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CFI Tips

Remember that snake

Learning to listen to that inner voice

"You knew it was a snake when you picked it up!"

My friend Richard first used this line on me several years ago after hearing how I had experienced a disaster of sorts. While the lesson didn't directly involve an instructional activity, I'm sure every CFI will be able to see how it applies to teaching--particularly for primary students.

The weather was forecast to be ugly, but the fishing reports were promising. Despite some misgivings about the view from the dock, I could not resist the chance to "sack up" some trout. Plus, I figured I could beat the worst of the weather by making a quick retreat if necessary. You can guess the rest of the story. The fish were biting better than expected, the weather worsened more quickly than forecast, and I ended up camped out at a fishing shack on an oyster reef, huddled under the porch while getting soaked.

Richard was right. I knew better than to push the weather. After all, pilots make decisions like this all the time. However, that day I let my enthusiasm outweigh my judgment and ended up relearning a lesson I already knew and getting "snake bit" in the process.

The same thing keeps happening in aviation, particularly as it relates to maneuvering flight. In fact, this area of operation has surpassed inadvertent encounters with IMC as one of the leading causes of accidents in general aviation. Flying low, making uncoordinated steep turns close to the ground, failure to understand proper rudder use--all contribute. There's been some improvement in recent years, as the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's 2006 Joseph T. Nall Report indicates. But maneuvering flight has been a consistent leader in fatalities.

I strongly suspect that, the majority of the time, the problem begins when a pilot ignores that little voice that tells him or her that the contemplated maneuver is a bad idea and proceeds to do something dumb. If you want to read more about the situation and how to avoid a maneuvering flight accident, take a look at the ASF Maneuvering Flight Safety Advisor.

I suspect we all have done something dumb, knowing full well that we could come to grief, yet pressed on anyway. So, the next time you are tempted to try something risky in an airplane, remember that snake.

Ken Wittekiend, a CFII and FAA FAAST Team representative, owns Promark Aviation Services in Burnet, Texas. He owns a Beech Bonanza and a Piper Super Cub.

By Ken Wittekiend

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