By Bob Glock
I flew from 1964 until a couple of years ago when health issues simply said it is time to admit that skills are diminishing. My recent concern is destructive failures near the airport. We fly thousands of miles and worry about engine failures, unexpected weather, and the other person's mistakes. It really feels good to have an airport “in your back pocket.”
So, where do most problems occur lately? Near the airport. Low and slow seems to be sneaking up on some of us. I've taken an unusual amount of instruction over my lifetime, and most good instructors hammer home the importance of controlling altitude and airspeed during approaches. We see more articles lately on the importance of practicing and utilizing the “go -around” if everything isn't perfect. Hey folks, we need to listen to those who demand precision or the second try. This becomes especially important when the aircraft is higher performance or may not be of the most forgiving design.
Not all of us are super pilots. Let's be honest, very few of us are. I've flown with a couple of pilots over the last fifty years or so that seem to be “part of the airplane.” It seemed they didn't even need the gauges (one of them writes a column). The key is for those who are not super pilots, and I repeat, that's most of us including instructors, is to recognize that they may need to use a bit more intelligence and bit less confidence. If we aren't lined up right, resist the urge to make that steep turn at approach speeds or worse yet, at a speed that has drifted below ideal.
I'm sure that the relatively excessive instruction I've had has helped me avoid problems, not because of better skills, but because of better decision making. Now, are all instructors created equally perfect? Maybe not. While training for a Commercial Rating, many years ago, I had a young (building time) instructor pull the power on a night departure in a Cessna 150. My response was to fly straight ahead into what I knew to be a farm field. He, instead, said we were returning to the airport. He said, “I'll show you. He also scared me, but we made it. The choice therefore was okay. What was not okay was that we never discussed, nor had any other evaluations of the parameters that would support that choice to return. We didn't discuss rate of climb, altitude, glide expectations, wind corrections or turn techniques. I fired that instructor.
I also saw a very competent and experienced instructor allow a student to make a steep turn to recover the centerline after a way-too-long right crosswind. That was undoubtedly a safe maneuver for a person of his skill level but not a very good message to give to a student.
So, let’s keep out of the headlines by using our heads and being good pilots rather than “cool” pilots. It's not a competition, so let's leave a margin for error and safety. Get your trusted instructor to review approaches and go-arounds, no matter how good you are, or think you are. Several years ago, I had an instructor while on short final say, “There are deer on the runway.” Practicing the proper sequence for the procedure made it much more likely that I would react properly in the real situation. It's no fun seeing crumpled planes on the front page.
The NTSB reports remind us that VFR into IMC, and lack of respect for adverse weather, can lead to loss of control for even experienced pilots. Stay safe, and I’ll see you at a WINGS program.