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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Playing flight instructor has its perils

Mentoring a student pilot through flight training can be a very rewarding experience, but it's important for non-CFI mentors to remember that they are not flight instructors.

On August 21, 2002, a student pilot was killed and his private pilot friend was seriously injured during a landing accident at Dart Airport in Mayville, New York. The flight left Dart Airport for a short trip to South Dayton (about 22 nm) for ice cream. The student pilot owned the Piper Tri-Pacer they were flying, and had logged about 24 hours of instruction. The flight to South Dayton was uneventful.

After leaving South Dayton, they flew over the student's house and then returned to Mayville, with the student pilot flying the majority of the flight. The student entered the traffic pattern for Runway 13, and his first approach was "way too high," resulting in a go-around. On the student's second attempt, they "seemed right on the glideslope," when the airplane "suddenly dropped down" and hit power lines. The private pilot attempted to reach for the controls and apply power, but it was too late.

The airplane hit the top of a 40-foot-tall utility pole and power lines that are 250 feet from the approach end of the runway. The power lines were marked with orange ball-shaped wire markers for increased visibility.

The student pilot had begun flying the Tri-Pacer about five months before the accident. According to his flight instructor, he was a good pilot, but she hadn't signed him off for solo flight because of his performance during landings. She said that the student would get "very tense and really nervous" during landings.

The private pilot had about 600 hours total time, 450 of which was in the Tri-Pacer.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the student pilot's failure to maintain adequate altitude during the landing approach, and the private pilot's inadequate supervision, which resulted in the aircraft striking a marked utility pole.

Taking students for flights is a great way for pilots to introduce them to all that flying has to offer. It can show them what they will be able to do once they pass their private pilot checkride, and serve as motivation. It's even OK to let them take the controls, but it's important to remember that the pilot in command ultimately is responsible for the safety of the flight. Students will make mistakes--that's part of the learning process. Flight instructors spend a lot of time learning to recognize those mistakes and how to correct them safely. It's best to leave the teaching to the teachers.

For more information on how to successfully mentor a student pilot, and how to find a student to mentor in your area, visit AOPA's Project Pilot Web site.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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