diagrams (available on AOPA Online: www.aopa.org/asf/publications/taxi/) be-fore you fly to an unfamiliar airport. You can also take the ASF's runway incursions course online. Though initial midair collision data for 2001 show that the numbers of fatal and total accidents have fallen significantly, there is an element of randomness about these accidents that should keep us from dropping our guard.

As the warm season winds down, take one monthly session to give your airplane a thorough once-over. Have the hours spent flying instead of keeping house led to cockpit disarray? Have minor maintenance items gone unsquawked? Most important, have the bugs of summer formed an impenetrable layer on your leading edges? A good wash and some TLC should spruce things up and give you an opportunity to make a list of items to address at the next maintenance-shop session. "Listen for a moment" as you start up and look for signs of aging, "such as gyros that make noise, that are slow to erect," says Landsberg. If you rent, use the hour you would normally fly and go over the logbooks of the aircraft you rent with n instructor or mem.ber of the FBO or club maintenance staff. Get to know the airplane a little better — you may just learn something about the type or model you didn't know before.

At this point in your currency plan, about six months have passed since your IPC — if you took one in month two of the currency plan — or other instrument practice. As a final brush stroke to your picture of proficiency, plan another session in actual or simulated IMC. This time, turn your attention to partial-panel work. Also, have your instructor or safety pilot pose judgment questions to you regarding decision making in marginal VFR conditions. For example, you launch a flight from your home base to a destination less than 100 nm away, with visibility forecast to be around four miles in haze, with the ceiling roughly 3,000 feet agl. What are your options? When do you decide to turn around? Press on? File IFR in the air? There's a misconception floating around that VFR-into-IMC accidents only happen to pilots without instrument ratings.

Staying solid

Our menu of flights takes you into the first weeks of fall 2002. As the year winds down, you should be proficient enough to safely fly trips in the fine autumn months, and perhaps travel over the holidays with your family and friends. That's what a program of currency is all about: being prepared to make the flights you want while reducing your chances of becoming a statistic.


E-mail the author at julie.boatman@aopa.org.