Monthly Safety Report

By By Joy Finnegan | February 1, 2011

The following piece of work has made the rounds of mass e-mail blasts within the flying community for years. It is obviously of doubtful authenticity although parts of it do ring true. I don’t know who wrote it or when it was written (obviously not in 1917) but it makes me laugh every time I read it.


The following safety tips are excerpts from a Royal Flying Corps monthly safety report. The report was signed C. St. John-Culbertson, Royal Flying Corps, Colonel, and was dated 21 December 1917.


INTRODUCTION. Another good month. In all, a total of 35 accidents were reported, only six of which were avoidable. These represented a marked improvement over the month of November during which 84 accidents occurred, of which 23 were avoidable. This improvement, no doubt, is the result of experienced pilots with over 100 hours in the air forming the backbone of all the units.


1. Avoidable accidents last month.

a. The pilot of a Shorthorn, with over 7 hours of experience, seriously damaged the undercarriage on landing. He had failed to land at as fast a speed as possible as recommended in the Aviation Pocket Handbook.

b. A B.E. 2 stalled and crashed during an artillery exercise. The pilot had been struck on the head by the semaphore of his observer who was signaling to the gunners.

c. Another pilot in a B.E. 2 failed to get airborne. By an error of judgement, he was attempting to fly at mid-day instead of at the recommended best lift periods, which are just after dawn and just before sunset.

d. A Longhorn pilot lost control and crashed in a bog near Chipping-Sedbury. An error of skill on the part of the pilot in not being able to control a machine with a wide speed band of 10 mph between top speed and stalling speed.

e. While low flying in a Shorthorn the pilot crashed into the top deck of a horse-drawn bus near Stonehenge.

f. A B.E. 2 pilot was seen to be attempting a banked turn at a constant height before he crashed. A grave error by an experienced pilot.

2. There were 29 unavoidable accidents.

a. The top wing of a Camel fell off due to fatigue failure of the flying wires.

b. Sixteen B.E. 2s and nine Shorthorns had complete engine failures. A marked improvement over November’s figure.

c. Pigeons destroyed a Camel and 2 Longhorns after mid-air strikes.


No. 1 Brief No. 912 Squadron 3 December 1917. Aircraft type B.E. 2C No. XY 678,

Total solo - 4.20

Pilot Lt. J. Smyth-Worthington,

Solo in type - 1.10

The pilot of this flying machine attempted to maintain his altitude in a turn at 2,500 feet. This resulted in the aeroplane entering an unprecedented manoeuvre, entailing a considerable loss of height. Even with full power applied and the control column fully back, the pilot was unable to regain control. However, upon climbing from the cockpit onto the lower mainplane, the pilot managed to correct the machine’s altitude, and by skillful manipulation of the flying wires successfully side-slipped into a nearby meadow.Remarks: Although, through inexperience, this pilot allowed his aeroplane to enter an unusual attitude, his resourcefulness in eventually landing without damage has earned him a unit citation. R.F.C..Lundsford-Magnus is investigating the strange behavior of this aircraft.

No. 2 Brief No. 847 Squadron 19

December 1917. Aircraft type Spotter Balloon J17983,

Total solo 107.00

Pilot Capt. * * *,

Solo in type 32.10

Captain * * * of the Hussars, a balloon observer, unfortunately allowed the spike of his full-dress helmet to impinge against the envelope of his balloon. There was a violent explosion and the balloon carried out a series of fantastic and uncontrollable manoeuvres, while rapidly emptying itself of gas. The pilot was thrown clear and escaped injury. This pilot was flying in full-dress uniform because he was the Officer of the Day. In consequence it has been recommended that pilots will not fly during periods of duty as Officer of the Day. Captain * * * has requested an exchange posting to the Patroville Alps, a well-known mule unit of the Basques.

It goes on, but you get the gist. I share it with you not only for a laugh but to give praise to the progress being made throughout the helicopter industry. Often we focus on the negatives—the accidents, incidents and mistakes being made. But the fact is, safety is being focused on and is improving. Operators are embracing technologies such as night vision goggles, FOQA, HUMS, enhanced and synthetic vision, advanced simulation, autopilots and techniques like scenario-based training and just culture to improve safety in their operations.

Some day in the future, using whatever advanced mass communication device is available, pilots will be sending around the apocryphal “Helicopter Operators Monthly Safety Report” and it will be a hoot. To imagine the absurd incidents in it will make people laugh. There will be a day when helicopter safety has improved so much that the accidents that happen today will be inconceivable. You are doing the hard work now. Stay the course.

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