The Art of Recovery
Much of aviation is impossibly difficult and no amount of confidence can mask that. You say you can fly 5,000 nautical miles in an aluminum tube at eight-tenths the speed of sound, at altitudes that cannot sustain human life, at temperatures that will freeze blood? Well maybe you can. But there will be many mistakes along the way and a really good pilot becomes really good at recovering from those mistakes.
[Roser, Christoph, "Faster, Better, Cheaper" in the History of Manufacturing, CRC Perss, Taylor & Francis Group, London, 2017.] ¶16.6
- Another of the still-popular methods developed outside of Japan is Six Sigma. The method is based on statistical process control and was developed at Motorola in 1986. In 1995, GM picked up the method. The assumption is that every manufacturing process has variations, which can be described statistically. The smaller variations are, the more products will be within the tolerance limit. This variation is measured by calculating the standard deviation, usually mathematically expressed using the Greek letter sigma, σ. Motorola decided that their goal for tolerance limit would be Six Sigma. This would yield 99.99999980 good parts, or only 0.009 defects per billion parts. To give you an example, Six Sigma would mean that out of all the 314 million people in the United States, only one would be sick.
- While it is easy to demand this level of quality, it is much harder to achieve. The Six Sigma method itself has eased up a bit on this demand. Six Sigma somehow stands now for 4.5 sigma, easing the precision to only 99.99966% or 3.4 defective parts per million.
- However, Six Sigma is a very high and costly requirement. To make matters worse, this requirement is set regardless of the cost or benefit of the requirement. It completely ignores the cost of failures. Take, for example, a pen. Of course we would like for our pens to work. Yet the failure of an inexpensive disposable pen is much cheaper than the cost of achieving 99.99966% good pens. Sure, it is possible, but a normal consumer would not buy the pen, because it would simply be too expensive.
Aspire to be the Pilot
I spend a fair amount of time on this website pointing out the mistakes of others and, to be fair, my own. I spoke to the Air Charter Safety Foundation and laid out a pretty grim picture when covering the pilots of Gulfstream IV N121JM. I am usually very careful not to "tread on the graves of the fallen" and try very hard to find causes beyond the pilot. But in that particular case, no amount of searching could exonerate those pilots. After my speech a member of the NTSB said that without exception, the relatives of pilots killed thought their lost pilot was as good as any pilot could be. I think that is probably true, especially if the pilots in question thought that too. It is unfortunate that oft times only a post mortem reveals this confidence to be false.
In the back of all my books, in that section where the author cites his or her career highlights, I say that I am "an average pilot with average stick and rudder skills," but that I have "an above average desire to learn and instruct." I think that is true but I think those that know me have a higher opinion. So this has become my driving force, late in my pilot career:
Aspire to be the pilot others think you already are.
Be the Captain When All Others are Content to be the Crew
I write about command and leadership a lot so maybe this is a dead horse. But it still amazes me how many pilots are content to never make the leap into the captain's chair. Maybe we can change that. It is the most fulfilling job in aviation.
Big / Small Paradox
I was sitting in the right seat of a Challenger 604, during my first year as a civilian pilot, when the other pilot went on a diatribe. We were behind a line of Continental Airlines heavies, which was going to complicate our departure. He was upset that the airplane ahead of us was probably going to Europe, just like we were, but the captain of the airline was being paid twice what we were but working half as hard. I noted the fact that there are other factors involved with the bigger airplane that required a different skill set. And there was the responsibility factor for having all those lives in your hands. He was unconvinced.
But the paradox remains, even within the airlines. A commuter pilot flying a 19-seat turbo prop is working much harder flying between KSFO and KMRY than the 777 pilot going from KSFO to YSSY. A Citation trip to Europe is a lot more complicated and requires a lot more attention to detail than my last trip in a Gulfstream.
In general, the bigger the airplane the lower the workload but the higher the pay. There are exceptions. A typical BBJ pilot, for example, isn’t paid as well as the typical long range Gulfstream pilot. But there is much more to it than that. In some cases the pay isn’t deserved. There are a lot of Gulfstream pilots out there who don’t have a clue about what they are doing and just getting by on the forgiveness of the airplane and their operation. But there are Gulfstream operators out there who will be able to cope with the extra complexities of higher altitudes, higher weights, and broader ranges of decision making to justify the pay jump.
It is a complicated subject worthy of further investigation.
Of course I've talked about the five part Eddie series. The first three parts are doing well and I am grateful for how well they are doing. Part Four is in progress and I hope to have it our late 2017. Part Five is scheduled for when I eventually retire.
The International Operations Flight Manual is selling well and I will update it with a release scheduled for early 2018. I will also release a customizable version designed for flight departments and other large companies and a license for ownership. (I sell you the text and artwork, you own everything for your in house use.)
Careless and Reckless
We often think of the 14 CFR 91.13 regulation "No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another" with a "tsk, tsk." We would never operate an aircraft that way!
The problem is that it is a part of our nature as pilots to want to dance on the edges of any restrictions placed upon us. If we were they types to always abide by the rules, we wouldn't be pilots. Or is that really true? I collect anecdotes on this very subject and one day will make a story out of it. I am working on it.
There are always more case studies to do. For some of these I am waiting on accident reports, for others it is just finding the time:
- 16 Jan 1942 — TWA Flight 3 KLAS
- 30 Jan 1951 — UAL 610 Crystal Mountain
- 18 Jan 1960 — Capital Airlines Viscount: Turbine Engine Icing, Engine Isolation
- 1963 — Air New Zealand Kamai Ranges
- 1979 — Air New Zealand Erebus
- 30 May 1979 — Down East 46
- 19 Aug 1980 — Saudi Arabian Airlines 163 (Fire)
- 21 Aug 1995 — Atlantic Southeast 529: Structural Inspection, Propeller Blade Failure
- 2 Jul 1994 — US Air 1016
- 6 Feb 1996 — Birgenair B757: Avionics Confusion, CRM
- 17 Aug 1996 — C-130H KJAC
- 27 Mar 1997 — KLM 4805 and Pan Am 1736 (Tenerife)
- 7 Aug 1997 — Fine Air DC-8: Cargo Loading, Organizational Safety Oversight
- 25 Jul 2000 — Air France Concorde: Fuel Tank Structural Integrity, Minor Repair Processes
- Nov 2003 — BDL DA 50 (Cabin Fire TAG Aviation)
- 17 Jan 2008 — British Airways B777: Fuel System Icing, Engine Isolation
- 2008 — Air New Zealand (Perpigan)
- 21 Feb 2008 — Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 518
- Sep 2008 — Columbia SC unplanned evac (Capt's brief contributed to safe evacuation)
- 15 Jan 2009 — US Air 1549 (Hudson ditching)
- Apr 2011 — SWA Rapid D @ 34,000'
- 28 Jul 2011 — Asiana 991
- 6 July 2013 — Asiana 214 (I need to add the NTSB accident report)
- 17 Nov 2013 — Tartarstan Airlines U9363
- 17 Jul 2014 — Malaysia AL MH17
- 9 Sep 2014 — Czech Airlines OK-NEP
- 5 Nov 2014 — Lufthansa LH 1829
- 24 Nov 2014 — Gulfstream GIII N103CD
- 28 Dec 2014 — AirAsia 8501
- 4 Mar 2015 — Turkish TK-726
- 5 Mar 2015 — Delta 1086 (Rudder blanking)
- 31 Jul 2015 — Phenom HZ-IBN
- 10 Nov 2015 — HS 125-700A N237WR
- 3 Aug 2016 — Emirates EK521
- Kalita 66 Hypoxia effects
- David Bloom journalist DVT in lung
- NWAC 957 Orl-Mem-Sea Hazmat (Hydrogen peroxide)
I've never like this term. But it has caught on and I suppose the title itself speaks volumes of the problem. Who is in charge here? If you are the PIC, how do you take command when the other pilot is senior, older, or more experienced?
When I flew small jets for the Air Force a staple of our existence was the controllability check. When something went wrong with something needed to keep the airplane flyable, we would find some remote airspace to see how slow the wounded bird would fly without departing controlled flight. These days there is hardly ever a need to do a controllability check. But if the need arises, how do you do it?
We often hear that if you must offer criticism, do it constructively. But even that can fall on deaf ears or make a tenuous relationship worse if it isn't well received. There are some better techniques:
- "What's wrong" not "Who's wrong?
Example: T-37 formation IP and student who ended up washed out and wife
- "We" not "you"
- "Positive" not "negative"
- "Let it go" not "Harp on it"
- "Find a new angle" not "Repeat yourself repeatedly"
- "Deescalate" not "Out do each other"
Example: dueling oceanic experts ends with one handing the other a Jepp binder saying, "it's in here."
- "The benefit of the doubt" not "Suspect ill intent"
Colonel John Boyd came up with this and for the first time we could figure out why one kind of fighter is better in a dog fight than another and, more importantly, how to best maneuver the fighter to do that. Every since I first read his presentation on this I knew some of this could apply to transport category airplanes.
Boyd compresses all aspect of airplane performance into a single formula:
V = Velocity
T = Thrust
D = Drag
W = Weight
Much of this is covered here:
Boyd, John R., Capt, USAF, Aerial Attack Study, Revised 4 January 2016
Boyd, John R., New Conception for Air-to-Air Combat, 4 Aug 1976
Of course this doesn't mean a lot to us limiting ourselves to 1 to 1-1/2 G flight. For us, I think, we can do well to remember: