by Nate "Buster" Jaros
The year was 1989, and I had just logged about 15 hours in the local Cessna 150. My first 15 hours in any aircraft actually. I was flying out of a hole-in-the-wall airport in Hackettstown, New Jersey. The runway was just a 2,200 foot strip of asphalt, with a huge crest in the middle, and grass all around. Derelict planes lined the grassy sides of the runway, with weeds and such reaching up and gently brushing the old bellies of these sad beauties. I was nearing my first solo in what could have been the first Cessna 150 ever built (not really, but it sure looked the part) and I kept wondering to myself…what are the safety procedures in an aircraft?
My instructor’s name was Bruce. He seemed like an “older” gentleman, with a bit of a swagger and a beer gut too. I was just 17 years old, so to me Bruce seemed like he could have been in World War II but I bet his age back then was just in the mid-forties. Bruce was a competent and encouraging instructor pilot and CFI. I’ll never forget some of his early comments and tips as I learned the art of no-flap landings, steep turns, and turns about a point.
What was odd to me however was the lack of any mention of real safety procedures. I mean, I’m just here to learn to fly and get to solo right? Get those 15 hours and let her rip! But what if a wing falls off Bruce, what if we catch on fire rumbling along at a blistering 90 knots!?
This isn’t to say that Bruce was negligent, but back then there really wasn’t any syllabi or even any Pilot Practical Test Standards…that I knew of. We were deep into the backwaters of New Jersey (if there is such a thing). Oh sure, we did a few engine loss scenarios where he would pull the power and I’d find glide speed and we’d search for a field or road or something. But that was about it as far as safety procedures in this aircraft went for his instruction, and my learning.
Safety procedures in an aircraft, in any aircraft, are a huge deal these days. Again, I’m not saying it wasn’t important back then, but today even the mainstream media and your Average Joe knows quite a bit about safety procedures in various aircraft. Ask anyone about the Miracle on the Hudson, or MH370, or that Asiana flight that crashed on approach into San Francisco a few years back. That Average Joe today knows a heck of a lot more than most about aircraft safety and safety procedures.
Let’s also not forget our friendly local news which counts every bumpy landing at the local airpark as an “aircraft disaster.” Live at ten PM!
Developing Your Safety Procedures
One of the things I quite frequently reflect on from my past is just how much the USAF and our USAF training focuses on safety, and procedural safety knowledge. Safety knowledge and rote memorization of certain failure situations is paramount in military aircraft. We had to memorize multiple checklist procedures and were required to perform them flawlessly in the simulator every year as part of our check ride. It was no-joke, permanent record kind of stuff.
Sadly, until recently, I have not seen this level of commitment and concern in General Aviation. The training I have had over the years in GA with regard to safety procedures has been minimal. There was some training in-flight, but it generally involved an engine-out glide, and that was about it. No emergency checklist discussions, no fire in the cockpit procedures, no emergency divert, or low fuel discussions or reviews. It just didn’t happen.
I will give kudos however to some major players in GA today. Cirrus aircraft and their sharp recurring emergency training syllabi as well as the American Bonanza Society and its BPPP (Beech Pilot Proficiency Program) are both top shelf academic programs, and I bet you they have more than once saved someone’s life. Both are excellent approaches to flying safety and procedural safety knowledge, and are modeled after military and airline training programs. And I know there are some outstanding CFI's out there as well.
So what are your safety procedures in your aircraft? Do you have any?
Well of course you do, your POH has some checklists, and those are a great place to start. I even re-copied mine and made them into a laminated “quick sheet” in my kneeboard. I’d recommend you start there. Grab your POH and make up a Smart Card, or Quick Reference sheet, whatever suits you. You’ll be on your way to better procedures, and safer for it.
Have you heard of CAPS? No, not the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (although it’s definitely a cool feature). CAPS in professional aviation stands for Critical Action Procedures. They are the memory items for certain critical emergencies that you have to have memorized, period.
We have CAPS in the military and the major airlines have and use them too. I’d highly recommend you memorize a few of your critical emergencies in your aircraft’s procedures and train to them, as well as practice them on paper or with verbal repetition as part of your pre-takeoff checks. It’s pretty simple, but if you memorize a few checklist procedures, and practice them, it can help you perform them when you come under real pressure. It’s the same stuff the military and the majors do.
Lastly, if you’re looking for additional ideas for some safety procedures, here’s a pitch for my book. I’ve outlined a great set of engine failure CAPS that can be memorized and transported to just about any single-engine GA aircraft. They involve establishing a glide, switching fuel tanks, checking (and sweeping) the mixture, and checking the magnetos. Pretty typical stuff actually. But you need to have them memorized and practice them (even sitting on the ramp, engine off, use your cockpit like a simulator). Trust me, it helps.
Please consider your safety procedures for the aircraft you fly and be familiar with them. It’s more than just a checklist, and way more than good ole’ Bruce would teach. Make safety procedures in your aircraft available and clear. You never know when you might need them.
Nate "Buster" Jaros
What is Engine Out? Relevant aviation topics, key safety techniques, war stories, and pilot tips from Fightersweep writer and the author of Engine Out Survival Tactics, Fighter Pilot Tactics for GA Engine Loss Emergencies.
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