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Training Tip: Too tired to be safeTraining Tip: Too tired to be safe

The first clue that you were off your game today became apparent immediately after the preflight inspection. Belted in and ready to start up the trainer, you looked outside to clear the prop area and realized that one of the tiedown ropes was still attached to the wing strut of your Cessna 150.
Are you too tired to fly?

Not a good beginning for a session of flight test prep. And now, in the practice area, it’s obvious from your uncoordinated control inputs and inattention to altitude that you are just wasting your time. This isn’t like you, so what’s going on?

Very likely fatigue. A lack of sleep the previous night, or an end-of-the-day rush to the airport to squeeze in a practice session before next week’s checkride, can produce counterproductive results. That embarrassing oversight during the preflight inspection, and then making basic errors while flying maneuvers you usually nail and enjoy, are telltale signs.

Don’t think of fatigue as a factor to evaluate only in your pre-launch condition. Even if you are well rested and in fine form for flying, the possibility of fatigue setting in aloft is a risk that needs consideration.

How long do you think you could fly on a given day before fatigue sets in and erodes your physical skills and judgment? Now add moderate or worse turbulence, or another adverse weather surprise, to that flight scenario. Does it change your estimate? Do you have a sense of how fatigue could affect your judgment under challenging circumstances?

The July 25 “Training Tip: Caught on top” related the dangerous difficulties encountered by a pilot trapped above an overcast on a cross-country flight. It was an all-too-familiar example of continued visual flight into deteriorating weather, but the pilot’s written narrative also shared the significant role fatigue played in a deteriorating ability to make decisions.

Preoccupied with fatigue, with a challenging landing ahead, the pilot could not resist a strong desire to terminate the flight quickly. This led to rejecting what probably was the safest option—a 180-degree turn back to a point along the route where a VFR descent was possible, then resuming the original course. Instead, the pilot initiated a harrowing letdown on instruments through clouds.

Fatigue has many definitions and symptoms. A pilot who feels too tired to fly safely is surely experiencing one of the most insidious of those symptoms.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification, Flight Training, Instrument Rating
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