What Pilots Can Do to Help Their Non-Pilot Right-Seaters

There is plenty the pilot can do to make it easier for the non-flying companion, even for those who have never taken a Pinch-Hitter style course. (This article is intended as a companion to Doug Ritter's other article, "The Pilot's Incapacitated - Now What?")


SafetyIt almost goes without saying, and most of us ought to do it byhabit, but make sure the aircraft is always trimmed. Obviously, this makes it mucheasier when something untoward happens.

The flying skills they have learned, and their confidence in those skills, will atrophyquickly unless they are allowed to practice regularly. This does not mean allowing them toland the aircraft, unless you are a CFI, and even then it is probably best to let someoneelse do it with them, not you. It does mean you should give them the opportunity to flystraight and level as well as make turns and climbs and descents on a regular basis as yougo about your way. Just remember, they aren’t yet a pilot. Cut them some slack, be patientand always provide positive reinforcement to maintain their confidence.

Radios are a good area where their training can be a help to you. This can range fromsimply setting the new frequencies to actually handling all or part of the communications,just like the pros do it. Certainly, setting the transponder is simple enough. Other tasksrequire a bit more coordination and training. How much or little they do is up to you.But, it can be a real help to get them involved.

Most of us now fly with headsets, but how many of us have a push-to-talk switch for theright seat? It makes it easier for them to help us and in an emergency it sure beatsreaching over to the pilot’s yoke or stick or working with the mic, which also may not bethat convenient. If you still use a mic instead of headsets, make sure it, or another one,is handy to the right seat.

The Pinch-Hitter students are encouraged to follow your progress on their own chart.The suggestion is that you should quit throwing out your outofdate charts and give theold charts to them to use. Once they get good at it, you could do as I do, and let them doall the VFR navigating. Even if you usually file IFR, make sure you have the appropriatesectionals or a WAC chart for them to use. Again, it’s something they can learn prettyquick and when you work out a good system between you, it makes your job easier. In anemergency these skills will really come in handy, but unless they practice, it will bedifficult.

We all keep track of fuel burn, each in our own fashion. The important point from ourcompanion’s perspective is how much fuel or time remains. It’s a good idea to come up witha system that keeps them informed of how much fuel is remaining, because that could have asignificant impact on their decisions in an emergency. That will also be one of the firstquestions a controller will ask.

The Pinch-Hitter rules about autopilots are simple. If it’s on, leave it be. If it’soff, leave it be. That’s all well and good as a general rule, but many of us can dobetter. While some aircraft autopilots are complicated beasts which really should be leftalone unless one is fully checked out in their intricacies, others are simple to use ifthe pilot sets things up correctly in the first place. If, when not in actual use, youalways leave the autopilot set to "heading" and set the bug on your currentheading, then all the "emergency pilot" needs to know is which button(s) topress to engage the autopilot in that mode. This is generally only one or two buttons soit’s not very difficult. This can be a real boon in an emergency because it means they canconcentrate on other things, such as a radio call for help, without worrying about havingto concentrate so much on actually flying the aircraft.

The Pinch-Hitter course includes basic instruction in VOR navigation. Not a bad idea,but many of our aircraft are now equipped with Loran or GPS with a database. These can bepretty complicated at first glance, but they really aren’t all that difficult to learn touse. If your companion knows how to use it, it sure beats using the Nav. Since these unitsare usually closer to the right seat, it makes sense to let that person do all the workand it will really make your flying easier. Starting with the basic navigation knowledgereceived in the course, with only a little practice they can master the basics of theseunits. Once they understand how to use it, then in an emergency all they need to do to doto find an airport is to look on the chart, set the unit to the identifier from off thechart and fly the built-in CDI. That CDI is invariably closer to them and much easier toread than trying to keep an eye on the CDI way across the cockpit.

Having invested in the training, it only makes sense to make the most of it and givethem every edge you can. Having a competent helper in the cockpit can be a real asset.But, like all cockpit resources, it must be managed. The most important point is tocommunicate and keep the lines of communication open in both directions.

Finally, here is a checklist adapted from ASF’s Pinch-Hitter Checklist,which you might want to put within sight or easy reach of the right seat (modify asnecessary to suit your aircraft and equipment):

Emergency Pinch-Hitter Checklist

  1. Take over the controls. Stay calm.

  2. Establish and maintain level flight. Trim as necessary

  3. Cruising power is _______________________________.

  4. Cruising speed is _______________________________.

  5. Ask for Help using the radio. If no reply, set all radios to 121.5 and try again.

  6. Set transponder is 7700

  7. If no reply, double check transmitter setting, volume and controls. Let up on the talk button to listen. Climb if necessary for better reception.

  8. Describe emergency over the radio. Tell them you are not a pilot. Tell them if you have taken the Pinch-Hitter course and whether you have any actual flying experience.

  9. Give altitude. Give position if known. Give how much fuel remaining if known.

  10. Answer questions and follow instructions given.

  11. Head towards airport.

  12. Take your time. Don’t be rushed. You are in control

  13. Remember gear and flaps, as well as gas, mixture and propeller (GUMP).

  14. Don’t worry about the plane. It will take care of you.

  15. Your approach power setting is ______________________.

  16. Your minimum approach speed is ______________________.