Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stupid Pilot Trick

A video clip that showed up recently on YouTube has been generating quite a bit of commentary on the aviation internet forums I frequent. Recorded by a passenger, it shows an unintended encounter with IMC and a resulting really close encounter with the local trees and bushes - to the point where the aircraft sustains impact damage but manages to return safely to the airport. The consensus of the pilot community seems to be that this pilot displays monumentally poor judgment. If you haven't yet seen this, here it is. Have a look (about 3 minutes running time).

I don't take issue with the position that the behavior shown here is about as bad as it can get. It is astounding that the flight shown didn't terminate with a smoking hole on the side of the mountain. What does give me pause is an underlying current in the commentary implying, "Hey, I'd never do that." Not smugness, just a feeling of disbelief that the observer could at any time even approach that level of stupidity.

To anyone who just can't conceive of ever being the central player in such a misadventure, I have a book I'd like to commend to you.

In Darker Shades of Blue: The Rogue Pilot Tony Kern explores the phenomenon of the aviator who inexplicably throws caution to the winds and behaves in ways that seem to invite fatal mishap. He explores many case studies and delves into the root causes of the FAA's familiar five Hazardous Attitudes (found in AC60-22 on Aeronautical Decision Making, available at: Link 1 and Link2). I won't try to summarize Dr. Kern's work here (please find and read the book). But at the end he concludes that, on any given day and for any given flight, every one of us harbors the potential to become that rogue pilot who abandons discipline with catastrophic results. Awareness of this potential is our sharpest tool in avoiding the terrible consequences of such behavior.

So I return to the Bonanza pilot seen in the linked video, not to condone him (he surely will - and should - face consequences for his actions, but for now they won't be fatal to anyone), but to acknowledge that there, but for the exercise of constant vigilance, go even the best of us.

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