Fly Like a Pro — Part 7: The Second LOFT Session

Figure 1

After the volunteers had flown the first LOFT scenario and attended the workshop/seminars, they were scheduled back into the flight simulators for a second session. The second LOFT scenario was different from the first but it featured the same elements and decision prompting situations. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Pilot volunteers from both groups made statistically significant improvement in decision times, decision quality, and scenario outcomes. In addition, pilots who had been given the specialized decision training had 10% fewer accidents than did the group trained with traditional methods.

The second scenario began at the Perry County Airport in Linden, Tennessee (figure 1, position A) with the intended destination airport of Nashville International Airport (figure 1, position B). The participants were told that the purpose of the flight was to deliver a shipment of blood for the American Red Cross. An “Igloo” cooler with the sign: “BLOOD DONATION – American Red Cross – Rush Shipment to Nashville – Highest Priority” was placed in the cockpit of the simulator with the participant. The participants were also told that the airplane’s radio call sign for this particular flight would be changed from “Frasca 141” to “Lifeguard 141” since the blood donation was on board.

The Goal: I wanted the pilots to have a good reason to be taking this “flight.” The blood donation provided a purpose and also a sense of urgency. Many of the pilots had treated the first scenario as a “training exercise” and did not really and truly believe it to be real. By placing the blood donation container in the cockpit with the pilots, I wanted to give them a mission to accomplish.

Like with the first session, a set of written instructions was given to each pilot upon entering the simulator. After takeoff, the route of flight took the airplane to the Graham VOR station near Centerville, Tennessee. As the flight passed over the Graham VOR station I began the timer. As the flight neared Nashville a weather report was made available on ATIS, “Nashville has a measured ceiling of 600 overcast, visibility is one and one-half miles, wind 360-degrees and 10 knots, RADAR indicates a level 3 thunderstorm 15 miles northwest of the Nashville Airport, moving southeast at 12 knots.” The participants could have understood from this report that the cloud ceiling height was high enough for any approach at Nashville and that even though there was a thunderstorm moving toward the Nashville Airport, it would not reach the airport for over one hour.

Figure 2 is a photo of the engine instruments when they are indicating normal levels. These instruments are just in front of the control wheel on the instrument panel. The oil pressure, oil temperature, and cylinder head temperature are all indicating in the green arc. During the weather report I set the simulator’s computer to slowly indicate the onset of a decrease in engine oil pressure and a simultaneous rise in engine temperatures.

Figure 3 is a photo of the engine instruments after the oil loss and temperature rise had taken place. These indications would tell the pilot that the engine is loosing its oil and that engine failure is eminent and unavoidable. These indications should have told the pilot that the remainder of the scenario was a race against time before engine failure.

The air traffic controller then told the pilots, to: “Expect the ILS approach runway 2 Left at Nashville” (figure 4). But shortly after these instructions were given, the pilots were called by the controller and given this message: “Lifeguard 141, there has been an airplane land at Nashville on runway 31 with the landing gear up. Rescue crews are now on the way to the scene of the accident. Until the rescue crews tell us that everything is all clear, the Nashville Airport is temporarily closed. You can still expect the ILS to runway 2 left, but you will be getting an extended vector for this delay.

Within one minute of this announcement the airplane’s engine began to run rough due to loss of oil. I used the simulator’s computer terminal to cause the engine noise to hesitate and the tachometer to show rough and wavering RPM. This simulated a rough running engine. The pilots (without their knowledge) were given 17 minutes from the onset of oil loss indications until engine failure. Unless the pilot objected, the controller then gave the pilot a turn away from three airports (Nashville’s International Airport, Nashville’s John C. Tune Airport, and Smyrna’s Airport) in order to delay the approach to Nashville because of the accident at the Nashville airport. I recorded time intervals and made observations of what decisions the participants made — or failed to make — after this point.

Some of the pilot participants rejected the turn and requested a diversion to another airport. Some of the pilots said nothing about the engine problem to the controller and accepted the delaying turn.

Important: If the pilot accepted the turn, the controller vectored them but eventually told them to proceed to the Fidds Intersection and hold along the localizer. There were a small number of pilots who actually accepted this hold, despite the engine’s continued faltering, and ultimately (when the 17 minutes ran out) experienced an engine failure while in the hold. These pilots had never mentioned their engine problem to the controller.

Of the pilots who elected to divert to another airport, some landed safely and some did not. It depended entirely on which airport they selected and how well they flew to get there. One of the area airports was the John C. Tune airport, which was in the approximate location of the reported thunderstorm. At least one pilot selected the Tune airport despite the thunderstorm report. When the simulator-generated turbulence got too much for that pilot he asked to turn around. The controller granted the request, but the pilot had wasted too much time flying into a thunderstorm and his engine failed enroute to this second choice.

There was another small group of pilots who, when faced with the delaying turn, simply declared an emergency, flew the ILS runway 2L approach at Nashville and landed safely with plenty of time remaining. This solution was the quickest and easiest way to get on the ground. Unfortunately, most of the pilots were reluctant to declare an emergency — most pilots were unaware that they had the key to open the “closed” airport, simply by saying the magic word … emergency. One participant pilot put it best. He told the controller, “Well you might have an accident down there, but your getting ready to have another one up here — so ready or not, I’m com’n in!


  • First, the bad news. During the second scenario 19 of 58 pilots, or approximately 33% experienced an engine failure in flight and in the clouds. These pilots either misinterpreted the engine problem as “not too bad” or just could not come up with a plan fast enough to get on the ground prior to engine failure.
  • The good news is that the other 67% (39 of the 58) of pilots landed safety and without incident.

Recall that during the first scenario only 28% landed safely without incident.

This was very encouraging. Of course, during the second scenario, the pilots knew more of what to expect and maybe that is why they did so much better. But isn’t that the whole point? If we can get pilots to expect to make decisions and take action on those decisions, then we will be safer.

What about the performance of the two groups? The pilots who had been selected into the Naturalistic group — the group that had received the decision training, including the ASAP model (see Fly Like a Pro — Part 6), landed safely on 70% of their flights. The Traditional group, who had not received the specialized decision training, landed safely on 61% of their flights.

The difference between 70% and 61% was not statistically significant, but still important. It appeared that the decision training had made some — albeit a small — impact.

THE BOTTOM LINE: All these pilots received additional training that they would not have received without the project and all groups improved. So I guess this tells us what we knew all along: Training is a good thing. But I submit there’s more to it than that. It was not just any training, but training with the use of real-world flight scenarios that created improvements in a pilot’s ability to deal with problems and produce favorable outcomes. The pilot participants of this project were previously unexposed to the techniques used in this project. These were civilian pilots who were trained by learning maneuvers and meeting FAA mandated training requirements. But the procedures used in this project were taken from the airlines, corporations, and military flight training environments. The data analysis produced several important discoveries.

More on what was learned in the coming weeks.