April 20, 2011

Aeronautical Decision Making Skills Put to the Test

abovetheclouds.jpgAs part of the FAA Wings program I recently took and completed the "Art of Aeronautical Decision Making" online course. The FAA defines Aeronautical Decision-Making as a "Systematic approach to the mental process of evaluating a given set of circumstance and determining the best course of action." More practically they use a framework for ADM and risk management: Perceive - Process - Perform.


  • PERCEIVE the "given set of circumstances" for your flight

  • PROCESS by evaluating their impact on flight safety

  • PERFORM by implementing the best course of action

AOPA's Air Safety Foundation uses "Anticipate, Recognize, Act". Both promote identifying an issue, determining a plan to mitigate or eliminate risk then putting that plan into action. ASF says "...the thing that seems to cause pilots the most difficulty -- is recognizing potential hazards and taking timely action to avoid them."

With every flight, pilots get a chance to use their ADM skills. However, I did not anticipate the level to which these skills would be used when a fellow flight club member invited me to join him for a flight in his Columbia 400 (now called the Cessna 400). The mission was to fly from Chicago to Miami University in Oxford, OH (my alma mater) to pick up his daughter and bring her back to Chicago. He was planning to file an IFR flightplan and use supplemental oxygen allowing us to fly at 18,000 feet, more than double what I typically cruise at. I figured this flight would be a great learning experience for me, having never flown in a Columbia 400 or having much experience with instrument flight plans. Little did I know what a great learning experience this flight would become.

GS_tailwind.jpgAbout forty-five minutes from our destination airport cruising along at FL180 and enjoying a 100 knot tailwind that was helping us achieve a 290 knot ground speed, Ray and I felt a hiccup in the engine and what felt like a short-lived decrease in power. We looked at each other than quickly switched the G1000 Multi-Function Display (MFD) engine page to check for any anomalies. There were no red flags As we were doing that the issue replicated itself. At that point we agreed an issue might be imminent and that he would continue to fly the plane and I would take over the radios if an emergency developed. We knew altitude was on our side and we agreed on an airport we could safely glide to while we troubleshooted the issue. Unfortunately, we had not identified a likely cause when the issue happened twice more in short succession. Each time we were seeing manifold pressure decrease with the hiccup and we noticed the oil temperature was lower than normally expected but still no clear cause or resolution presented itself.

Despite that we had a specific mission for this flight, "to pick up his daughter", we agreed there was a significant risk at hand and that we would be best to troubleshoot this issue on the ground and have a mechanic checkout the engine. It would have been easy for Ray to have stayed in "Mission" mode or to be swayed by Get-There-Itis and keep pushing through. But, we are both all too familiar that too many pilots have lost their lives or their aircraft with such decisions.

Without thinking about it we had just completed Perceive and Process in the FAA's Solution and Recognize in the Air Safety Foundation's thought process. Now it was time to Act or Perform. We agreed now was a good time for some Crew Resource Management (CRM) so Ray continued to focus on flying the plane while I took over responsibilities for radio communications. We informed Air Traffic Control that we wished to divert to Delaware County Airport in Muncie, IN. As we switched over to the Delaware County Tower the controller was aware we had been experiencing some engine irregularities and radioed "Columbia N262RK are you declaring an emergency?", a phrase no pilot wants to hear. I was relieved to be able to respond "Negative, we are not declaring an emergency and we have the runway in sight." A few minutes later we were safely on the ground.

A few years ago I made a precautionary diversion due to deteriorating weather conditions, this was the first diversion related to a mechanical malfunction but proved to be my best example in my flying experiences of appropriate use of Aeronautical Decision Making skills. A few days later I learned the mechanics determined the issue was caused by pin size holes in an exhaust host to the engine manifold, which I guess is common in turbo planes. The plane was not in imminent danger but I believe we made the right decision mitigating the risk.

A wise person once said "the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude" and on that day we had the right attitude and enjoyed our afternoon at the quiet Muncie airport enjoying a meal at Kacy J's Airport terminal restaurant while we waited for the cavalry. Marc, the Leading Edge Flying Club President, offered to fly down in the club Cirrus SR20 to help us complete the mission. As a result I got another new experience out of the day. It was my first time flying in the Cirrus SR20 which Marc let me fly for much of the short flight from Muncie, IN to Oxford, OH. I enjoyed a brief visit to Oxford before we turned for home. With four passengers and some baggage we had to manage fuel and make a fuel stop in Lafayette, IN before successfully completing the trip back to Chicago.

Although the flight did not go as planned, I had a great day of flying and aviation camaraderie none the less. Below are some photos from the day.

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March 7, 2011

Hangar Flying A Dying Art Form?

airzoo1.jpgAn issue of any aviation magazine does not ship to the printer without some reference to hangar flying. The phrase has been around nearly as long as aviation and is used to describe the conversations and discussions had by pilots sitting around a hangar. However, in my experiences, hangar flying is more often a myth then a reality and I was starting to wonder if this art form was slowly dying.

The fact of the matter is less than a half a percent of the population are pilots. So although many people are intrigued by what we do, it can be hard to find people who want to talk about aviation for hours on end. When I was first learning to fly at Blue Ash Airport in Cincinnati, OH, I fell in love with hangar flying. The flight school had a couch that sat in a covered area outside the FBO office where you could sit and listen to and watch the activity on the airport. After a lesson I would sit there with my instructor to debrief and within a few minutes the crowd would grow and the hangar talking would begin. As a student this was a great way to stay motivated and also to learn from others. I wonder if without that bonding experience if I would have stuck with it, I like to think I would have but it is hard to determine the role the camaraderie at the airport played in my ongoing motivation.

Unfortunately, since moving home to Chicago in 2005, I have been unable to find true aviation camaraderie around the airport. I can find it online but it was missing at the airport. I belonged to a flight club that, despite a healthy membership roster, did nothing to foster social activities between members. I came to the airport to fly then left right after.

hangarflying.jpgFinally fed up with that experience I went on the search for something better and came across my new club, Leading Edge Flying Club, which was created out of the same frustration I had been experiencing. This club focuses on the social aspect of flying. They offer monthly fly-outs to encourage pilots to share the costs of flying and to learn from each other. In the summer they organize cook-outs on the tarmac and most importantly, they offer a welcoming environment in the hangar clubhouse with a view of the flightline that encourages loitering. My previous club had metal chairs with their back turned to the airport that encouraged you to go home after flying. I now advise prospective student pilots that if their flight school does not have a couch, walk out.

Beyond the benefits of enjoying aviation on the ground through hangar flying I am learning I am enjoying sharing flight time with a broader group of pilots from novice pilots to airline captains. This past weekend I participated in my second club fly-out. We had nine pilots who saddled up into four aircraft for a day trip from Chicago to Kalamazoo to visit the Air Zoo museum. This is a flight I could have done on my own but it would have cost significantly more and I would have been missing out on the camaraderie and a chance to learn from my fellow pilots. These types of activities will keep new and old pilots engaged in our community.

With the decline in the pilot population I think it is important for us all to find a way to maximize our experiences in aviation. I would never have said my fire for aviation needed to be re-kindled but my experiences with Leading Edge have definitely stoked the fires. I am getting a lot more out of my trips to the airport now that I have found a club that offers more than simply access to a plane.

Let's all do more to continue to make the general aviation community an engaging one and keep everyone active in the community.


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