The Pilot's Lounge #62:
Project D.A.R.W.I.N.

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AVweb's Rick Durden has a quick way to drop the accident rate in General Aviation to zero: Get all the incompetent, nincompoop pilots -- who are just going to have accidents eventually -- to follow those disproven old wive's tales and get their accidents over in one year. Every year after that -- no accidents.

The Pilot's Lounge

Every once in a while I find myself leaving the pleasant confines of the Pilot's Lounge at the virtual airport and speaking to a group of pilots. So long as they don't throw produce and I depart before my tires are slashed, I consider such endeavors successful. I usually discuss the contents of whatever talk I'm going to give with some of the folks in the Lounge to try and make sure the what I'm talking about is accurate and also in the hopes they will catch me before I make a fool of myself. The later effort is not always successful.

On April 26, 2003, I was invited to speak at the awards banquet for the FAA Safety Counselors of southeastern Michigan. Carol Callan and Rick Parmalee are the Safety Program Managers for the Willow Run FSDO (she is the Operations SPM for the Detroit District and he is the Airworthiness SPM for the state of Michigan) and had taken the lead to put the function together. They found themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel for someone to provide a 20-minute nap for the Safety Counselors after lunch. Hence, I was called.

The FAA's Safety Counselor program has been around for some time and has enjoyed a fair amount of success in working with pilots on safety issues in a low-key manner. All of the counselors are volunteers; they give up their time to attend initial and recurrent training on safety issues and communication methods. They are then called upon by the FAA to speak in a non-threatening fashion to pilots who may have demonstrated some error in judgment or skill. They provide peer counseling for an aviator as an alternative to what can be a Big Brother approach by the FAA.

At the banquet, the FAA recognized the hard work of Dr. Jerard Delaney of Monroe, Mich., who was named the Safety Counselor of the year for the Detroit District. Awards were given to the aviation maintenance technician of the year, Jim Gotha, also of Monroe, Mich., and the flight instructor of the year, Chris Kosin, who flies out of Plymouth Mettetal Airport. Judging from the applause in the room, the selections were very well-received. These are well-respected gentlemen in southeastern Michigan; my congratulations to each.

In preparing my talk, I did a lot of soul-searching and then decided that this group of people, who have been working so hard to improve General Aviation safety, was the perfect audience for the announcement of the shiny new aviation safety program just out from Washington. I reasoned that if Frank Zappa could be the one to stand up on the podium with Vaclev Havel in Prague during the Velvet Revolution and give the speech that called for the Russians to pull their troops out of Czechoslovakia (it's true, he did and they did), I could be the one to break the news of the most far-reaching, radical General Aviation safety program ever. I just hoped that those listening understood satire.

Ladies and Gentlemen: I am here today to pass along the details of the newest, the hottest, and what is expected to be the most effective safety program yet developed by the FAA. It has been conceived at the highest levels, following years of research into the causes of General Aviation accidents. It is being debuted today, here, in front of those men and women who are in the vanguard of aviation safety at the grass-roots level: you, the Safety Counselors.

It is being revealed to you first because you are the ones who fly in the system all the time. You are the ones out there talking to the pilots on a day-to-day basis. You are the ones the FAA needs to make this program work. Face it, you are the ones who know the pilots who are accidents just waiting to happen.

This program comes about as a result of frustration with years of efforts to reduce the G.A. accident rate without notable success. The FAA has been knocking itself out to try and keep pilots from knocking themselves off. But, as you may have noticed, the NTSB data show that the rate went up last year.

In addition, we are in a serious aviation recession, with maintenance shops closing and the value of used airplanes down by as much as 38%. Plus, fuel sales are off. This state of affairs is intolerable.

It is time for a bold stroke. It is time for recognition that there really are only two causes of accidents: stupidity and aggravated stupidity.

It is time to help boost fuel sales and provide work for those shops that rebuild wrecked airplanes.

Therefore, on behalf of the FAA, the avgas producers and independent aircraft maintenance shops, I am charged with introducing to you the program for Directed Aeronautical Re-education to Winnow Incompetent Nincompoops.

D.A.R.W.I.N. recognizes that a certain proportion of General Aviation pilots continue to do incredibly stupid things in airplanes, leading to bent metal and broken bodies on an all-too-regular basis. No matter how much we voyeurs think that is really the fun stuff, it reflects poorly on aviation, causes the FAA to have difficulty to get funding and the general public to think that all little airplanes are dangerous and those who fly them are fools.

Something has to be done.

Fortunately, something has been.

Because you are experienced pilots and know very well what dumb things cause accidents, you are being enlisted to make use of every old wives' tale, bad habit and stupid pilot trick you know or have heard of and to pass them along to that special group of pilots at the lower end of the safety spectrum, the ones who have been ignoring safety seminars and publications throughout the years, and who are going to eventually crash anyway. It's time to get them to do the dumb stuff they are destined to do and get it over with. While we recognize this will cause an initial, dramatic spike in the accident rate, we are prepared to weather that storm because we know that the result will be that the ones we have been historically unable to reach will be killed off in a few months and the accident rate will go to zero.

Therefore, we encourage you to discourage pilots from getting weather briefings. The FSS will change their standard briefing to a simple recording that says, "The weather stinks, but what do you care? You won't listen to anything we say. We know you're going to go anyway. Have a nice day." That alone is expected to save millions of dollars for the upcoming tax cut for those who make far more than anyone in this room. After all, a mile and clear of clouds is legal down low, so encourage folks to fly just like your mother told you to, low and slow. If they take out a few tall towers and some of those unsightly cellphone structures in that mile and clear of clouds weather, so much the better for the rest of us.

Recommend that pilots land flaps up in crosswinds while maintaining at least 30 knots above normal approach speed. While we know that the accident rate drops when more flaps are used on crosswind landings, pilots don't like the sloppy way the airplane handles when it is slowed down. Encourage them to fly way too fast because the airplane feels crisper. They've been buying that nonsense for years; they'll believe you. By the time they figure out their real challenge on a crosswind landing occurs only after touchdown, it will be too late and you will have helped the business of some shop that rebuilds wrecked airplanes.

By the same token, discourage the use of aileron deflection when taxiing, taking off and landing on windy days. Yes, we know that few people get killed from such actions, but you have to admit that it's a lot more fun on those days that you are hanging out around the airport if you get to see one or two airplanes get blown over while taxiing. Those strings of safe transitions to and from the runway are way too boring. You are working hard as Safety Counselors; you are entitled to a little entertainment.

Keep the old wives' tales about leaning alive and well. Tell pilots that they should never lean in cruise unless they are above 3,000 or 5,000 feet (whichever arbitrary, meaningless altitude you want). Most of that crowd fly low anyway, so you can help them get their fuel burns right on up there, which has a double benefit: It helps out our oil company friends and gets rid of those who don't understand how to get book fuel burns on cross countries. As an added incentive, by encouraging pilots not to lean their engines in cruise or descent, we're going to help foul more plugs, selling more and providing more income for mechanics.

Do not tell people about the benefits of operating lean of peak; we do not want them leaning. While we know it is true, absolutely do not tell them that CHTs will drop, fuel consumption will drop and their engines will last longer.

During D.A.R.W.I.N. you are not to mention such things.

You know and I know that recurrent training is the single most effective way of reducing accidents; however, there is that hard core of G.A. pilots who still don't like taking flight reviews, even if they only have to do so every two years. Therefore, we will be working with you to publish lists of names of flight instructors who will sign off flight reviews, without ground school or flying, in return for a six-pack of beer. We will need your help in collecting names and in quietly passing around the list so that it is perceived that it is some secret the FAA doesn't know about.

One of the most promising techniques for rapidly reducing the ranks of the clueless is to encourage them to fly their airplanes fast in turbulence. Hey, it just stands to reason that an airplane can handle more when it's light, so maneuvering speed must be higher than when it's loaded, right? We'll have a few months of aluminum rain as airplanes break up, but, we're making an omelet here, we have to break some eggs, er ... airplanes.

As a part of this program, to help sell more engines, please recycle and use such old wives' tales as encouraging partial-power takeoffs and climbs so pilots can "baby" their engines. Yes, we know that it's one of the best ways to overheat engines, but just think, we're going to be able to help Lycoming and Continental out of this recession by selling more engines when they don't make TBO.

Be sure and pass along the misinformation that if a pilot declares an emergency there will be reams and reams of FAA paperwork. We don't want them knowing there is no paperwork because if they declare an emergency they might just get help and survive. This, as I've pointed out, is contrary to the D.A.R.W.I.N. program.

Get out there and use your knowledge of myths and old wives' tales. Encourage downwind takeoffs and landings and how to misread a windsock. Tell them that on an instrument approach there's quite a large safety cushion at DA or MDA; that "ducking under" is no big deal and they can ignore that stuff about cold-weather altimeter error because it's nice and warm in a heated cockpit. Tell people that twins are so much safer than singles that recurrent training isn't needed. Discourage weight and balance calculations.

Repeat the killer phrases: "If you can get it in the door, this airplane can carry it;" "Sure you can fill the tanks and the seats, otherwise the FAA wouldn't let them install that many seats;" "If the tail comes up on takeoff, you're loaded okay;" "What's a little over gross? After all, they build in a margin of safety;" "Hey, that airplane has that big engine STC so it'll carry more;" "It's legal to fly 15% over gross in Alaska in the same airplane, it's OK to do it here."

You know none of those are true, but remember, we're out to get rid of the yahoos here; let's get it done so we don't have to sit around waiting for them to do themselves in. If you get nervous, remember that a lot of research went into D.A.R.W.I.N. and we're just providing a little nudge to get them out of the way now instead of later.

If they want to replace a broken part with something from an auto supply shop to save money, encourage them. This is war, ladies and gentlemen; use every weapon in your arsenal.

When you hear, "Y'all watch this!" over the frequency, immediately pick up the mic and intone encouragingly, "We're watchin' Bubba!"

In closing, I thank you for your anticipated support of this creative, innovative program that promises to slash the General Aviation accident rate to nothing. We have received assurances from the NTSB that we have a King's X on accident data for the remainder of this year, so those folks won't even start counting or calculating again until January 1, 2004. We've got a window of opportunity. Let's get out there and put a little chlorine into aviation's gene pool.

(Boy, I really hope they understand satire.)

They didn't throw produce. The tires were still inflated when I got to my car.

See you next month.