Saturday, October 23, 2010

Flying Safe

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I say this a lot. "Fly safe."* 

I think this a lot too.  You see, I've never considered having an accident as a reasonable possibility, as long as I "Fly Safe."

I began my flying life at 15, in sailplanes.  I was a skull-full-o-mush, as all 15ers are.  In order to afford my flying lessons, I became the 'airport kid' and worked around the airport - fueling airplanes, working the launch line, cleaning bathrooms etc; and I learned a lot watching the many pilots come and go.  Soon I was towing gliders with a Super-Cub and flying glider rides and intro-lessons.  All the while I was observing other pilots - noticing their different styles and techniques.

I developed an indelible image of the difference between a good pilot  and one who thought he was good.  The 'wanker' assumed he could overcome all variables - but never took the time to think them through.  The good pilots always considered the variables and made sure that the sum added up to a safe operation.  I'm convinced that this lesson saved my life - often - as I negotiated my early flying escapades while experiencing the insanity of puberty.  Applying this lesson has kept me alive during the ensuing 40 years and 25000+ hours.  I've made being a "safe" pilot priority one.  
National Air and Space Museum- Smithsonian Institution
Don't get me wrong - I did my share of stunts, over the early years, and I'm not dumb enough to list them here.  But I've always - even when doing things that I knew were on the fringe of stupid - considered the variables and made an effort to make the right call.  I've NOT done many stunts that just didn't pass my 'safe' test.  

You've all experienced 'Intermediate Syndrome.'  This is a kind of temporary insanity that many experience when they get just enough knowledge and comfort in their abilities to forget about "Flying Safe."
To my chagrin, I experienced a brief Intermediate Syndrome, in paragliders, just before I turned 50, and it resulted in injury.  It took five broken ribs to remind me that paragliders are not toys - they are aircraft that need the respect and consideration given to any other kind of aircraft.

For the last 30 years I've made a living flying airliners.  The most important job of an airline pilot is to consider the many, many, variables and still provide a safe, boring flight to his passengers and crew.  It's hard for me to fly my paraglider with a different mind-set than I do my 747. . . Does that mean that I never fly when conditions aren't optimal?  NO.  Just as in my airline career, I have flown in conditions that pushed (but never exceeded) my experience and aircraft performance.  The secret to increasing your experience level, and comfort in unfamiliar situations, is to do it in baby steps.  It takes time and experience.

So, ask yourself, "Do you Fly Safe?"

What does it mean to "Fly Safe?"

MY definition of a safe pilot is one who I would allow to fly with my family aboard.  Before making the determination of a pilot's "safety," I look at his/her competence and knowledge (experience); mental state; and  motivation on the flight.
  • Does the pilot have the experience to fly in the conditions that exist presently and those that may occur during the flight?
  • Is the pilot experienced enough to anticipate problems and avoid/compensate for these problems?
  • Is the pilot thoughtful in planning the flight and aware of the responsibilities she is assuming?
  • Is the pilot's competency on that aircraft type sufficient?
We have to remind ourselves that there is an important passenger on board, even when we are flying alone ;-)

So, do we "Fly Safe"?

From the standpoint of flying paragliders in Cross-Country events, when I answer that question honestly, I must admit that there are times it appears that I could have flown with more safety.  When I am on a XC flight and get low on the terrain to pull out a save;  When I explore the lee to contact a booming lee-side thermal; When conditions at launch are *sketchy-but-flyable* and I decide to launch before it gets worse;  All of these situations are second-guessable.  The important factor is that I am aware that the safety margins may have been reduced in these situations but, after weighing the applicable variables, have decided it is, indeed, safe.

I know that this appears hypocritical - "It's OK to do dumb things as long as you realize they are dumb."
That's NOT the takeaway here.

What I'm saying is, in the dynamic world of aviation, awareness of your risk at all times, and weighing all the variables, is imperative.  To blindly dive into the lee without a consideration given to the consequences, is idiotic - to fly into the lee after considering the sun angle, winds, and plan of retreat, is "Flying Safe."
In a sport where the prize monies are paltry; the fame is but momentary; and the bragging rights only last for the weekend; ask yourself, "How much are you really willing to dip outside your safety envelope to win a task?"
Answer that question honestly, when in the heat of competition, and you'll know my mindset while competing. Consideration of your risk/reward when it's important is the key.

At the moment I have four friends in physical rehab after flying accidents that occurred while pushing the limits of safety.  I'm sure each of them has a different perspective on the risk/reward calculation than they had prior to pounding.  Please consider their outcomes and daily struggles when you are making critical safety decisions in the heat of battle -
Fly Safe -
*Even though it's improper English, I live with it.


Anonymous said...

blah, blah, blah

pompous blah, blah, blah.

ok, may well intentioned but still blah, blah, blah

fame? give me a break

envelope? stick yourself down son.

Tim said...

Pompous? Sorry you feel that way.
Well intentioned? Um Yeah, that's why I took the time -

Thanks for at least reading the post - if you didn't benefit from it then I hope it didn't take you too long to read it.


Vangelis drflight said...

Thanks for the article Tim..
Keep up!

Tim said...

Thanks for the note Vangelis.

And thanks for the repost.


Anonymous said...

Thoughtful considerations. Thanks.

Santa Barbara

Wannabe said...

Excellent blog entry Timo,

I consider myself at that dangerous stage where I'm not a beginner and I'm not an intermediate. I know exactly what you mean by the mindset that it is so easy to get yourself in - I've gone 50 hours without incident, I've got nothing to worry about anymore. I guard against this mentality, but sometimes I can feel it like a primal urge.

Keep up the good blogs, I for one, enjoy them.