Most Of Us Know How To Stay Alive In An Airplane: Until We Don’t


When I was learning to fly more years ago than I care to reveal, the accident rate was 18.1/100,000, more than three times what it is now. Just 10 years before that, in 1960, the rate was a whopping 36.5. Crashes occurred at the rate of more than a dozen a day. Lots of causes, of course, but drunken flying was common then, as was driving while stewed. It was a different era then and we should all be glad it’s gone.

The current overall accident rate, at about 4.9, has ticked up a little recently, but in the context of the big gains of even 20 years ago, it’s just noise in the data. A handful more or fewer accidents can swing the rate up or down with no indication of a persistent trend. Occurrences in 2021 make me wonder if we’ve reached rock bottom on accident reduction without new thinking. Four people I know, worked with or flew with died in aircraft accidents. All of them appear to be some form of loss of control, two on takeoff and two on approach. Two may have had mechanical issues. All of them were experienced pilots.

On July 4, Brad Marzari was killed in the crash of a Focke-Wulf FWP-149D trainer he excitedly told he had just bought when I interviewed him for this video at Sun ‘n Fun in April. He and I crossed paths many times at various shows. He was a blogger and podcaster nicknamed Launchpad. The engine, the oddball Lycoming GO-480, quit and Marzari evidently couldn’t find a safe place to land it near Killeen, Texas.

Three weeks later, famed Naval aviator Dale “Snort” Snodgrass was killed in the crash of his SIAI-MARCHETTI SM-1019B in Lewiston, Idaho. The accident was caught on security cam video that made for gruesome watching. The fact pattern strongly suggests a mechanical issue related to the trim or elevator control systems. It was likely not a control lock left in place, since the airplane is impossible to taxi with the lock installed. I knew Snodgrass through his work at airshows and we shot this video with him at Sun ‘n Fun in 2010.

During that interview, we had a long talk about his experience flying the F-14 off carriers. He was a leading expert on that type and probably had more carrier traps that any other Tomcat pilot. That included a harrowing incident in the Norwegian Sea back when the Navy was pursuing its controversial Northern Strategy during the 1980s and carriers were operating in extreme conditions. He told me on one sortie, he flew a dozen approaches to a heaving deck before getting aboard. Snodgrass didn’t survive the high-risk world of carrier ops by being sloppy. What I remember most about him was how engaging he was at explaining aircraft and maneuvering to an aviation audience. You’ll see that in the video.

On December 10, friend Catherine Kloess died in the crash of her skydiving aircraft in Statesboro, Georgia, just after takeoff. I knew her through her years running the packing mat at Zephyrhills where she packed more of my parachutes than I can count. She was a commercial pilot with more than 4000 hours, much of that time flying skydivers. (None were on the crash aircraft; it was a night flight.) The NTSB’s photo of the wreckage path doesn’t suggest a stall/spin, but some other kind of control loss.

Not even a week later, MyGoFlight found Charlie Schneider was killed in Knoxville, Tennessee, but he lived long enough to tell first responders he had encountered wake turbulence from a landing Airbus A320. I flew with Charlie to evaluate his light aircraft HUD in an SR22 for this video. We disagreed on the value of HUDs for light aircraft, but I was impressed with his passion to develop a good one. After the flight, we sat in the airplane for 45 minutes during which Charlie explained that he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more enthusiastic about the Cirrus after producing this video on the efficacy of the CAPS parachute. The gist of the conversation was that it wasn’t my job to be a gladhander, but to present the facts and let the conclusion follow it. I’m re-publishing the video because I think it did exactly that.

So personally, 2021 was a lousy year of loss for me, but more so for the families of the people who died in those crashes. The worst that I can remember in five decades of flying. But consider where we are at the start of a new year. We have a gaggle of YouTube channels providing all but real-time analysis of accidents; we have several websites that also post reliable accident information almost as soon as it’s available; the AOPA Air Safety Institute has stepped up its timely analysis of accident data and even the NTSB is improving the quality and speed of its preliminary reports. The Kloess accident, for example, already has a fairly detailed summary and so does the Marzari crash. Although we inundate audiences with all this information, we don’t seem to be stopping people from crashing for the same reasons we’ve always crashed. In other words, despite an eye-glazing torrent of information, we’re not fixing much, unless you think we would have more accidents if we stopped doing all this.

All of the accident reporting seems episodic and focused on just that one thing that causes the crash. So read it and add to the stuff you have to remember. After you’ve seen or read enough of this stuff, it starts to induce executive overload. I’m beginning to think that what’s needed is a broader way of thinking about and analyzing risk to focus on things that will kill me today, for this particular flight. The NTSB report reveals that a mechanic had found non-ferrous metal in the filter screen of Brad Marzari’s engine and advised him not to fly it until it was sorted out. For whatever reason, he rejected that advice and flew anyway. In my view, the broader analysis should have recognized not just the immediate hazard, but the potential faulty thought process of dismissing it. In other words, can I explain to myself why I’m not being stupid here?

From flying with Charlie Schneider, I could assume he knew about the hazards of wake turbulence. I wouldn’t even have thought to ask. But I don’t know this. I think pilots know things that they don’t all the time. Sometimes I think I know things that I don’t. And I’ve read more accident reports than is probably healthy. The more I write about these things, the more I think about this, the more I think the way to survive is to drop the focus on apps and glass panels and develop and maintain a heightened awareness of what can kill you.

And that’s basically everything. If it doesn’t, you hit the right combination of skill and luck. I know four people who didn’t.  

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  1. Great read. Thank you.
    I would add that the best way to avoid fatal accidents is to frequently read NTSB reports. Like watching DanDanTheFireman reminds you how to stay safe on a motorcycle, the NTSB report remind you of what not to do!

  2. There is no such thing as statistical perfection; no more so than a perpetual motion machine. So why are we tearing our guts out trying to achieve perfection? I — personally — believe that we’ve now arrived at the point where we’re numbing ourselves to it all overhyping the safety aspect and that could be part of the problem? We all know the saying that ‘aviation is terribly unforgiving …”. Just the other day, I endured eight hours of IA renewal subjects. I came away somewhat smarter but also numbed to continual blathering about safety. Aviating IS dangerous. So is driving a car. So are lots of things starting with getting out of bed in the AM. Maybe the current accident rate is as good as it’s gonna get?

    You are correct about one thing … before each and every flight I make, I THINK about things and weigh the risks. I also mentally prepare myself to be proactive to self-preservation … even at the expense of trying to save the airplane. Sometimes, the risks outweigh the rewards and Miller time starts early.

    • “There is no such thing as statistical perfection…. Maybe the current accident rate is as good as it’s gonna get?”

      The lack of accidents in Part 121 would suggest otherwise.

      I do agree that the “continual blathering about safety” does have a “numbing” effect. Simply presenting accidents with the admonition to “don’t do that!” isn’t always effective – there are only so many lessons and “if-then-else” cautions one can memorize.

      The mental lessons are far better. Not simply what to do or not do, but how to ‘think’ about what you’re doing. It takes a long time to invent these mental lessons, develop ways of teaching them, and then distribute them to the population for them to take effect. Look how many decades it took for CRM to become standard practice. Now it seems obvious but back then the current practices seemed just as obvious.

      Just like a checklist is not a “do” list, reading about accidents shouldn’t be simply about avoiding the exact causes. Rather, it’s to (hopefully) come up with new ways of ‘thinking’ to avoid all accidents, not just specific ones.

      • Comparing Part 121 ops with Part 91 or Part 135 ops is like comparing apples, oranges and cucumbers … starting with a vast difference in equipment capabilities. There have been many fatal crashes of high time airline pilot ATP’s when they’re flying GA equipment. Using Part 121 ops as the ‘gold standard’ in any Part 91 statistical analysis isn’t a fair comparison. At some point, the capability of the equipment has to become a factor in the analysis. And I doubt if any of the ‘old timers’ here have spent much time in any sort of 3D full motion simulator. There has to be a reasonable balance between overhyping of safety until people get numb to it all and the notion that “you pays your money and you takes your chances.” At some point, the boys on Independence Ave might decide staying in bed all of your life will make Part 91 ops totally safe. As others have pointed out here, luck itself is a factor. When your luck runs out, being a safe pilot generally isn’t gonna go good.

      • Comparing GA to part 121 statistics is a fool’s errand, and while pushing to improve training with some of the lessons learned in other places is good, carrying on about the part 121 stats is a distraction and not productive at all. While there are certainly more GA pilots who shouldn’t be flying than airline pilots who shouldn’t be flying it’s impossible (without entirely killing GA) to have the same training and experience standards, it’s (physically) impossible for all GA aircraft to have the redundant systems and level of equipment part 121 aircraft have, and it’s impossible to control the environment in which GA aircraft are operated as well as the flown-on-routes-and-airways and IFR flight plan laden part 121 operations.

  3. “I’m beginning to think that’s what’s needed is a broader way of thinking about and analyzing risk to focus on things that will kill me today, for this particular flight.”

    Paul, with that statement you identified what for me has been a most valuable of preventative measures in the world of safe flying. In my professional life the much derided Flight Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT) if used daily prior to a day of flying was a golden opportunity to identify “things that will kill us today, for this particular flight.” As a fight department we established a standing list of a score of risks which we ourselves identified as common to our flight patterns and from which we usually chose during preflight briefings at least several as being relevant and worthy of mitigation measures for the day’s flying. This exercise while valuable on its own merits alone was ultimately most valuable to us in that it always instilled in us an intentional mindfulness prior to staring engines. That mindfulness enhanced our adherence to standards, procedure and use of checklists.

    Now in my non-professional flying I don’t use a formal FRAT, but the habit of becoming mindful of what could kill me today is still and always will be part of my personal mental preparedness. This is not to say “it” can’t happen to me because “it” definitely can as your anecdotes demonstrate, but I hope mindfulness increases the chances that “it” won’t happen to me.

  4. The dirty little secret in aviation safety is that the difference between being the smoking hole or landing with your legs shaking and hear racing can boil down to just being lucky, or sadly not lucky at all.

    However you can make your own luck. I think the key to that is mastery of the basic stick and rudder skills. Paul’s recent video of his near stall in the pattern is a good example. He was set up for the classic low altitude loss of controlled flight but the feel of the “soft stick” saved him. That’s good stick and rudder skills and those only come with the desire to be a good pilot and discipline to work at it on every flight

    But Dale Snodgrass is 10 times the pilot I will ever be and he crashed. I guess the unsatisfactory conclusion is that flying will never be totally safe but you can greatly reduce your chance of having an accident but will never eliminate it. I am OK with that, but I still work hard to make my performance on every flight my best flight ever.

    I want to be lucky and good.

    • Dale Snodgrass didn’t die from a lack of stick & rudder skills. The bulk of available evidence suggests he died because of something that happened–or didn’t happen–before he took off. Having the best stick & rudder skills will not save you from an unflyable aircraft.

      I’m not suggesting stick & rudder skills are worthless; far from it. I’m simply saying bad decisions can overwhelm the best skills. Likewise, good decisions can protect a novice or rusty pilot from lacking skills.

      I’d rather try to make the kind of decisions that eliminate luck from the live or die equation.

  5. “I’m beginning to think that’s what’s needed is a broader way of thinking about and analyzing risk to focus on things that will kill me today, for this particular flight.”

    I am somewhat confused. I thought this is what most of us do on a regular basis without even thinking about it. I usually start the process days before departure, sometimes a week. It’s just kind of a natural thing to me. It really takes no effort. It’s kind of like a slow methodical dissection of what could happen given life’s events as they unfold and departure gets closer.

    “Now in my non-professional flying I don’t use a formal FRAT, but the habit of becoming mindful of what could kill me today is still and always will be part of my personal mental preparedness. This is not to say “it” can’t happen to me because “it” definitely can as your anecdotes demonstrate, but I hope mindfulness increases the chances that “it” won’t happen to me.”

    I am not a professional pilot nor have I ever been one. However, this is pretty much where my mindset has been from day one. That being said, for me, accident reports bring to the forefront in sharp focus the reality of what we do and I need that. I need to be reminded.

  6. I started flying in late 1956 and did a lot of GA flying through 1963, when I went to the heavy iron. I had no idea of the GA accident rate for that GA era 1956-63. So far as I know, no one spoke of it. I do know, I am amazed I survived.

  7. In 35 years of tactical military/GA flying I have yet to have a perfect flight. The luck part of flying is to have your stupid move of the day limited to something with minimal consequence. The skill part is to recognize/recover if it wasn’t minimal consequence…that should be the motivator to keep trying. We’ll all trip over a crack in the sidewalk and catch ourselves…the toddler who can’t gets more training and attention until they can.

  8. The last frontier of aviation safety is psychology, that fuzzy soft stuff that nobody like to talk about. While ADM and CRM are big steps in the right direction, there is also relevant psychology in basic stick and rudder operation. AOPA/ASI is incorporating some of my work into their safety initiatives. Paul, I’ve invited you several times to come to Savannah and fly with me and explore this new frontier and trade ideas. You’ve never even answered an email. Invitation still stands…

  9. Keep up the great work, Paul!

    I’m going to nominate you for the “Following in the giant footsteps of Richard Collins” award for keeping us constantly aware of our responsibilities as pilots and instructors.

    Again, keep the articles coming!

    • PLUS 1!

      Collins–and Bertorelli–are my favorite authors–able to integrate real-world procedures and solutions into everyday flying.
      Far too many government regulations, and “don’t do THIS” bromides advise us that we might be safe if we only avoided flying more–and that if we DO fly, we must follow lengthy and complicated procedures–even in the simplest of aircraft to “guarantee” safety. (There ARE no “guarantees” of safety in flying.

      The “thou shalt not” advocates often are counter-productive to safety. In the FBO business for nearly 50 years, I’ve seen far too many pilots “avoiding risk” by not flying–“in the interest of safety.” They don’t fly when the winds are too high (so they don’t become proficient in flying in turbulence or crosswinds). They avoid flying “because the weather is marginal”–even with 2000/5 in the prairie part of the country–let one of these pilots unexpectedly encounter even that VFR weather, and they panic.

      I can think of several Collins references on the subject–best consolidated into “You learn about flying–BY FLYING!”

      Several people here have also advocated flying in “marginal” conditions. Collins famously bought a Cessna 172–IFR, but WITHOUT an autopilot. People questioned whether he could keep an aviation journalist schedule on the airplane, but he proved them wrong–you CAN get utility out of almost any airplane–you just have to attain and maintain proficiency–and not just on nice VFR days.

      “There is always an excuse NOT to fly–if you really DON’T want to fly.”

      • Jim, sure do agree with you about learning about flying BY FLYING! My self-confidence as a pilot and my decision-making ability both improve a notch when I fly. I’m in a club, and, instead of letting a month or two go by between long-flight trips, I realize it’s valuable to me to make short-hop flights, just to get my head and my focus back in the plane again.

  10. This article is a safety device in itself. It gets pilots thinking about safety and that’s always good. While stick and rudder is what we pilots typically focus on, the more important aspect of flying is judgement.

  11. Practice flying near the edges of the performance envelope so when the $h1t hits the fan you have more options in your stick and rudder toolbox. Most Part 91 pilots tend their time flying a thin slice of the center of the envelope.

    That said – most Part 121 airline training seems to center around keeping their Part 121 planes in that center slice and recognizing when deviating from it and returning to the center.

    ACS replacing PTS seems to be trying to move the needle towards Part 121 practices. But we are still flying CAR3 planes.

    Where to throw the dart?

    Me – if I have nowhere to go – I’ll keep practicing around the edges of the envelope to try and improve my chances while under no illusions that I have complete control of the environment or outcome. Just a possibility that I can bend it in my favor – a bit.

    • Great point!

      I have a short poem on the subject–written by famed airman and author Gill Robb Wilson (Flying magazine) on my airport office wall. It was written 60 years ago.

      “Anvils pound on the track ahead, forging an airman’s woe–tighten the belts and get the ducks, lined in a battle row–for these are the times that try men’s souls–ALSO THE TIME TO GROW!”

      “For out of the storm matures the heart, and out of the fear, the WILL–Scarcely the calm of a cloudless sky perfects an airman’s skill–but rather the storm that tortures him, and makes his heart stand still!”

      In the “adventure sports” business–whether it is skydiving, mountaineering, or endurance sports–the credo is
      “IF THE OUTCOME IS ASSURED, YOU ARE NOT HAVING AN ADVENTURE!” Far too many “121 airline” procedures are advocated “in the interest of safety.” (The difference is that 121 operators have a large “support network”–most Private Pilots have only themselves). Yes–if you don’t fly, you’ll never have an aircraft accident–but then, you won’t have much of a life, either.

      Skydivers, for example, don’t have a “death wish”–they carefully pack their parachutes–they consider their own performance capabilities for the day–they evaluate the winds–they consider alternative landing spots–they evaluate the tasks that have to be done–they mentally rehearse the flight, the hazards, and emergency procedures–and after going through the pre-jump analysis–GO OUT AND HAVE A GOOD TIME!

      • That’s all Martha Lunken was doing … practicing her under bridge flying skills and having a good time. 🙂


        The famed arctic-explorer Roald Amundsen put it another way: “Adventure is just bad planning.”

  12. Excellent commentary Paul. To me the closing sentence seems to hit the proverbial nail on the head.
    “ The more I write about these things, the more I think about this, the more I think the way to survive is to drop the focus on apps and glass panels and develop and maintain a heightened awareness of what can kill you.”
    Since leaving the airlines and the military I’ve done airshow flying, corporate and a bunch of GA stuff. I’ve spent the last 5 years flying King Airs, PC12’s with a smattering of jet stuff thrown in, and a bunch of Cirrus stuff. All the turbine stuff has been two pilot ops so I’ve gotten to watch a bunch of newer pilots at work. All are also active GA pilots.
    What I’ve noticed is the vast majority just “need” to have the ole iPad or phone fired up and used continuously. Now I’ll be first to admit that they enable us to access a vast amount of information, BUT, how many times do you need to look at a plate, or check the weather 200 miles in front of you on a hundred mile flight. The latest generation Cirrus stuff presents so much information you never want to look out the window, yet, there’s the trust ole iPad on the guys lap and it’s being watched while the autopilot dutifully zips you along.
    I guess my point, and your last sentence sums up where I see us being. Use what you need, ignore what you don’t and fly the airplane. Basic stick and rudder skills are woefully lacking in a lot of cockpits but boy can some guys zoom around an app.
    We all never think it can happen to us but when things go south, and they will at some point, we need to be able to recognize it early and react accordingly and knowing how to just “fly the plane” is where it starts.

    • Really good comments, Jerry. My thinking on glass and the profusion of apps is that they are a net positive. But maybe *just* because they create a sense of dependency at the expense of analytical headwork. I think it changes the way you think about what you’re doing and elevates the unimportant at the expense of the truly important.

      I read you note just as I came in from the garage. I added a Garmin aftermarket GPS to my motorcycle and the mount is just way the hell out of my regular scan. I noticed it on a ride over the weekend and was trying to figure out how to move the mount up. Looking that far down is just not gonna stand.

      • Just what you need, a GPS on your bike. I hope you pull over off the road when you look at it, because one day you will take your eyes off the road and suffer the consequences.
        Being a licensed pilot for more than sixty-one years and an active biker for even longer, I have to ask myself. “How can I fly my Champ without a glass cockpit or ride my bike without a Key Fob”?

        • Besides, CP, we here would all miss him if he ate the proverbial weenie on his rice rocket!! I find myself having PB withdrawal symptoms when it’s more than a week without something new to moan about … 🙂

  13. I learned to fly when VOR was the new whiz bang, and when you throw in DME, WOW!
    Now we are generating a cadre of Flight Management Computer programmers. Flying the airplane seems to have taken a backseat to programming the flight and letting the autopilot do all of the work.
    When inspecting assets for government contracts, I used to off handedly ask operators with avionics master switches if they ever thought about the fact that all of their redundant systems passed through one point, and that failure of that one switch renders the entire communication and navigation system null and void. Basic navigation and airmanship skills are being pushed aside. We used to keep a sectional to be legal but much of our navigation was done with gas station road maps.

  14. Paul, as always exceptional read! I am no expert but have been flying GA airplanes for over 30 years, as stated by the FAA and many others most accidents are a chain of events and we as pilots, (risk mitigators, as I tell my students), have to learn to recognize those variables and break the chain. I don’t know the details of all these accidents, but will to bet in most of these there was something different than normal-out of the ordinary, in each one of them. Speaking of understanding-mitigating risk, go check out Dan Gryder’s YouTube channel, Probable Cause. Dan has made it his passion to explore, investigate, and teach us how to break the chain and not die doing what we all love. God bless!

  15. Paul, Another great piece. I have learned to fly and built my hours during this time of improving safety. I admit to falling into the post mortem “wow, I would never do something that dumb.”

    Keep sharing, I will try to keep learning.

  16. Like it or not, LUCK is a factor in many (not all) serious injury and fatal accidents. How do we account for unknown maintenance errors committed sometimes hundreds of flight hours and years prior to our flight. The NTSB DB discusses several of them. What about an engine issue that results in a crash that ruptures one or more fuel tanks… is there still enough heat in the engine of something else that can ignite that bath of fire? All we can do is fly conservatively, noodle out the risks BEFORE we go, mitigate them if we can and then make the decision to return the aircraft to the hangar if we can’t. Unknown internal wear that’s making metal (ANY metal) is for me a no-brainer. The aircraft is grounded until there’s a firm diagnosis. The die was cast and the pilot was deep into the realm of “luck” when he decided to launch anyway when he presumably knew “… that a mechanic had found non-ferrous metal in the filter screen of Brad Marzari’s engine and advised him not to fly it until it was sorted out.” Only Marzari bears the blame for his death. Hubris? He’d done it before and a little metal was a non-issue? Whatever his rationale, it all came down to luck, and desensitized concern.

    I’m not sure what exactly you meant by your suggestion that “…what’s needed is a broader way of thinking about and analyzing risk to focus on things that will kill me today, for this particular flight.” Sure there are some things that vary daily, hourly, and sometimes by the minute that we can think about and arrive at a sound decision to abandon, abort, delay, or mitigate. But there really are factors well beyond the control of any and all of us. Who recalls the high performance turbo prop that lost 1/2 of its elevator on takeoff from Lindbergh Field a few years ago? The elevators were 12′ above the ground, and completely out of reach for any pilot without a seriously tall ladder. Shitty maintenance and inadequate inspections nearly 200 flight hours prior (by several mechanics and IAs!) set two pilots up for failure. ATC errors have lured pilots who lacked full information into traps not-of-their-making. Bottom line, thinking “more broadly” can become an exercise in analysis paralysis. We each need a basket or ‘red lines’ that we will not cross. We also need to know those faded pink lines that we have crossed in the past, but were spared simply because it wasn’t our time (yet). Mazari’s death was perhaps from a pink line he’d crossed enough for the red had faded.

  17. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of enlisting the insurance companies in recurrent training. My first thought was a discount for spatial disorientation training in full motion simulators, where the motion was counter to the instruments. Perhaps a discount for recurring stick and rudder skills, with a healthy dose of recovery from inadvertent flight into IMC and partial panel work for VFR pilots. It seems to me this training, especially if it required demonstrated proficiency not just x hours, could help reduce the number of GA accidents.

    I got my tickets in the ’70s at a flight school with high standards. My principal instructor was a wise old bird who had been a civilian instructor pilot for the AAF during WW 2. “Good enough” wasn’t at that school and I’ve always been grateful I ended up there; my attitude for training since then has been “sock it to me”. If I haven’t been stretched, challenged, and broken a sweat by the training it hasn’t been worth the money. It’s an insurance policy.

  18. I think your statement about dropping the focus on apps and glass panels is spot on! The pilots I know (self included) that are having the most fun are the guys with simple panels doing simple flights in simple machines. I think the Marine Corps motto K.I.S.S. could well be applied to flying.

  19. I think your statement about dropping the focus on apps and glass panels is spot on! The pilots I know (self included) that are having the most fun are the guys with simple panels doing simple flights in simple machines. I think the Marine Corps acronym K.I.S.S. could well be applied to flying.

  20. I live near Buffalo, NY, and we have had more than our share of aviation accidents in recent years. We had two separate mid-airs that took the lives of several people I know, and one of those planes was a young Eagles flight, a promising young man whose life ended too soon along with the pilot that I knew. Another was a prominent local attorney whose TBM 700 inexplicably crashed, another was a developer who lost his life in his helicopter along with his passenger during a night flight. The other mid air was a couple of pilots who were headed to a Sunday breakfast and collided. And of course, everyone knows about the Colgan flight which crashed about a block away from where I play guitar at a local establishment in Clarence, NY. We control what we can, and try to learn from the unfortunate events of others. And I personally was fortunate to walk away from a crash as a passenger in an aircraft that experienced a stall on short final to the Geneseo Airshow . There were 4 of us, all survived, the airplane did not. Be careful out there, aviation has its hazards!

  21. “The more I write about these things, the more I think about this, the more I think the way to survive is to drop the focus on apps and glass panels and develop and maintain a heightened awareness of what can kill you.” The problem is that most of us don’t like thinking about what can kill us. Contemplating your own demise is unpleasant although events of last year caused me to think about my own mortality. I’ve been in four situations in my 64 years that could have easily gone the other way.

    The true is that since we don’t like thinking about our own mortality we don’t know everything that can kill us. Perhaps that is the training that’s needed. We know that running out of fuel, stalling when turning to final, VFR flight into IMC, etc. have the potential for killing us but these incidents are one or two steps removed from death. Not every dire situation results in death. In the final analysis, serious trauma to the body is what will result in death. The chain of events that can lead to death are unpredictable.

    I went back and looked at the CAPS video again. I’m not second guessing here but can’t help but think that your comment about less time spent with apps could apply to CAPS as well. How much time was spent going through the procedure of pulling the chut? A flying buddy of mine who is competitive aerobatic pilot, years ago talked me out of joining a Cirrus flying club. In his view, every aircraft should be able to recover from an upset with correct control inputs.

    • “In his view, every aircraft should be able to recover from an upset with correct control inputs.”

      No offense, but your friend was showing the level of ignorance that still exists out there about Cirrus airplanes. They recover from upsets just like other airplanes do. They recover from spins just like other airplanes do. The CAPS was an effort at safety that also shortened spin testing because the FAA agreed it could. Not to say the SRXX’s don’t have so bad habits, they do. But oddball recovery isn’t one of them.

      Alan Klapmeier used to say two things, one I agree with and one I don’t. One was that a pilot shouldn’t have to die for his/her mistakes or someone else’s. Hence CAPS. The other was that you don’t need some kind of special DNA to learn to fly. That’s true, too. But you might need a little of it if you hope to survive.

  22. Paul, the last paragraph bit me. Sometimes the wonderful world of aviation is not so wonderful.

    “The more I write about these things, the more I think about this, the more I think the way to survive is to drop the focus on apps and glass panels and develop and maintain a heightened awareness of what can kill you. And that’s basically everything. If it doesn’t, you hit the right combination of skill and luck. I know four people who didn’t. “

  23. Aviation is dangerous. If something goes wrong in the air, the only place to go is down and that usually isn’t gentle even with a Cirrus CAPS. Actually, much of what we do every day is dangerous. How about driving? We know for sure that we can’t eliminate all risk. It’s a matter of the degree of risk and how to minimize it. Technology is helping to make automobiles safer and to some extent that is true of aviation but much more slowly. For example, GPS and in-flight weather are big improvements. I think ADS-B traffic is an improvement as well since I often spot traffic on my iPad/ForeFlight that I can’t see until I’m much closer. Mechanical failures will increase as aircraft get older and we are flying with a very old fleet. My airplane is 35 years old. The oldest automobile that I’ve ever owned only lasted 12 years. Weather is much more of a factor in aviation than in driving. We usually don’t drive into the side of a mountain when it’s cloudy. Icing on the ground makes driving slippery but icing in the air can make you fall out of the sky. Strong winds make a car somewhat difficult to control but you can always slow down and pull over – not an option in an aircraft. Human factors continue to be a leading cause of risk in both driving and flying but look at the difference in training. Pilots receive (or should receive) many times more training the drivers. That’s the one area in human factors that can have a significant impact on lowering the risk in aviation. Good flight instructors spend a lot of time training on emergencies and difficult conditions. Unfortunately, there are lots of less good flight instructors who only spend enough time to get the student through the certificate and rating.

    So what can we do to reduce the risk of aviation farther?
    Make new technology cheaper, easier and quicker to adopt by streamlining the FAA’s rules more. Use the technology that is available: GPS, in-flight weather, ADDS-B traffic, satellite flight tracking, synthetic vision.

    Aircraft aging:
    Spend the money to maintain the aircraft properly. Always have at least one other pair of experienced eyes look over aircraft repairs and maintenance before flight. Don’t fly the aircraft if there are any significant maintenance issues. If you aren’t sure if the issue is significant, that’s a signal that it is. Replace unreliable components with more reliable components. Vacuum pumps and magnetos are good candidates.

    Use in-flight weather technology. Don’t fly or take another route if there are weather hazards along your route. Don’t try to beat the weather. Turn back or land if you encounter bad weather conditions. We all know that continued VFR flight into IMC is one of the leading causes of weather accidents. Spend the time before a flight getting a good weather briefing. That’s easier now with the available technology but some pilots still don’t bother.

    Get recurrent training at least once a year – more often if you don’t fly regularly. Spend time training on emergencies and difficult conditions: gusty crosswind landings; off-field landings; stall recovery; engine out procedures in all phases of flight; unusual attitude recovery; instrument interpretation, cross-check and failures; control failures.

  24. Paul, thanks a lot. I had to look up the prelim. report of the FW149 Piaggio crash right away, because I am flying the sister ship /STOL version, a 64 year old Dornier 27, same GO480. The pilot did not only ignore metal in the oil screen. Having lost his engine he mushed her along for a full three minutes at stall speed throwing away plenty of altitude and glide range above flat farm country in daylight. He radioed that he would not make it to the runway. She had warned him with some wing drops, but at 250 ft he finally lost it and stalled her in. Stretching the glide by pulling has never been good advice.
    This one simply refreshes an old lesson or two.

  25. When I started flying in 1976, safety wasn’t a thing and there was a lot of un-acknowledged risk taking, some of which was frankly celebrated.

    The modern day flight safety concepts did not gain traction until the 1990’s and their widespread adoption has significantly reduced the accident rate especially in commercial aviation. However I believe that those concepts have filtered down to the recreational pilot level as I see many private pilots consciously using PDM, TEM principals in a practical way.

    The inconvenient fact is that the pilots that are the most diligent are the ones who are the least in need of reminders to operate safely.

    There is still a significant portion of the GA pilot community that seem almost totally resistant to doing the things we know increase flight safety. Shockingly to me at least, was an observation from an expert in flight safety research who pointed out one reliable determinant of a pilots likelihood of having an accident was whether or not they already had had an accident. Serial offenders seem to figure prominently in the statistics.

    So what to do about “that guy” and it is always guys, that everybody at the airport knows is going to wreck an airplane ? I wish I had an answer but I have being giving this a lot of thought and have not being able to come up with any constructive ideas.

    I realize my post is a bit of a digression but I think this is the GA safety elephant With respect to the 4 accidents that Paul recounted I truly believe they are relative outliers. Flying will never be totally safe and there will always be pilots that sadly have their luck run out.

  26. “the more I think the way to survive is to drop the focus on apps and glass panels and develop and maintain a heightened awareness of what can kill you.”

    The focus should indeed be flying the airplane with a heightened awareness what can kill you for that particular flight. Each flying day is different than any other flying day. Density altitude may not be the “thing” that can kill you in January but a heightened awareness of its affects in July certainly would be appropriate. Flying the airplane with present continuous awareness of aircraft , being fully present in the cockpit should be our primary focus rather than having the airplane flying the “manager” with the thought successful technology management is actually true piloting skills.

    Like most computers, smartphones, glass panels, and popular apps, there is far more information available that can be safely used at any one time. It seems we are spending an inordinate amount of time determining what is actually useful for the moment getting task saturated in technology management losing situational awareness. The first degradation of situational awareness seems to be what the airplane is actually doing in the present moment leading to a pilot intervention well after the airplane has departed from level flight. A lot of this visual technology is at our disposal only through many pages within a popular app displayed on our iPhones, iPads, and various additional panel displays requiring a lot of deft button pushing, scrolling, and keystrokes. In the meantime, the wings are not actually level, heading is starting to wander, and the attitude of the airplane has departed from straight and level flight. Often this happens right after we have disengaged the autopilot if equipped getting prepared for the next phase of flight that demands flying skills vs technology management that is doing the flying up to this point. Its amazing how much outside awareness we lose as we saturate our brain with necessary concentration on all these visual displays. Rarely do I see even the most simple airplanes without at least one iPad often with more when including smartphones. Heads down flying is our new normal as it is with heads down driving surrounded with complex infotainment that is standard with all recent car/truck purchases. We are used to this kind of visual and aural environment.

    Flying would be unnatural to many without these influences. Anything round in the panel is now called steam gages implying a prehistoric, ancient, antique mode of aviating…as if without the glass display/magenta line, it is so outdated therefore inferior. Looking outside for visual cues, listening to what the airplane is actually telling you cannot possibly be superior to synthetic vison, multitudes of bars, graphs, multiple tape displays, scrolling numbers, including colorful displays perpetually in motion, with our choice of concert surround sound filling our ANR headsets, occasionally interrupted with a woman’s in her monotone voice calling for “terrain, terrain, terrain” or “traffic” as we button push button our way through the pattern marveling at all of the airplanes displayed via ADS-B that we cannot or have not actually seen. And we wonder why with all the competition for our attention why so many loss of control accidents in the pattern for example.

    I believe we are largely a distracted society that is not fully living in the present. It would seem logical, this new paradigm of daily living would spread to the cockpit. We drive up in cars loaded with radar, sonar, and laser technology integrated such that it keeps us between the lines, stops for us, warns us of all sorts of hazards, turns on and off the lights wipers when raining, even opening and closing doors, windows, all controlled by our smartphones so we can order our food, tell us/guide us to the pick up window, talking with faceless people through a microphone, all the while we are getting caught up with friends on FB. How often are we fully living in the present, fully engaged with our current environment, fully engaged with people in the moment vs partially distracted being injected with visual and aural sounds from multiple devices keeping us “informed and “connected”? If we do this on the ground in the car, on the motorcycle, in the boat, what would make one think it is any different in an airplane? Because we have not gotten killed or injured while doing all of this almost making our daily commute a second nature of mobile distractions, we fool ourselves into thinking we are successfully “multi-tasking”. All is well until we drive under a semi-trailer with out even a flash of the brake lights. Or glance at the GPS in a curve and get jerked into the present by the rumble strips. I believe this overwhelming amount of visual/aural information that is literally injected into us has made us to live only partially in the present, making us semi or partially oblivious to our present situation. When this happens in the cockpit as our new normal, something unexpected even a minor change in the status quo is the tipping point that takes us well into a dangerous often fatal situation.

    I am not anti-tech. But seems like we are becoming inadvertent slaves to it believing or under the delusion we are the masters. Flying in the present, fully conscious of the airplane, fully engaged with present situational awareness seems to be secondary to information management with the inevitable distracted performance that we think is airmanship. We can be distracted by more than technology including focusing on the destination instead of being in the present. That distracted paradigm will work for a percentage of time until something unexpected happens. Practice does not necessarily make perfect. However, practice will make permanent. Is our flying a practice of distraction management or practicing true airmanship? The next unexpected event will usually confirm which has been practiced the most.