Shoot Your Co-Pilot


No, we don’t mean you should “knock off” the right-seater; but unless you’ve trained together, that second set of hands groping your dials can be a liability. As Chip Wright wrote recently in IFR magazine, there are good ways to take advantage of a second IFR-rated pilot sitting next to you.

This article appears in the October 2002 issue of IFR magazine, and is reprinted here by permission.

Airline Pilots in Cockpit

Professional pilots spend a lot of time training in two-pilot operations, known as cockpit (or crew) resource management, or CRM. Given that almost every business jet requires two pilots, and that most companies with turboprops and high-performance twins want two people in the front office, it makes sense to train crews in making the most of the pilot sitting beside them.

Those who fly single-engine airplanes — even high-performance singles — generally do so in the single-pilot mode, especially if there’s a working autopilot to share the load. But what happens when the accomplished instrument pilot, used to working solo, brings a like-qualified pilot/passenger along? What’s the best way to approach the situation, given that the other pilot might want to help? Have you ever seen a five-year-old helping Mom bake a cake? The effort may be sincere, but the result calamitous: flour all over the kitchen, yeast in the cat food, and — if you’re not careful — the cat in the oven. Without some thought, a similar scenario can play out in the cockpit. Regardless of how simple or complex either the aircraft or the mission, somebody must be designated as the PIC. Instrument flight with a second pilot who’s not really required can be a challenge. The reason is not so much that it’s difficult to do, but if you haven’t been trained as a crew or decided who’s going to do what, things can get ugly. It’s worse if only one pilot has access to the approach charts in weather that’s at or near mins.

As an airline new-hire, I was trained in CRM using games that taught the crews how to work together. In one exercise, an airplane constructed out of Tinker Toys was placed at the front of the classroom and hidden from view. Our job was to construct a copy. On cue, each four-person team could send one player to look at the airplane and then return to describe what was seen and what needed to be done to the airplane. That person, though, was not allowed to point at, or touch, the individual Tinker Toys until the next player was sent to the front. This rotation occurred roughly every 30 seconds, and all the while the instructors pranced around the room blowing whistles and bouncing basketballs to distract us.

Each player tried to describe a different part of the airplane; one might want to build the wing, while the next might want a propeller. Each team also was given extra pieces, so we had to figure out which ones were spares. The lesson was simple: We needed to think in a progressive, logical pattern that allowed us to achieve our goal in minimal time and confusion. We also needed to think in terms of the big picture. What nobody realized until the game was over was that the picture of the airplane was right there on the Tinker Toy can that each team had. Or: Don’t look so hard that you overlook the obvious.

Different Game

GA Pilots in Cockpit
Don’t let the passenger touch anything unless you’ve discussed it!

It’s no different in instrument ops, whether I’m flying jets or GA. CRM tasks are broken down to those of the non-flying pilot (NFP) and the flying pilot (FP), with a goal to keep that distinction as clear as possible. The FP flies, and the NFP does everything else, specifically, when a task is requested or when a certain cue is received: radio communications, checklists that are challenge-and-response (CR), emergency checklist procedures, or getting the weather. All stick-and-rudder activity is performed by the FP.

Other little things get done with two people as well. With ever-increasing autopilot altitude-preselect windows and GPS/FMS boxes in GA cockpits, it’s typical for one pilot to dial in the assigned altitude, verbalize it (“Eight Thousand”), and have the other pilot confirm it. A similar confirmation process is warranted when a new direct-to waypoint is assigned by ATC and needs to be executed on the GPS/FMS: Enter it, verbalize it, and the other pilot cross-checks it.

If you’re used to flying solo, and you’re going to share duties with another pilot, it’s imperative that you discuss who will do what before you leave the ground. Yes, you should be proficient, comfortable, and able to fly a single-pilot airplane in complex single-pilot IFR operations, but if you have another pilot on board, it’s a waste not to utilize that asset to reduce workload and fatigue.

You’re not wimping out if you do so. You’re being smart. The duties can be covered in the pre-takeoff briefing. Clearly establish who is the PIC, where that person will sit, and how you want the job done. I mentioned checklists earlier, and in a Cessna 172, using a challenge-and-response method on the checklists may be overkill, since it’s such a simple airplane. But CR can be useful, especially on the shutdown checklist. Show of hands: Who’s memorized the checklist and forgotten to turn off the master switch? I know I have.

As airplanes get more complicated, CR checklist procedures make more sense. In an aircraft with retractable gear, controllable-pitch prop, and cowl flaps, it helps to use CR just to ensure the gear is up after takeoff and down before landing, and that the cowl flaps and prop lever are in the proper position. If you think this is a little obvious, or silly, so too has every pilot who landed gear-up or overheated an engine on a missed approach with closed cowl flaps. Have you ever heard an airplane try to go around with the propeller lever in low RPM? It’s worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.

CRM and Emergencies

What about an emergency in IFR conditions? If you’ve ever dealt with a serious problem alone in IMC, at low altitude, then you understand the adrenaline rush and workload. The stress level can be unreal. In jets and turboprops, the NFP is extremely busy as he gropes for the appropriate checklist and executes it. In this situation, the FP takes over all radio communications so that the NFP can concentrate on not screwing up or skipping a step that might aggravate the problem. If you have an autopilot, this is the time to turn it on; George is your third qualified pilot, and he rarely sweats.

As a rule of thumb, if the emergency procedure requires moving a switch or a pump that’s installed in redundancy — say, two engine fuel pumps in a twin — then a confirmation process should be employed. It goes something like this: The NFP calls out the switch to be moved, and, if it’s the left one, the FP will make sure that the left switch is indeed the one moved. The same applies if it’s a twin and an engine needs to be shut down. More than a few pilots have shut down an engine that wasn’t on fire.

Finally, what do you do to maximize the use of the only approach chart when the approach is going to be down to mins? You’re on your own to come up with a method that works for you, but what I like to do is have the flying pilot — it doesn’t matter which seat — brief the approach and the missed approach, plus any applicable notes, such as ADF Required or any alternate altimeter settings. The NFP will then set the appropriate frequencies and courses on the OBS or load the approach into the GPS. When the brief is done, the NFP takes the chart from the FP and reads the numbers: Primary frequency (say, the localizer), the secondary (a VOR for the missed and/or an NDB for a marker or missed), the DME frequency if necessary, plus the DA, and the initial altitude and heading on the missed approach. The NFP can also take charge of the timing on a non-precision approach. That alone makes a second pilot worthwhile. The NFP calls out altitudes starting at 500 feet above the DA/MDA.

This isn’t a full-blown how-to on CRM. It should get you thinking in the right direction on your next IPC or on the cross-country to get your buddy’s airplane out of an annual. If you’re going to share duties, then set up a rhythm, a pattern, and stick to it. If you and a friend often fly together you can blur some of the lines, provided you stick to the essentials. But without some kind of preflight communication, you might find yourself in an awkward, stiff cockpit that is inefficient and not a lot of fun.

About the author…

Chip Wright is an ATP, CFII, and an IFR contributing editor. He lives in Kentucky.