June 2, 2014
By Dan Namowitz
When a warning of smoke in a regional jet’s baggage compartment lit up the panel, the captain’s programmed response was to hit a button to extinguish the fire.
That action discharged a fire bottle in the baggage compartment, bringing to mind the basic pilot training guidance that "a fire in flight demands immediate and decisive action."
So why was the captain’s report of the occurrence to the Aviation Safety Reporting System larded with self-criticism?
It had been a false alarm.
"My adrenaline was going and so I rushed and did an unnecessary memory item," the pilot said.
During the departure climb, the nonflying pilot was trying to "shut down the APU as usual climbing through 10,000 feet. The fire test button was selected instead," the captain reported. "This caused the baggage smoke warnings to be generated, so I followed the memory item and pressed the lit baggage fire extinguishing button."
That button was located near, and resembles, the button the crew used to shut down the auxiliary power unit. Changing the design would help, the captain suggested.
So would "better discipline when it comes to dealing with possible emergency scenarios. Take an extra moment to let the adrenaline subside, reevaluate the situation, and coordinate with the other crew," the captain reflected.
Absent an emergency, reevaluating an odd silence still would have served a pilot and flight instructor who were shooting instrument approaches in a Piper PA-28 equipped with touch-screen avionics that were "new to both of us." They had been flying a radar vector for some time without hearing from approach, but when the radio call finally came, it was from the tower.
"Somehow the VHF frequency was swapped, perhaps by an inadvertent touch of the screen, and the radio was actually receiving Tower frequency again," one explained, adding, "It is important to get familiar with new equipment and what problems may occur with it (that is part of why we were training)."
Systems redundancy can be reassuring. Its downside can be complacency, as a Lancair pilot discovered, entering instrument conditions on a VFR descent from 17,500 feet despite a multitude of weather information.
"ADS-B on the plane had VFR conditions. Foreflight had VFR conditions. NOAA had VFR conditions. It wasn't for about five miles or so," the pilot wrote.
Who is the manager, and who is the machine? Finding out is why we train.
Share your experiences below about flying with advanced avionics!
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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