U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

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


September 2002 




Thought for the month....
Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.
(Neil Armstrong)

Motivated to Look...
Many aviation mishaps are credited to the pilot's failure to adequately plan the flight. The preflight planning portion of a flight is our last chance to prevent a possible life-threatening error from getting started. Unfortunately, we are not usually motivated to find problems.

Over the years I have seen many examples of gross failures of the PIC to properly preflight the aircraft. Pilots have taken off with tow bars still attached to the nose wheel; tie-down ropes still attached to cinder blocks or ground stakes that are being dragged through the air; unsecured cargo doors opening and raining charts, operating manuals, and sunglasses on the unsuspecting public below; improperly fastened cowlings departing the aircraft on takeoff; keys left hanging in locks; brightly colored pitot covers effectively preventing airspeed indications; cowling plugs left in place causing overheated engines; and of course the ever-popular fuel caps dangling on the end of a chain.

The mistakes above are certainly familiar examples of pilot oversight, but if such obvious things as a tow bar can be missed, what about less visible elements such as weather, weight and balance, or even the intended route of flight. How much attention is being given to them? More importantly, why would we choose to not pay attention to them?

Some years ago a VFR pilot was involved in an accident that occurred when he flew into a thunderstorm. It was just dumb luck that after the storm got done chewing him up and spit him out, he survived the off-airport landing and walked away from the damaged airplane uninjured. During the interview he was asked whether he had seen the big green cloud with lightning coming out of it. He responded that he had, but his weather briefing had not indicated that any storms would be present on his route of flight. He denied the existence of the storm because he was focused on getting to his destination. He got the briefing he wanted to hear and refused to accept the reality in his windscreen.

Flight instructors are the quality control in the aviation world. We look to our instructors as the source of all knowledge and most are dedicated professionals who want to do the best job of teaching that they can. That same motivation however, can be a stumbling block to finding problems before a flight. Everyone has a busy schedule these days and when an instructor and student get together to fly, that's what they're there to do, not find something wrong with the aircraft. Sometimes the instructor will mask this by sending the student out to preflight the aircraft knowing, either consciously or subconsciously, that the student may not know enough about the aircraft to find anything except the most grossly obvious problems. They want to teach, not sit on the ground with a broken airplane. What they don't realize is, they are teaching. And the lesson being learned is a bad one.

In the "GO" mode we often try to defer our responsibilities to others. When the weather report isn't so cheery we may try to get the AFSS specialist to make a go/no-go decision for us by coaxing them with leading questions that make it sound better than it is. If we're successful, we may launch, ignoring the big green cloud with lightning coming out of it.

Naturally, I've never done any of these things myself (shut-up Jones), but I've observed the problem in other pilots. Like all the other tough parts of aviation, there are no easy answers. Pilots are normally highly motivated, and sometimes we allow the motivation to fly to overcome our otherwise good judgment. We fail to plan because we know the answer we're going to get if we do. We take no special joy in walking. We like to fly.

Upcoming Events

September 7th
Highland Airport
Highland, IL
St. Louis Soaring Association Open House and Safety Day
9:00AM to 1:00 PM

September 14th
Spirit of St. Louis Airport
Skyline Aviation Hangar
Avoiding Aircraft Upsets and Avoiding the Inadvertent Spin
9:00 to 11:00AM

October 17th
Mt. Grove, MO
Club 60 Steak House
Airspace and Charts

October 26th
Mid Coast Aviation Hangar
St. Louis Downtown Airport
Helicopter Safety Seminar
8:00AM to 3:00PM

Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835