After observing pilots in action for several years I started seeing trends in how they handled stressful situations. These trends made it clear that pilot performance varies widely but can loosely be broken down into categories. In the two previous articles on these trends, I characterized pilot performance groups as the "Information Managers" and then the "Non Assertive Decision Makers."
There it is, in my logbook in May of 1990…0.5 hours in a Cessna 172 over central Missouri, one NDB approach under the hood…and an instructor sign-off for an instrument competency check, what is now known as an instrument proficiency check (IPC). In the mind of my CFII (certificated flight instructor-instrument) I'd demonstrated enough competency in that short time aloft for him to bet his career and fortune (and my life) that I was safe to fly in weather of my choosing. I was too new a pilot at the time to know any better.
And I have been taking notes. Over the course of many years I have had the opportunity to watch pilots at work. As an instructor I have seen students of every skill level flying and working the system. In flight simulators I have seen pilots handle problems that we hope we never face in the air. By collecting and grouping these observations, I think I have a fairly good idea of what good piloting is. For most, good piloting is one of those things you have a hard time describing, but you know it when you see it. Well, through prolonged engagement, I have seen the traits that make up skilled piloting ... and the traits that indicate the problems.
It is becoming more and more possible to include Radar "overlay" information into everyday general aviation flying as new technology emerges. But lets not forget that flying and flight training, both VFR and IFR, has been taking place for decades without onboard radar assistance. Are the techniques of avoiding hazardous weather, even without having onboard radar information soon to be included as a Lost Art?
Two weeks ago in North Carolina I was flying en route to teach a flight instructor workshop. It was very early on a Saturday morning and during my weather briefing I was interested in learning about the cloud tops. When I asked about pilot reports of the cloud tops, the FSS briefer just said, "general aviation pilots don't give many pireps (pilot reports) and certainly not this early on a weekend day."
The more I use our airplane's new technology the more I appreciate what it gives us, but I have also discovered some areas that, so far, the technology appears to have missed. One skill that I fear may be lost is chart reading. There is a big difference between a chart and a map. The new technology provides moving maps -- not moving charts.
Although not yet reflected by a huge wave of incident reports. Regardless, technological distractions are a growing problem and one of the Big 5 accident/incident producers. Recently designed aircraft (like the Cirrus SRV, Diamond's Katana line, their DA-40 and Lancair's 300 and 400) greatly expand the performance envelope made familiar to pilots by Cessna 172s and Piper Archers. They also often offer avionics that are exponentially more capable than those with which many pilots are familiar. It may be ironic, but along with the simplicity of flight and improved situational awareness these packages offer, there is a greater need for care when using and learning to use these systems.
The lack of awareness continues to be a source of problems when aircraft move on the ground. Not too long ago, you would not find runway incursions listed as an accident category, but it is just as easy to get lost on the ground as it is in the air...
Every year it happens. Pilots press on into deteriorating weather conditions. It is the leading cause of fatal accidents among pilots. But some pilots do survive their encounters with the clouds and live to tell about it.
The lack of position awareness takes place more often than we want to admit. In a post 9/11 world, even more than before, it is absolutely vital that pilots know exactly where they are all the time.