U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


July 2005




Thought for the month..... "Habits are our best friends…or worst enemies.

Habits deserve scrutiny... Whether we're in aviation professionally or for pleasure, we all develop habits that should be reviewed from time to time to see if they are still habits for valid reasons. We may be flying aircraft or fixing them, but at some point, we become so comfortable with a task it becomes automatic and requires less conscious control. That's when habits are developed. Generally, habits are good because they allow us to evaluate a situation more quickly and identify changes. If we don't scrutinize them regularly however, we may find that some sloppiness can develop and then they become the starting point for a mishap.

The DC-10 is an example of how bad habits can have disastrous consequences. To reduce downtime for maintenance, a short cut was developed to simultaneously remove both an engine and pylon from the wing using a forklift. When done correctly with proper installation checks, this was an acceptable procedure. Over time however, the process became routine and sloppiness was allowed to infect the habit. Eventually, those bad habits led to cracks at the attaching points and resulted in a catastrophic failure and complete loss of the engine and pylon during takeoff from Chicago. The aircraft crashed and all aboard perished. The accident affected the reputation of the aircraft and it was taken out of service well before its design life.

At the facility where the external fuel tanks for the space shuttle are built, a worker recently revealed that one of the most significant changes to the way the tanks are made (in light of the Columbia disaster) is simply tightening-up procedures. Over time, the construction of the fuel tanks became routine. Workers had become lax in the way things were done. Bad habits may not have caused the destruction of the Shuttle, but everyone there realizes that they could, so NASA performed a top-to-bottom review of how the tanks are made. That's one of the jobs of the FAA: to look at an operation with a different set of eyes to see if some habits may have developed that could cause problems.

OK, that's job security for the FAA, but how does all that relate to us as individuals? We've all been taught how to do a weight and balance calculation on an aircraft: as technicians, to certify the aircraft as airworthy, and as pilots, to ensure the aircraft is safe for flight. The necessity for completing a calculation every time it's required may lose its importance over time and we develop a habit of not doing one. Most aircraft will fly over gross weight and a little outside the cg envelope as long as things are going well. But if something goes wrong, the weight and balance situation could be the difference between a survivable incident and a non-recoverable spin. If we're in the habit of not completing a weight and balance, it might be a good idea to examine our motives.

The responsibility for instilling good habits lies with those who teach. As instructors, we have to ensure that what we teach is absolutely correct. Not long ago, I responded to an article by a flight instructor writing about flying an airplane in ground effect. His descriptions of how the airplane would react and the appropriate pilot actions were pretty accurate, but his explanation of the aerodynamics involved was real wrong. If this person felt comfortable enough with his understanding of ground effect to write about it in a national publication, how many students has he turned out with incorrect information in their data banks?

Will the bad information kill them? Like most things in aviation - it all depends. I can say with out reservation that my knowledge of how ground effect works in helicopters has saved various parts of my anatomy on several occasions. I'm glad my instructors knew what they were talking about and never developed a habit of teaching it incorrectly. When we go to a fatal accident site and find the shoulder harnesses still neatly tucked into their holders above the door, it's possible to conclude that the pilot may have developed a bad habit. Was the pilot taught correctly and then allowed a sloppy procedure into his routine? Or, did the flight instructor who taught the pilot have this bad habit and pass it on to the student? We'll never know, but we might want to learn from it and look at how we do things with brutal honesty. Would we do things differently if an FAA inspector were in the aircraft? If so, why? Habits can be our best friends, but also our worst enemies.

Upcoming Events

Aug 17
Wings of Hope Hangar
Spirit of St. Louis Airport
Light Sport Aircraft and Airport Safety
6:30 to 9:00 p.m.

Aug 24
Cape Girardeau Pilots Club
Cape Girardeau Airport
Light Sport Aircraft and Airport Safety
7 to 9 p.m.

Aug 25
Hillbilly Junction, Willow Springs, MO.
Airport Safety and Weather
7 to 9 p.m.

Sep 8
Grecian Steak House
Kennett, MO.
7 to 9 p.m.

Sep 10
3rd Annual Helicopter Fly-In
Cline Farms, Union, MO.
Go to http://www.stlouishelo.org for more information.

Register at http//faasafety.gov for E-mail notification of safety seminars in the St. Louis District.

Let's Not Meet By Accident
Fred Harms
Operations Safety Program Manager
800-322-8876 ext 4835