“I was under complete control and landing was assured. Everything was perfect when the ground just sucked us down and smashed up the aircraft”—go figure. Or, “The clouds just sort of enveloped us and before we knew it the earth was spiraling upward”—go figure. It couldn’t possibly be because the aircraft stalled or you flew VFR into instrument conditions, could it? Nahhh—the real problem was the anti-gravity supply was too low and we’ll need to get that checked.
Loss of Control (LOC) makes up about 30 to 40 percent of fatal general aviation (GA) accidents—an average of two per week! The NTSB has listed it (again) on their 2016 Most Wanted List. The rationalizations are endless but humans, especially pilots, are really good at fabricating them. It might be possible to crash while under control, but we could muse on that a bit. So why do more pilots and their passengers leave life prematurely from LOC accidents? My two favorite dangerous attributes are complacency and distraction. We might also throw lack of skill into the mix.
Complacency is all too common—and since everybody is above average (not really, since this isn’t Lake Wobegon) we think it won’t happen to us! Have you ever spoken to an “average” pilot at the airport or a cocktail party? I’ve never met one, so it’s easy to see why a few of us might be a bit too comfortable with our abilities. It’s a statistic impossibility but then facts have a way with interfering with fantasy. The old bromide of recurrent training is actually a pretty good elixir.
Distraction/Multi-tasking—no problem either: “I’m really good at that!” The facts say otherwise: Stalls cannot happen if we’re minding the store. That’s why there are so few accidents (two percent) when actually performing stall training. Keeping the wing happy is the most important thing—especially at low altitude, as in the traffic pattern.
Fly a decent pattern—take into account what the wind is doing and be especially cognizant of tailwinds on base leg. That often leads to an overshoot on final and a cross-control stall. Fly a wider pattern (but no more than needed), limit bank angle to 30 degrees, keep the ball where it’s supposed to be, and let the aircraft lose altitude in the turns—it’s so simple. Perhaps, there is another aircraft in front of you or there’s radio chatter, but job one is maintaining good airflow. Alignment and energy management are important. But airflow is number one, because without that nothing else matters.
If, despite your best efforts, something just isn’t working, give it up. Persistence is a virtue in many of life’s pursuits but flying isn’t one of them—go around! Don’t like to admit defeat? Let’s just call it a “low pass.” (Politicians never lose a race—they just come in second for the silver medal.) Clouds becoming a problem? Call it a weather diversion or delay. The airlines do it all the time! If anyone ever makes a negative remark about your going-around or delaying a flight due to weather send them to me—we’ll talk!
If you’re as tired of reading about it as we are of writing about it, let’s do something about it. Pay attention to the feeding of the wing during traffic pattern ops—that means both on takeoffs and landings—and stay out of clouds if you’re not trained and proficient to be in them. Those two simple fixes would reduce the fatal GA accident count by 30 to 40 percent. If you’re a little foggy (sorry) about either of these areas the AOPA Air Safety Institute has safety spotlights on both—Takeoffs and Landings and VFR into IMC.
Forget about multi-tasking and don’t believe all your own press releases on how good you might be. And please, if you find a good place to stock up on anti-gravity let me know— we all could use a bit more of it.