Welcome To The Age Of Stupid


As a journalistic enterprise, video interviews like the one I did with Bruce Landsberg last week on the Dale Snodgrass crash have one glaring fault that reminds me of eating green bananas. You usually have to publish them before they’ve had a chance to ripen and once in the wild, there’s no practical way to call them back for a refit.

This was revealed to me within hours of posting the video when viewers and AVweb readers had comments and questions about the age factor. In other words, was Snodgrass’ age—he was 72—a factor in the crash? I wish I would have thought of it during the interview simply to make the point that there’s no way to know this and, in the end, it doesn’t matter. I’ll get to that.

I did express my increasing frustration and discouragement about what all this accident reporting we’re doing is supposed to do, exactly. There is more of it than ever and if you’re so inclined, you can now watch YouTube videos on an accident while the wreckage is still smoldering. I’m beginning to think it won’t be long before there’s sufficient bandwidth to livestream the damn things. Despite this All Wrecks/All The Time, we’re still crashing for the same handful of reasons, so the stuff you need to remember to avoid a smoking hole hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years. Yet, we still keep doing it, both with fatal results and just serious bent metal.

This is why I’m not convinced age is much of a factor, absent any serious and noticeable decline caused by diagnosed disease or perhaps dementia. I’m not referring to the Snodgrass crash specifically but flying in general. As you age, your landings might get crappy and you might have trouble remembering frequencies and transponder codes, seeing distant traffic is a challenge, but you really don’t have to remember that much to avoid a fatal mistake and really, it may be just one thing: Use checklists if you have cause to worry that you’ll overlook something critical. Skip the checklist—or a flow—and you’re almost sure to miss something, as Dale Snodgrass certainly did. Missing stuff is not necessarily an age-related thing.

I recently read a history of the Mercury program in which John Glenn encountered tracking issues with his Mercury capsule when he oriented it to fly backward. He had a forehead slapping moment when the debriefers gently reminded him he forgot to flip a switch that enabled reverse mode for the autopilot. And Glenn had asked for the switch. He was 41 at the time and had been trained exhaustively.

Bruce Landsberg and I discussed attribution bias, the tendency to blame another person’s failure on character or personality traits as a means of assuring ourselves we would never do such a stupid thing as that so, hey, I’m OK here.

But for pilots, I think age causes us to ascribe potential cause and effect where there may be none, which is my way of explaining why we saw so many questions theorizing age as a factor. It could have been, but it could also have been just the kind of dumb mistake all of us have been making our entire lives. Reading any more into it than that is to drive yourself to distraction worrying about things that don’t matter. If a simple mistake caused a crash, take it onboard and avoid repeating it. You don’t need an NTSB recommendation for that. Or if you do, maybe it’s time to rethink this flying thing.

Having done more than my share of dumb stuff, some of it by more intention than I’m willing to admit, a while ago I started looking at risk differently after I suffered an ankle injury while skydiving. I jokingly refer to this as having entered the age of stupid and when I got a note recently from a friend who fell over and injured himself while fueling an airplane … well, welcome to the age of stupid. Another friend younger than I am fell while running across a parking lot and gashed her arm and knee.

Now—and this is age related—I focus less on the activity itself and more on the risks that could cause injury. When I prop the Cub, I go through the usual chocking and tiedown, but I give everything a second look before swinging the blade. When working on the airplane or in the shop, I never skip eye protection now and, when necessary, hearing protection, too. I’ve gotten smarter about not stabbing myself with a slipped screwdriver and I’ll search around for the drive extension rather than risk busted knuckles (again) for torquing a fastener without it. I’m resisting the shortcut at every turn for although life is short, I’d like to live the rest of it without any new scars. But I’m not going to stop living just to stay alive.

All this may sound like “being careful,” but I dislike that phrase, especially when someone tells you to be that way. A nightly newscaster closes with, “stay safe.” What the ^%$# does that even mean? I prefer the concept of being aware or staying on the bubble. Being careful is just avoiding the obvious things that might hurt you. Or avoiding the basic thrill of life, which many people do, especially as they get older. Being aware is standing back, taking a pause and asking yourself if you’ve thought of everything. Or, if you thought of anything.

Also, watch the meds. No, not the ones you take out of the little pill minder but the 200 mg of denial we all take every day. Keep upping the dose and ongoing success will numb you to the fact you may be about to do something that used to be just ordinary stupid but is now verging on fatal.

I could go on here, I suppose, but you I suspect you get the gist. Meanwhile, I’ve got to check on a couple of videos that are ripening.  

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  1. I’ll second the age comments, I feel I’m sharp as I ever was plus now have the buffer of experience. Why, I … I … what were we talking about?

    • You were describing the buffer of experience as aging occurs to build up more……….um….never mind. Gotta’ stop texting in the pattern. I don’t know why ctaf comms are angry at me extending the pattern?

  2. Normal people doing a normal takeoff in a taildragger would have immediately noticed that the elevator was locked, chopped the power, and would be fine .

    Hotshot pilots used to hotshot takeoffs and wanting a hotshot takeoff would not realize something was wrong until they were already airborne. Thus it’s neither age nor experience, it’s a hotshot in a small plane getting trapped by his own bravado.

    • That’s exactly how I’d categorize ‘Snort,’ Art … an overconfident “hotshot.” Read on …

      Not to disparage the dead but … I used to work in Flight Test Ops for a large aerospace company ON the St Augustine airport (KSGJ). Our windows overlooked the displaced threshold touchdown area of runway 13. When he was based there, I’ve seen him do a bunch of not only nutty but also blatantly unsafe acts. At the top of that list was his repeated inverted approaches to runway 13 in an F-86. We’re talking about the vertical tail being ~10′ above ground. This means he went over busy US 1 inverted at very low and unsafe altitudes. I can’t remember if that was before or after a tower was built? I don’t care how many hours one has in military jets or Tomcats … that ain’t safe and is indicative of his mindset. Over all the years I spent at Edwards AFB, many of the test pilots there had the same mindset. For these types of guys … humility and caution and their flying styles are mutually exclusive. Some of the Navy pilots I worked with (who were in the first TopGun movie) didn’t like him for that reason, either. THEY said he was a ‘hotshot.’

      These guys ARE well trained and good pilots; but tempting fate starts a mindset that will ultimately lead to an accident chain … and did here. It wasn’t his age … it was his mindset. Had the NTSB dug deeper, they’da found that out. Further, he flew trikes, not taildraggers so that was likely a contributing factor? I’d be more interested in knowing if they could find a reason he had ‘get there itis’ OR was otherwise in a hurry? He got away with no tail strike in an F-86 but a simple towbar DID get him. RIP to him.

      Beyond that … “There are no old bold pilots” is proven … once again.

      • Not disputing mishap report conclusions.

        St Augustine had (has?) an aerobatic box when Snort flew the F-86 in airshows with a surface level waiver. Snort did not crash in an airshow or practicing for one. Others fly inverted passes in airshows, it is not prohibited by the FAA with the appropriate waiver. I can’t comment on your observations, but when providing airshow training Snort emphasized the importance of managing energy vector and flight path in the box to ensure crowd safety.

        Snort willingly/generously trained and mentored several generations of tactical and airshow pilots and was endorsed by at least one CNO 4 star aviator…as far as “hotshot” how about we let those “Navy pilots” speak for themselves.

        • Some of his Navy cohorts who saw the same thing DID … and adjudged him negatively. That’s why I added that comment. BIG diff flying near a boat offshore in a Tomcat and doing it over a highly populated area inverted in a jet — acro box notwithstanding. It reflected his mindset was my point. One awshit cancels 100 attaboys.

          • One only has to watch the YouTube autobiographical presentation he gave at Smithsonian to gain insight to his personality and dismissiveness. (and to find the funny background to his nickname “Snort”… “it had to do with his relationship with a fat woman in a foreign port”)

          • Comments on mishap are appropriate, comments on mindset are disrespectful of someone you did not know.

            I respect a difference of opinion regarding safety, but do not respect an opinion of this danger if no effort was made to confront, and if not satisfied with the response, no one bothered to engage the FSDO…lacking that it’s just a bitter mutter in a coffee cup.

            I am honored to have learned from and flown with Snort…and also honored to have been a USN “cohort” who benefitted from the training he provided to his community that provided my top cover.

          • Served at Oceana when Dale was a bogey driver in VF43, then VF143 and VF33. It is a complex problem to ascertain if age or attitude contributed. He broke a lot of F14’s over stressing and using main flaps in ACM engagements after pulling AUX Flap CB’s. He was also known to pull MCB CB’s to get more engine thrust, reducing stall margin in the process. He’d turn the Airsource off (engine bleed) for the same reason, which by the way, prohibited the gun from firing. The strange aspect is that a good pilot didn’t need to do any of that to win in the F14A/B, it added risk unnecessary.

            All of those CB’s were in the aft cockpit, and as a result, there were plenty of RIO’s who refused to fly with him. That’s just a fact, easily verified, some of which comes straight from Dale himself.

            He carved out a niche for himself, continuing to fly demos when he was a senior aviator, in a position where demo flights traditionally went to far more junior pilots as a “Good deal”, meant for retention. He met a bunch of warbird owners and pilots in the airshow community, and leveraged that after he retired into flying a bunch of neat aircraft. He liked to fly very, very low, that isn’t disputed either.

            Despite all of that, he was also known for constantly practicing and mentoring his wingman, his wingman would go through formation transitions to the landing config, gun sight tracking, getting as much training as possible. That’s the quandary, Dale seemed to be both disciplined about many aspects of aviation and cavalier about others. I was shocked to hear that he landed an F86 gear up, but it also made me think back to other events.

            Perhaps his legacy will be the well known adage that Knowledge and Discipline keep you alive in aviation. Physics isn’t impressed by your experience or standing in life. You have to have the mindset that every flight is a survival situation, no matter how fatigued, distracted or rushed that you might be.

            Paul is right about the frustratingly constant carnage in aviation. Pilots keep dying for the same reasons, over and over. It’s maddening.

      • Dale had plenty of taildragger time in everything from a personally owned RV8 and Glasair Sportsman to F4U’s and P51’s.

        Towbar? Really?

        Maybe put a little effort into basic research before launching into wild speculation?

        • Just saying that a normal pilot doing a normal takeoff in a taildragger would immediate see that the controls did not work and power off immediately.

          A hotshot pilot doing a rocket-ship departure won’t realize the problem. He goes from “oh yea!” To “oh shyte” before he can do anything.

      • “Further, he flew trikes, not taildraggers so that was likely a contributing factor?”
        Dale had lots of time in a number of WWII taildragger aircraft as well as a Pitts and several other conventional gear aircraft.

      • It seems the real discussion is where that fine line is between pushing things to the limit as safely as possible, and simply pushing things a bit too far. A pilot may be meticulous 99% of the time, but over-confident/complacent/whatever 1% of the time, but it’s the 1% that can kill. Normalization of deviance will eventually bite, and it will bite hard.

  3. Speaking of age, every time I scroll to the bottom of your posts and see that picture with the helmet I’m reminded of Gage and DeSoto….”Squad 51, Squad 51…man down at Figueroa and 59th St….time out 1233″……

    Just saying….

  4. Because of age and experience I not only feel safer, I know I’m safer. That being said, I am more diligent than ever about looking over my shoulder, check, double check, triple check and look over my shoulder again maybe even get out of the airplane and do another walk around because something tells me to. All a little time consuming and maybe this is one of the attributes of getting old. Yes, us old people do have a tendency to move a little slower than we used to and there is a very good reason for that.

    • Learning from our mistakes and being careful is how we GOT THIS MUCH OLDER! I know exactly what you mean when you mention “check, double check, triple check, and look over my shoulder again.”

      “Attributes of getting old”–you are correct–it’s how we GOT THIS WAY! (thumb up)

      • Being distracted is a factor, hence sterile cockpit. Having learned from that I make sure the car keys are in the pocket before slamming the door. Better, seeing the car keys in one hand, the other on the door handle.

        • FUNNY! Upon leaving a vehicle, I always pat down all my pockets making sure what’s supposed to be there is before I close the door. I haven’t locked myself out of a car ever. But, just to be sure … a spare key hides in each vehicle. In like manner, once taking off w/ a towbar on the nose of a 150 at night, I ALWAYS ask myself, “where is the towbar” before climbing into whatever I’m flying.

  5. It’s not the diminishing motor skills, or, changes in metal acuity that are the problem as we age. It’s the killing of our basic ability to think and reason. This isn’t an industry problem, it’s a societal problem and it is getting worse. Yes, stupid is getting more stupid and it’s vogue. I’m glad I’m old and getting older. It has a lot of benefits like being smarter about pretty much anything.

  6. Yes as I age I gain experience etc. But really the reason I’m giving up my GA life is that to Paul’s point you will be able to watch the Blancolirio channel, Avawebs, Kathryn’s etc for the next million years and nothing changes. There will be no Paul B (you choose) blog post saying ‘the GA accident rate is now halved.’

    Flying requires not screwing up 100% of the time. My wife praises me for my safety culture and diligence, but I tell her not to kid herself. I have to be that careful and diligent 100% of the time. And I’m kidding myself (we all are) if we think we can keep that up. I’m not flying that regularly to stay proficient so I’m tapping out. Sure, I may come back – I’ve done it before, but I’m getting too old for that much effort to stay alive. Great post, Paul. Stay safe 😛

  7. “I focus less on the activity itself and more on the risks that could cause injury” reminds me of the saying, “youth are driven by the pursuit of pleasure; the old are driven by the avoidance of pain.”

  8. The main problem is that ankle injuries which used to heal in 7 days now take 20, and unless you show great self discipline, those 20 days with reduced exercise result in so much weight gain that the knees are at risk…
    Must check the spare bag of frozen peas in still in the freezer…

  9. “But I’m not going to stop living just to stay alive”. A statement to live by! My business involves the use of equipment that will kill its user in a few seconds when when used improperly. I teach young employees respect for the dangers, the importance of expecting the unexpected, and to have a plan if something goes wrong, which will happen on occasion. And that people like us are needed – if we all avoid risks all the time nothing gets done. The old Scout motto comes to mind: “Be Prepared”. How old was Hoover when he performed his final airshow deadstick flight routine?

  10. Having read Atul Gwande’s “Checklist Manifesto,” I began applying checklist discipline and that One Final Look to my interventional radiology practice. Most every surgery in the US now begins that way; I guess we all wised-up more or less simultaneously. Now retired, I make it a habit to also take that One Final Look before embarking on anything that could kill me.

    My teenaged son, budding carpenter and electrician, and terminally frustrated with The Old Guy, asked me why I was always so careful. I simply answered, “Because it only takes one time.”

  11. i have owned my plane since 1993. I pull my checklist out and follow it faithfully everytime I fly. I know the day I don’t will be the day…………….

  12. As an “AGING PILOT,” I’ve decided to concentrate my energy on avoiding ONE thing: PROFESSIONAL EMBARRASSMENT. I’m NOT at all concerned about dying; but, professional embarrassment would be terrible (to me). Background: Like Snodgrass, I flew from carrier decks for 20 years before flying big jets around the world for an Airline. Now retired, I own a fairly complex GA aircraft and have taken it all over the country. I had very little GA experience when I purchased my plane and knew I needed (and got) training. But the overriding consideration was, again, not wanting to embarrass myself — or hurt a family member! It may sound trite, but those are powerful motivators. So then, what would cause such embarrassment? Running out of fuel. Landing with my gear UP. Landing at the wrong airport. Flying into DANGEROUS weather (NEVER should happen in this age with all that’s available ). And lastly: I never want to find myself airborne when I should never have taken off — i.e. Get-home-itis, “we can stretch our fuel a little more,” mountain wave can’t be that bad! No thanks. I’ll fly later or tomorrow.

    Regarding Dale: I knew about him and admired his skills and professionalism; don’t remember if we ever met. My Navy aircraft (E-2C Hawkeye) and his (F-14 Tomcat) worked very closely together, so I know a thing or two about the Tomcat. He made that plane sing and dance like no other. He was not a “hotdog” though. He was the ultimate fighter pilot and a demonstration pilot-extraordinaire, and always measured risk wisely. And then he made a simple mistake. No need to read anything more into it than that. It can happen to anyone, on any given day, if we let our guard down. And it’s sad.

    What’s to be learned/relearned? There’s a time to accept hastiness, but it’s never acceptable when it’s time to get in the air. Don’t rush anything. Read your checklist quickly if you wish; but, READ THE CHECKLIST. And ALWAYS “WAVE GOODBYE TO THE AIRPORT” before taking the runway. “Wave goodbye.” Wipe out the cockpit. Fully deflect all control surfaces. Whatever works for your memory will suffice. For me, I wave goodbye with my ailerons and rudder and elevator. It sounds silly, and that’s the point. It’s memorable BECAUSE it’s silly and yet essential. I wish Dale had remembered.

    • Thanks, Ralph ..for that very gracious post. I also have admired fellow aviators who…despite their individual shortcomings… had various wonderful talents. Snorts’ talents were, Are… astonishing. But again referring to his own autobiographical presentation made at Smithsonian…. to “Win” against fellow aviators and to win many of his accolades…. in his own words…he Cheated. He would secretly dump a ton of fuel to become lighter at the beginning of the contest.. Now able to out-maneuver his opponent…He would shoot the opponent down early in the exercise to win the contest… having broken the rules to do so.
      That sort of behavior, …once “internally normalized”…. becomes a sense of exemption from the rules. Flying does not allow many exemptions from the rules.

    • I enjoyed and commend you for your post Ralph. I agree “it can happen to anyone, on any given day” and there is plenty of evidence that it does.

      I think the notion that as we age we become more dangerous is a tough case to prove. As has been mentioned several times here, a checklist overcomes a memory problem. A checklist also overcomes a host of other of mental deficiencies; tiredness, distraction, being late/rushing, low I.Q. and high I.Q. (Note: when you started flying, your instructor didn’t tell you start using a checklist once you hit age 50, he/she told you to use it from day one) Yup, you can be 20-something and still forget stuff, I know I did and would bet that most reading this post have too. So it’s not a memory issue.

      Complacence? Well, that can be an issue, but again it doesn’t just affect older pilots. In fact insurers will tell you the biggest risks are pilots with 2-4000 hours flying time, at any age.
      Ralph you flew a lot of quality hours before going GA, yet you took the time to train – you weren’t complacent.

      I think Ralph has it right, making a mistake can happen to anyone at any age on any day. The dumb flying mistakes I made when I was young served to teach me unforgettable lessons, I learned from each one. I think I am a safer pilot in my 40th year of flying than I was in my earlier years, and like Ralph, I’ve decided not to be airborne when when I should not have taken off.

  13. Thanks Paul, always a good read, your articles.
    Yes, a checklist helps clear my mind for the task at hand and the fun of the flight.
    Age 60

  14. Years ago, I based my aircraft at a local airport. One of the owner pilots that I knew (admittedly not real well) owned a high performance retractable based at the same airport. He had the nasty habit of using his shortcuts when it came to preflight and engine start etc. He would do a quick walk around for preflight, then start his engine in the hanger and taxi out. He did a lot of flying for business purposes and couldn’t bother with all the rest of that nonsense. Fortunately, he did eventually have to quit flying due to loss of medical. He was lucky, in that his shortcuts didn’t cost him, or anyone else, injury or worse.

  15. If you can think of 10 reasons why an accident happened there is probably 100 reasons. Distraction(s), complacency, etc to the 10th power. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t do at least two control checks before takeoff ….but I guess that is the point……..if I didn’t remember to do the checks how would I remember that I didn’t do them.

    We all know that this accident (like all accidents) was totally preventable. In this article Paul pens the real message…..”we keep repeating the same accidents”. We are chatting about this accident because the pilot was famous, and only because he was famous. But what if this accident had happened to Stosh of No-Place, Michigan? You probably would not have heard about the accident and you would not have given it one thought had you read of the same. There is a high probability the NTSB wouldn’t even show up for Stosh’s accident but would send the local FISDO to investigate.

    If you believe as I do that all accidents are preventable then the question is where do we go from here? As an industry how to we stop the repetitive cycle of accidents and fatal accidents. More regulation is not the answer? More of the same training is probably not the answer.

    Dale Snodgrass – Highly Experienced and trained
    Kobe Bryant Pilot – Highly Experienced and trained
    Lear Jet crew at Gillespie Field – Experienced and trained
    Challenger crew at Truckee – Highly Experienced and trained
    Stosh at No Place, Michigan – 100 hours total time, stalled on takeoff, funeral Thursday.

    God bless.

    • One caveat to “highly experienced and trained”: often times being highly experienced and trained in one type of flying does not carry over fully to a different type of training. In the case of Kobe’s pilot, like many helicopter pilots he was not current or even very experienced with flying in IMC in a helicopter, and that one time he pushed it too far. The same is true with airline or military pilots flying GA, or even with experienced GA pilots who have decided to downsize to smaller, less-complex aircraft, but ones that have lighter wing loading.

      Hopefully over time we all gain the wisdom to know when we don’t know enough about a particular type of flying we’re doing, so we purposely slow down and/or take additional training until we are more competent. But eventually, we all get to a point where we no longer have the necessary self-awareness to catch and recognize errors or omissions that we once were able to. So in that sense, aging is a factor, but it’s not a defined number. Some people are just able to maintain this awareness at an older age than others.

    • Agree…

      We have both wisdom and hubris laced through both Paul’s thoughtful essay and the comments it has received. Unsurprising to me are the comments that assert age can’t be a factor ‘because…” then there’s a litenay of rationales that include ‘experience’, ‘shart as ever’, ‘checklists… fast or slow’ and etc. We’re all familiar with the “life limited parts”. We all know that stress cracks can be deadly, and that some parts are more failure prone than others. So we change ’em out BEFORE hidden defects, or small (yet visible) damage can fail. Yet we debate the most critical “life limited” component of all… the pilot (and crew). I recall posts after the Galloping Ghost disaster in Reno a few too many years ago. Same arguments, same denial of human mortality. Some of us wear out more quickly than others. A quick pass through the obits is undeniable evidence. Perhaps an even more personal example might be the onst of erectile dysfunction or the need for first bifocals, then trifocals. Yes, diet, exercise, lifestyle, sleep, and consistent mindfulness of our personal health MAY extend our longevity. Little pills and corrective lenses may add a few years to other body parts. But, like the many components of our aerial macines… we too will wear out. Our brains age too. A 70 year old brain is not the same as it was at 20, 30, 40, or… FWIW, the NTSB aviation data is yet another data set that suggests accidents don’t just happen. While the number of active pilots by age demographic steadily increase through 50 years or so, the numders pleateau, then begin to decline in the sith decade. And the number of accidents by age cohort increases from the sixth decade on from this progressively smaller population. Richard Collins is one of my aviation heros. He, unlike many great pilots, knew when to hang up his airplane keys.

  16. Given that stupid and anything to do with flying machines don’t mix well, entering the “age of stupid” should be an obvious red flag for pilots that have entered that stage of life…and are honest enough with themselves to admit they’ve arrived. While the ink was still wet on my Private Pilot certificate, and much older and wiser mentor pilot taught me a very valuable lesson that I never forgot: “S**t happens. Especially around airplanes.” To borrow a line from the old Hill Street Blues cop show, “Let’s be careful out there.”

  17. As always, Paul, your writing educates and entertains. Thanks for doing your job in an such an exemplary manner.

  18. Anytime anyone of us flies west (either due to our own fallible human nature or forces beyond our control) is a sad day, regardless of the reason.

    When I started learning (I soloed 35 years ago yesterday..7.17.87), what was drummed into my thick French/Irish head was that 1) you assume a certain amount of risk by committing aviation, and 2) mishaps do not happen in a vacuum; they are a result of a chain of events that, missing one link, will prevent (or ameliorate) the outcome. Even when I took checkrides up the ratings ladder…I developed my own maneuver checklists/flow (especially in the complex planes..) to ensure that the number of variables that could cause failure were minimized. OCD maybe? But never busted a ride.

    Now, 35 years later, 21 as a double-I, a pretty decent list of successful students launched off into their own careers (including one who ended up as an IP at Pensacola after Naval Academy and carrier service and a few more flying for the majors), I still walk around and preflght with that darn Cessna checklist in my hand and poke and prod my bird. And I’m the only one who flies her. Especially AFTER any maintenance. And she’s in a locked hangar, to boot! To my (again…) thick French/Irish head…what we do is build upon each previous set of checks. I can’t, for instance, move the ailerons on the walk-around if the lock is in. And when I get to the run up pad…Controls—–Free and Correct…which reinforces that confirming moving the controls on the walk around was correct and in the right direction because I took the lock out when I opened the door to start preflight. Again, eliminating a link in a chain that could leave to hurt (or bent aluminum).

    I’m not going to second-guess Mr. Snodgrass’ decisions which led to his demise, nor his ability. He can’t defend himself, and it’s easy to pontificate as to why (his decision to take to the air, which is subjective) versus the what (locked controls) which brought about the crash. I’d prefer to learn from the ‘what’ where it intersects with my experience(s) and ensure that lesson is part of my own analysis of whether there is something I should be doing to break that failure chain.

    At 66, perhaps that’s the best. After all…hoping someday someone nominates me for the Wright Award…so, following the rules to keep the records clean until then! There’s enough ‘unknowns’ in our avocation to have to wonder whether the ‘knowns’ have been addressed.

  19. Pilots are risk takers, some more than others. Not doing a thorough preflight, or using a checklist, or boxing the controls before takeoff is a conscious decision to accept more risk. I doubt Snort forgot to do these things because of his age. It was a conscious decision motivated by a poor assessment of his vulnerabilities.

    • Regardless of the human decision making involved with skipping the control check, that still leaves the question of how was it possible to not notice that the control locks were in place?

      • I flew a T-34A for 28 years. The control lock was down low on the stick but you’da noticed that the stick wasn’t able to move almost instantly. There’s GOT to be more to this story ??

  20. Re age and flying. Despite a career flying professionally I have always been a GA guy powered and glider, first and foremost. I believe GA does have a age problem. I am seeing more and more elderly gentleman, and it is always guys, who should not be flying. The reality is the GA age demographic is skewing older and older.

    One that springs to mind finally gave up when he could not climb up the step into his Cherokee. He should have stopped flying years ago and was lucky not to have had an accident

    Some pilots need to be told it is time to hang up their wings. It is a hard conversation to have but it has to happen more

    Paul: Do you think the accident curve is age related ? Anecdotally it seems to me incident/accidents are skewed towards the very young and very old.

    • During nearly 30 years as a CFI, there were a few occasions where I needed to discuss the “is it time to hang it up?” question with a pilot. I recall doing a flight review with a fellow in his 70’s that I knew to be quite sharp intellectually, and was still working at his professional job every day. All that was very nice, but my ONLY job as CFI was to determine his ability to safely operate as PIC for another 2 years. From that perspective, he had clearly begun to slow down when it came to tasks requiring immediate and correct response. His performance on simulated engine failure tasks, and radio communications in our often demanding tower-controlled airport environment, caused me to not endorse his logbook and suggest that he rethink flying.

      On a more personal note, I sold my own Cherokee 140 (after 21 years of ownership) when arthritis made entry and egress, and working the flat handle, more difficult. Not to mention the bending and walking around required for a thorough preflight. And in the worst case scenario, would I be able to help a passenger exit the airplane after an off-airport landing? At the end of the day I just didn’t want to be observed limping around out on the ramp, and be remembered as the arthritic old guy who should have hung this up long ago.

  21. Take comfort: I heard this from my AME in England;

    Happily, advancing age does not appear to be a noticeable factor in pilot-related incidents. Presumably, the detrimental effects of ageing on the cognitive process are mitigated by the beneficial effects on judgement that increased operational experience affords. (So there!)
    Ed Wild Sussex, UK (90)

  22. Aren’t we supposed to get wiser as we age?

    A checkpilot in the airline I worked for mentioned one day a recent flight that showed youth has flying skill but not great judgement.

    Yes, I am aged – do have to have a mental checklist not to rush, to think the full picture.

  23. When it comes to age and flying, I’ve come to the conclusion that simple is the best option. Even with checklists, complexity invites risk. Here is what caused to come to this realization. Recently I had the opportunity to lease a 1982 Mooney M20K. It is a very nice aircraft, flies high and fast and the previous owner spared no expense with numerous upgrades over the years. When some new electronics came out, he installed it. Now it is a combination of avionics platforms, which makes it a very complex aircraft of operate. It has five different user interfaces each with their own unique pattern of button clicks that requires memorization. No amount of checklists will solve this issue. Then there is the engine management. It has a turbo. I’m sure many aircraft are similar. Can I fly the aircraft safely? Sure. I have 350+ hours in Mooneys. Could a program the thing to shoot an approach to 200 ft from memory? Probably not. The amount of effort to stay current in the aircraft outweighs the usefulness. So give me a simple, reliable Cessna 172. It’s slower but much less complex. BTW, when I took my checkride in the aircraft, the instructor observed that it was the most complex aircraft he had ever flown and he regularly flies multiengine turbine aircraft.

    • And THAT is why I’ve now owned MY 172M for 37 years !! I get the joy of flying w/o some of the cost/complexity and potential for issues.

  24. We are certainly living in the age of stupid. The world is upside down stupid. Age hasn’t anything to do with it. Once the belief that biology is a social construct and that only the fools in political office could improve our lives took hold that was similar to locking the co-pilot out of the cockpit and trimming full nose down with throttle at max power. Stupid always hurts. It hurts in aviation and it eventually becomes fatal to a society that no longer recognizes what stupid is.

  25. Remember a piece in the “Flying” magazine many, many years ago. A young instructor arrived at work and noticed an elderly gentleman with book in hand walking around an aircraft looking as though he was doing a pre flight and appearing some what unsure of what he was about. Young instructor thought he would go out and offer help and put his teaching skills to use only to learn the gentleman was some old geezer going by the name of Charles Lindbergh doing a pre flight by the book. I’m sure there is a lesson somewhere in there.

  26. I forgot to do stuff all the time when I was flying in my teens and 20s. I don’t seem to miss anything now. I’m far more careful in my 50s. And I’ve noticed this with current pilots, including instructors. 20 something instructors do seem to skim over stuff and some seem try to prove how good they are at flying. I also fly with people over 80. They are deliberate with their actions. I think they know it is that time of their life when they may have memory problems. Their are pilots that do call it quits when people tell them, they have issues. Kind of like driving a car though, some will keep driving beyond time to hand over the keys, even when others have said… you have a medical issue.
    I’ve flown with several hundred instructors now around the country, so I think I have a good feel now for what is going on in flight training and age. The older instructors seem to be more deliberate in their actions when they aren’t rushed. I’ve gone back to working on the line also to watch pilots of all ages do their pre flights. And yes, I’ve seen older and younger pilots miss things.
    Like speeding down the road, you will not see all the dangers ahead of you. That is when things are missed, not age. Pitot cover was missed and because of the location on the low wing plane he likely would have taken off with it on… I had to stop him.
    Again, younger pilots, that are freshly trained, seem to also have the check list out. I think recently trained to use check lists and not being rushed is the reason, not age.

  27. Paul, on the avoid smoking holes.
    There is something bothering me about training. ALL TRAINING. I mentioned it in other places and most agree. Pilots are not being trained on the same level, ‘Don’t Crash’. That is the object.
    So, what training is needed by a commercial pilot that is not needed for a private pilot? Any non aviation person that walks up to an aircraft has no idea the difference between a private and commercial pilot. I challenge anyone to tell me what flight maneuver a commercial pilot needs to know, that a private pilot doesn’t need know.
    I’ve had pilots tell me, none, but they still want 250 hrs for the standard for a commercial certificate.
    This idea that one pilot needs less training than any other pilot is idiotic and killing pilots regularly. A pilot is a pilot… and a commercial operation is regulatory. Yes, a commercial license (this shouldn’t even be a line in a pilot certificate).
    I agree with the federal judge, the term commercial can not be changed by the FAA. It should be just like a business license. A regulatory test if you like. But if I want to hire a ‘pilot’, that should be up to me and my insurance company. A pilot, should be a pilot… don’t crash.
    I’m not saying airlines need to say a 40 hr pilot should jump in a 737… but it should be entirely up to an employer, who he or she / they or them (Sec DOT) want to hire. They also have to train their own pilots the way they want now.
    Again… a pilot is a pilot… don’t crash is the object. Train all pilots to the same standard… don’t crash. And this goes for all aircraft. The EU got it right. You should be signed off for every aircraft you want to fly. A C150 isn’t a DV-20 or even a C172. One pilot certificate… and checkouts for every other aircraft.
    Sport pilot was a step in the wrong direction. A ‘sport pilot’ should be limited to single seat aircraft. They will be flying a small aircraft that will likely cause little harm to people on the ground ( limited flight areas ) and will only be killing themselves…

  28. This is a very complex subject. Generalizations, stereotypes and anecdotal experience are not relevant. Suffice it to say that every pilot, and every person, is unique in their strengths and weaknesses. Many of us become more cautious and prudent with age, even as motor and mental abilities tend to decline, but by no means all. We have come to recognize that sound judgement and decision making are more important than stick and rudder skills, but the latter remain critical at times; e.g., gusty crosswind landings. A thorough, objective assessment of a pilot’s motor and mental ability in the flight review is vital. There is no question, however, that Paul Bertorelli is one of the premier aviation writers today. Thanks, Paul, for your reporting and commentary.

  29. This whole discussion brings to mind the nature of aging and it’s effects. The incidence of dementia and related phenomenon among older folks begs research as to why one person mentally flatlines while another continues to perform at the same level as previously. I suspect that mental activity has something to do with it and I further suspect that pilots may see a lower incidence of such decay. The older folks I’ve met with dementia have all seemed to have quit using the mind, not lost it. These have primarily been folks with no true interests to cogitate on and stretch their mental legs so to speak. There may certainly be some physical component ( thickening neural pathways) but I think age is over used as a cause. Younger folks don’t know and so it’s an easy answer. I think it’s the lazy answer. No one’s about to do this research anytime soon, but it would be hugely beneficial to know how and why.

    Further I would be interested to know how age stacks up as a factor in Aviation Accident Statistics. If age group X represents 20 % of the pilot population, do they account for 20% of the accidents? This would be best done by hours of exposure per age group, but that information is virtually impossible to come by. If one group is way out of range, then more research needs to happen as to why.

    In this case, I personally doubt age had anything to do with this because there really wasn’t any time for it to have. I don’t even think the hotdog bit has anything to do with it. Note here that having met way too many Naval Aviators in my life ( and respected one), I want to be able to use that. but realistically it just isn’t germane to this instance. The poor guy just forgot something – or two things – control lock and checklist. It bit him. Sorry as can be but there you go.

    One last thing for all you “safety people” out there. I spent years in industries that always had a “safety officer” or the like and almost every one always said, all accidents are avoidable – or something to that effect. Quit saying that if you want real people to respect you. We can certainly eliminate the chance for accidents. All we have to do is not fly – or not be human. As long as humans fly, there will be accidents. There IS an acceptable number – honest. Because no accidents either means good luck or no freedom. And if you’re willing to give up your freedom to stay alive, you don’t deserve freedom and don’t understand what being alive means.

  30. Insurance companies definitely think that increasing age increases risk of an accident requiring them to pay out. Many have hard age cut offs and will not continue to insure older pilots even after a relatively minor accident.

    Since insurance is a data driven industry it would be interesting to see if they are using GA specific risk vs age data or just extrapolating from the general population.

    • No doubt age plays a part in flying certain airplanes. Older pilots and tailwheel airplanes can be an issue. I know a number of guys in their 80’s who have given up tailwheel airplanes for 182’s.

  31. On just the skydiving mention, I broke my right leg on a simple square parachute landing in ’79 that required 4 1/2 hours to repair and the hardware is still inside. What I’m saying is my complacency caused me a world of trouble so I can imagine that his experience and pilot capabilities made him complacent just one more time. He’s not the first nor will he be the last in this regard.
    retired A&P

  32. Since I’m in my mid 70s, I’ve done more my share of “not very smart” things (okay, stupid things). Some have near cost me my skin. I still try to it seems from time to time, but I try minimize the risk wherever I can. Re. Dale’s accident. Looking at the accident video I’m not sure he wasn’t flying from the back seat. If he was he may have never seen the control lock and from what I read, the rear seat controls are not locked by the front seat lock. Any input on that ?

  33. The article is basically about “mistakes”. We all make mistakes Paul. Including writing or whatever…
    Aren’t you being too hard on yourself? I think so.
    Nothing is perfect as well.
    Take it easy!
    Blue skies and tail winds to all!
    Best regards,

  34. “Perhaps his legacy will be the well known adage that Knowledge and Discipline keep you alive in aviation.” – Jack E.

    Well said, Jack. We can only hope that this high-profile accident saves other aviators from the same fate.

  35. I’m not suggesting that in the case of Mr. Snodgrass that this particular matter was contributory…but it MIGHT have been. While taxying out there was unnecessary “chatter” to possibly interrupt his train-of-thought during his cockpit pre-flight checks. One example, observed in the accident video, was a distracting comment offered by the controller… While during the takeoff roll…the controller issued a frequency-change to him. I’d have to go back to listen to the entire communications-string…but interruption of any preflight activity is cause to start-over according to many who have a high degree of safety consciousness.
    While preflighting the C-402 for his flight that day, I observed our Director of Ops go out and interrupt the pilot with a useless question he could have easily found out for himself. The pilot momentarily turned away from the preflight to address a reply to his “boss”…and unknowingly failed to complete the current activity… closing and latching the nose baggage compartment.
    During the subsequent takeoff…that door popped open and baggage left the compartment and struck the left propeller. Fortunately the skillset of that pilot enabled him to return to the airport and safetly land. He was subsequently Disciplined (loss of pay) by that Dir/Ops for his failure to properly preflight the airplane.
    Whose fault was that..?…. and, as usual, Who pays the price of failure?
    Did unnecessary, untimely radio calls from ATC disrupt the cockpit “flow” or discipline he may have ordinarily completed?
    I certainly am distraught over that ATC call during the application of takeoff power which may have removed one more opportunity for Mr. Snodgrass to have caught the error.

  36. Paul

    Nice article. I work for Helen Woods at Chesapeake Sport Pilot in MD. Helen can be “direct.” I tell my students that if the are thinking of doing something marginal to ask themselves 3 questions:
    If the thing goes south:
    1. What are you going to tell Helen?
    2. What are you going to tell the FAA?
    3. What are you going to tell the NTSB?

    If you don’t have good answers for these-especially #1-then you should think about not doing it.


    Vince Massimini
    Kenmore Airpark M.D. (3W3)

  37. I’m glad to see people using just their first names with an initial… people seem to open up and tell it how it is when there is less likely of a chance they will get blow back.

  38. Probably what is missing is a clear eyed assessment of just how ineffective all this safety stuff is – even when done perfectly. I am shocked at how inherently bad something like “see and avoid” is as an accident avoidance strategy. The smoking holes all agree. ADSB helps, and if we focus too much on things we cannot do anything about, we might never go flying, because a lot of what we cannot do anything about is this stuff called human nature. Part of that is that a certain percentage of the time, pilots of any age and skill level will forget the checklist. And that’s a fact. When we get a handle on just how bad humans are at operating complex machinery in three dimensions, we may be getting somewhere. First step to recovery is admitting you havee a problem. We have met the enemy and it is us.