I Know Everything About Flying!

I know everything about flying! An interesting thought provoking and admit it, annoying title isn’t it? I’ve never heard anyone come straight out and say it but I’ve certainly come across many who after you have been around them for a few painful moments you think to yourself, he really thinks he knows everything about flying!

The other thing I have noticed is that sometimes the younger the pilot and the less experienced the pilot, the more they seem to believe that they do really know it all. I’ve only been on Twitter a few weeks but I have already met two teenagers that give me the impression that they think they know everything about flying and they are not even qualified yet!

One of the main qualities you need as a pilot is the ability to be able to take advice and criticism, especially in a multi crew role. The single crew pilot has an even bigger task because he generally acts alone with no supervision and input from anyone else.

Instructing teaches you that students do the most amazing things, things you wouldn’t expect, at times you wouldn’t expect and in particular they can easily get mixed up in a high work load situation. I remember once sitting in a Cessna on base leg staring out of the side window thinking to myself what a great summers day, I wasn’t paying full attention to the student, I admit. I was thinking how peaceful and quiet it was up here until I suddenly realised why it was so quiet, the student had pulled back the mixture control instead of the throttle and we were in fact a glider-he had shut the engine down! Another incident also proved to me how confused students can get;

Peter Prior was the chairman of the cider makers HP Bulmer, a very intelligent and capable man he had been a captain in the British Army. I watched his first solo at Shobdon one lovely summers afternoon. He made an excellent approach, everything looked just right, he was at the correct height and angle, he rounded out perfectly and it looked as if it would be an excellent landing but suddenly we were all taken aback when full power was applied and he went around or overshot as we called it in those days. When I spoke to him afterwards he told me that he had been that nervous that instead of closing the throttle for the landing he had opened it by mistake so decided to carry on and fly the go around!

So you can see that students can operate the wrong controls or the right controls the wrong way, especially in a stressful situation and it’s not only students that are capable of getting it all horribly wrong. I used to fly with a first officer who was a complete pain in the arse, a know it all who didn’t seem to realise that it was a two crew operation, sometimes I used to wonder if  I was invisible! On an approach one day in the Airbus 318, with another captain, he misselected the wheelbrakes on instead of selecting the final stage of flap, the aircraft subsequently landed with all the wheel brakes set and all the mainwheel tyres and wheels were destroyed, thankfully the aircraft stayed on the runway but it was very fortunate that there was not a serious accident. The interesting point about this first officer is that he was probably one of the most intelligent pilots on the fleet and had come through to us on the Oxford graduate programme. So you see no matter how clever you are you, how accomplished you are, you can make a potentially disastrous  mistake that when analysed on the ground seems utterly ridiculous.

The Kegworth accident, when a BMI Boeing 737 landed across the M1, was another ‘wrong selection accident’ caused by both pilots misidentifying and then subsequently shutting down the good engine instead of the one that had been damaged and on fire. The aircraft eventually became nothing more than a useless glider that couldn’t reach the runway.

One of the most tragic ‘wrong selection’ aviation accidents was of that of the BA Trident Papa India at Staines in the 70s when a first officer on take off from Heathrow retracted the leading edge droops (high lift devices|) instead of the leading edge flaps causing the aircraft to immediately approach and then exceed the stalling angle which lead to an unrecoverable deep stall and total loss of control. All on board were killed after the aircraft struck the ground within a few minutes of take off.

How do you guard against making such mistakes? Cross checking or cross referencing is an important skill to develop to minimise potential error. Take your time, as my first simulator instructor said to me, Stay Cool and Stay Loose! Never just dive in with the first option without some thought, a moments thought can save a lifetime of regret,

As a single crew pilot it is even more vital that you make the right selection and take the right action because there is no one else to monitor what you are doing, you in fact have to develop an instant self checking action with every action you make. Obviously there are some incidents or events when you do need to take very quick decisive action but hopefully your training will have been comprehensive enough and recent enough to allow you to deal with those types of urgent emergencies expeditiously and correctly.

Attitude also plays a very big part. You must understand that no one is infallible and that everyone makes mistakes.‘You are never as good as you think you are’ is a good motto to have at the forefront of your mind. In my experience flying is a rare and wonderful privilege but you will never master it or beat it, there is always a final lesson waiting around the corner. Always be on your guard, the only weak link in the cockpit may be YOURSELF!


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