Flight Training Mistakes
In response to your recent Question of the Month about the most troubling or curious flight training mistakes I’ve seen, a curious and somewhat troubling mistake I have both witnessed and committed is what I’d call "going on autopilot" (Feedback, February 2008, page 7).
In this scenario, something that could be major is missed because the task being trained has become "routine." I know of an individual who failed to restore engine power during an autorotation that was meant to terminate with power to a hover. Luckily, the location and performance of the maneuver resulted in it being a "non-incident." I have done a similar thing, but luckily in my case I forgot to remove engine rpm for an autorotation that was to terminate to the ground. It’s sometimes hard to remind yourself that "the routine" can rapidly become "very exciting."
I consider that less concerning than an incident I witnessed in which the newly qualified instructor did everything correctly according to the training manual, but the flight resulted in an incident and aircraft damage. The reason this is a concern is that it exposes a weakness in training. When everything is trained within defined parameters, it can lead to pilots (or instructors) being "mechanical." But on the day when those things that are not defined (aircraft weight, winds, density altitude, etc.) cause the maneuver to not fit the description, then being mechanical can, and will, result in damage and injury.
The most concerning thing I’ve witnessed is instructors not understanding The Line.
By The Line, I mean the limit to which I’ll allow things to progress before aborting the maneuver or taking the controls. The Line is my safety net. The Line is not where I think the limit of my abilities is, but short of that limit. The only way to know when you’ve reached the limit of your abilities is to exceed that limit. In aviation, that results in damage, injury, or death. Having The Line short of where I think my limits are has allowed for incidences in which perhaps my student got a bit close to it, and things didn’t go as anticipated from that point on, but they didn’t result in damage or injury. In more than 16 years of flight instruction, The Line has saved me maybe four times. But those four times might have resulted in major damage and loss of life otherwise. Perhaps I should have said "in more than 14 years of flight instruction." I had to scare myself a time or three before I wised up. I guess I’m lucky I survived that "time or three."
The last area of concern is the idea that being a flight instructor somehow means you are a better pilot. This leads to overconfidence and has very little to do with being an instructor. I have been told on more than one occasion I was "one of, if not the best, pilot" an individual has ever flown with. I’d rather have been told I was one of the best instructors. It’s a higher goal to me.
CW4 Steven Kersting, U.S. Army
Your daily Web update on Feb. 11 about the delays and infighting between Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky Aircraft on the new U.S. Marine Corps VH-71 presidential helicopter failed to note how this kind of narcissistic fighting is becoming endemic and getting in the way of national defense ("Stop-Work Order, Development Woes Keep Heat on VH-71 Team," www.rotorandwing.com).
Right now, Lockheed and Sikorsky are bickering over yet another Pentagon program that our troops badly need: the vital U.S. Air Force combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopters that fallen troops depend upon as a safety net.
Our current fleet of Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk CSAR helicopters is aging and in desperate need of replacement. The Air Force acted decisively more than a year ago when it directed Boeing to begin producing the next generation of military CSAR helicopters based on its CH-47 Chinook.
But seeing a chance to make a buck, Lockheed and Sikorsky hijacked the procurement process with repeated protests that have delayed the delivery of these badly needed rescue aircraft. Their goal is to get a piece of the action and the contract dollars when the program finally moves forward.
While their protests have been largely dismissed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the two begrudged contractors have found technical flaws in the contract award relating to "life-cycle maintenance costs" and the uniqueness of their bid aircraft. These loopholes, however trivial, can stop the production of new helicopters dead in its tracks.
All this, even though many experts agree that Boeing manufactures the best rescue helicopter and will ultimately get the contract. I understand Lockheed and Sikorsky need to make money, but does that need really have to extend so far as to jeopardize the safety of our fighting soldiers?
Immediate National Past President
Hispanic War Veterans of America
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R&W’s Question of the Month
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