We have had a fun journey exploring personal minimums through the wisdom of over a dozen pilots in the past few months. I hope that you enjoy this final installment and apply the concepts to your flying. I am thrilled to be presenting a seminar on the content for the Los Angeles 99s virtually on Wednesday June 2nd, and in person for AOPA at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on Thursday July 29th.
My goal in writing this series is that as PIC you do everything in the airplane intentionally and with forethought.
So here we go. In the past few months, we began our journey into the mindset needed for the functional implementation of minimums. I reached in to my address book of pilot friends to ask questions about minimums, guidelines, self-restrictions and the like. I spoke to range of folks from pretty newly minted private pilots, to those working on an instrument rating, commercial, CFI and DPE. I talked with female and male pilots with hours ranging from low hundreds to 25,000.
How far can you put your head in an alligator’s mouth and still be certain you can get it back out?
I had a fabulous time talking with a baker’s dozen pilots and I got a little gem or a pucker factor from each of the conversations. My hope is that our words might start an honest discussion on ways that we can keep ourselves safe in the airplane or on the ground. In the end, cheating on your minimums is cheating yourself.
This series centers on the psychology of personal minimums. Like most relationships, we will focus why we create them, why we commit them to paper [or not], when we fudge on them, what we learn from them, and what we hope never to again experience.
For the interviews I asked starting questions and interchangeably used personal minimums and personal guidelines. The reason for this is some pilots initially thought when I spoke of minimums, I was referencing charted instrument approach minimums. The following answers will be in their voice, the first person.
- Do you have a current set of personal guidelines or minimums for your flying?
- If yes, do you have them written down?
- If so, do you ever review them or alter/update them?
- What are the areas you consider when you think of your own minimums?
- Have you had a time where you cheated on your personal minimums?
- Has there been an experience in the airplane you would like to share that gave you a “pucker factor” that others might learn from?”
- Do you have a “hidden gem”, or learning tip, to share?
*[For the sake of this article, in their responses, I will simply use the word “minimums”]
CK, Corporate Pilot, Jet, Turbo-Prop, CFI
My Private Pilot License [PPL], as they say, was a license to learn. I learned the basic structure of 3 miles visibility [VFR]. Yet as you gain experience you realize 5 miles isn’t that much and then 3 miles is really not that much. At the beginning of my flying, my personal minimum was 5 miles because that was my level of comfort as a VFR pilot.
As you gain experience, you can do more. Your minimums grow as you gain that experience. For me, this is the difference between the FAA regulation vs. what I am comfortable with.
Right now, as pro-pilot flying a single engine—it is all on me. I have to make sure I am good to go with health and wellness. Additionally, I have 1-12 passengers on board that are my responsibility. They don’t necessarily understand minimums the way I do. It is my job to make the best decisions I can based on the advanced planning and the reality of the flight conditions. One thing I’m firm on is that I won’t go unless I see minimums or better forecast at the destination airport. To depart I need to see an upward trend in the weather.
As a corporate pilot I am always looking at my detailed flight planning vs. reality of flying. My alternate airport might be pretty far away—especially when my destination is remote. I have to be thinking [if needed]
- Where am I geographically?
- Do I have maintenance available?
- What is it going to cost?
- How do I get a mechanic to me?
Pucker Factor: Caffeine isn’t always your friend. I was knee deep in twin training as a very green pilot. At the time I was drinking several energy drinks during the ground school portion. When it was my time in the simulator, I was so jittery I couldn’t fly the airplane like I was supposed to. My rule now is no caffeine on the day of flight.
Hidden gem: Loss affects all of us, put it in your checklist. About ten years ago, I lost a parent, had a relationship break up, and lost a friend. I was flying left seat in a two-pilot operation. I remember looking at the controls and thinking. “I should not be flying.” “I don’t feel like I am 100% here.”
RS, Commercial MEI, SEI, Glider
My minimums are not written down, but they are staunch in my mind. For me it all starts at the planning table. I don’t write stuff down because after decades it is locked into my brain as what I will do, or not. I recognize the chain of errors with pilot, airplane, environment, and weather especially.
Error in the links of flight planning, real world conditions or execution equals extreme caution for me. If you recognize the broken link and mitigate it, then you are okay. A lot people let two or three links break and bad things happen in the airplane.
The setting is Estrella Sailport, 1981. I am a fledgling Glider pilot, that had a perfect soaring day with 2000 fpm thermals ! I went right up to 12,000 feet where it was cool and was just tooling around for about 45mins before I started down. When I did start down NOTHING and I mean NOTHING looked familiar at all. Turns out that the winds aloft were howling the ride was smooth so I didn’t feel like I was getting blown downwind. I was concentrating on milking every foot per minute out of those killer thermals that I completely lost my situational awareness. I pointed the nose into the wind and went to the best glide speed, yet I was not moving. There was a road that paralleled the runway with about a half a mile of desert with a sea of huge cactus between it and the runway. I thought I could make it and stupidly went for it. Fortunately I made it but I literally had to dive to the cactus tops for the last 50 yards before I ran out of energy just clear of the cactus with just enough left rudder to land across the runway at a 45 degree angle.
The owner of the flight school said he was watching me and said if I had not dove into ground effect I would have never made it to the runway clearing. NEVER AGAIN, I should have taken the sure thing, I should have taken the ROAD.
Hidden Gem: My advice is to break the first link, and mitigate the risk. If one link in the chain is broken, I am on high alert, immediate reset of the situation so the one broken link is eliminated. It is easy to see how accidents happen with the second or third broken link, especially if they are congruent.
DK Commercial, CFII, DPE, Cessna owner
I sort of have a unique experience with minimums as a pilot, CFI and Designated Pilot Examiner [DPE]. It’s tough for student pilots to figure out minimums as they have so little experience to work with. For their solo cross-country, the weather has to be perfect. As a private pilot, the only way you find you minimums is by experience. Instrument training gives you flying in the soup and you can find out your minimums with an instructor. Young commercial pilots are looking at reasons why to do the mission, instead of why they shouldn’t.
As a DPE the private pilot candidates I see have no clue about minimums. It seems to me that ACS risk management isn’t being taught. Instructors are not working on the risk assessment enough with students. Many times, students don’t think there is risk because they don’t see it [the risk] if CFI is signing them off to go on a flight.
I have fixed personal minimums on the flights I do a lot for my work as a DPE. These are built through experience flying in the Pacific Northwest. My commute minimums: 2500 feet ceiling in the valley— hard limit Winds aloft Easterly at 3000 feet more than 25 kts= no go. Cross wind: if I cannot straighten the nose with the rudder, I will not land. Any cold or sickness-I am not going. If I don’t feel 100%, I don’t have to go.
Pucker Factor: I was commuting to a check ride. The ceiling was right at my minimum. As I got closer to my destination it was 50 feet lower than my minimum, then 100 feet. I landed and thought. “What kind of example am I setting for the applicant?” the only thing to my credit is I never did it twice. Once was too often- I know better. Never again. Now if the ceilings refuse to cooperate, I go back home. Instead of find reasons to continue into worsening conditions. I need to reward myself for being smart and heading back to better weather
Hidden Gem: You don’t want to get bit by cheating on your minimums. Think of this question: “How far can I put my head in the alligator’s mouth and get it back out?”
I hope you enjoyed this final installment. Please consider using one of the AOPA templates to write your minimums down whether VFR or IFR. If you have feedback about the interviews, please feel free to use the comment section below.
In the meantime, keep up with online safety seminars, join your state aviation association, and stay involved with your local airport. Make sure that you consider all aspects of minimums; airplane, pilot, and environment before you yell. “clear prop.”
My plans EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As my Dad used to say when we touched down, I am looking forward to another successful trip of “Haywire Airlines”.