Have you ever pushed when you should have pulled, turned right when you should have turned left, gone north when you should have gone south or turned something on when you should have turned it off? Of course you have, human beings will always make mistakes and that in itself is not a major problem. The problems come when you are not able to accept that you are capable of making mistakes and not adopting techniques to minimise such mistakes together with a belt and braces system of reviewing your actions to ensure your selection is correct. This is the basis of Threat & Error Management (TEM)
Of course there are individuals who never make mistakes, this article isn’t relevant to them but they are probably busy giving flying advice on the internet anyway!
Let’s talk about selection in the cockpit. how many pilots, SELECT – CHECK – SWITCH – CHECK? Most pilots in fact just select and switch and then fail to check that whatever was switched is in fact doing what they want it to!.
Let’s take flaps.
I watched a training captain in the simulator once make a circling approach with a GPWS failure. He called for flaps in three separate stages but I had failed the flap motor. Neither he nor the first officer noticed that all though flap had been selected down, the flap wasn’t running out. Mind you they soon noticed on final approach when the stick shaker (stall warner) went off!
So we have four things there – Select it – check it – switch it – check it.
So with flaps
Check you are actually about to select flaps (see and feel)
Select the flaps then check flaps running
& finally Check flaps are set in position required
Flaps are normally shaped like airfoils and undercarriage levers have wheel shapes, why do you think that is?
A) To make the cockpit look pretty
B) To use up some spare switches in the stores
C) So that the switches can be identified by feel and sight.
So lets start seeing and feeling! Dont be silly, I hear you say-how could anyone select the wrong switch?
On a BMI Airbus on the approach to Leeds the first officer is believed to have selected the wheelbrakes on instead of last stage flap. The aircraft subsequently landed with the wheel brakes applied destroying both mainwheel tyre and wheelsets.The wheel brake switch and flap lever are a totally dissimilar shape and action but both on the same quadrant. Fortunately no other damage was done but this could have been a very serious accident, all caused by wrong selection and poor cockpit resource management.
In 2011 a ANA first officer mistakenly operated the rudder trim on a Boeing 737 instead of the cockpit door opening switch which caused the autopilot to disconnect and the aircraft to enter a steep descent. Several passengers and crew were injured.
In 1953 an Aer Lingus DC3 captain set the fuel cocks incorrectly during the pre flight check and ran the two engines off one tank before an intended flight from Dublin to Birmingham The aircraft subsequently ran out of fuel near Birmingham and had to force land into a field colliding with a tree. There were no serious injuries.
On the 8th January 1989, two Boeing 737 pilots misidentified the wrong engine as being faulty and shut the serviceable engine down leading to the Kegworth disaster where 47 died and 74 were seriously injured. In this incident however both pilots thought they had correctly identified the faulty engine, a different type of trap with the same outcome.
OK but why do I have to feel? Three words answer that – SMOKE FILLED COCKPIT. I Hope it never happens to you but your ability to feel and recognise essential controls is important, next time you are in the cockpit(on the ground) close your eyes and see what you can feel and identify, best not to do it with passengers though, you might just give them a nasty shock!
There are of course other situations:
An eye injury from a windscreen bird strike or an illness that could affect your eyesight. Cockpit lighting failure at night, did your instructor go through that with you at night? Flying a circuit holding a torch can be interesting! You did remember to take a torch with spare batteries didn’t you!
Look – Feel – Select – Check