Safety Committee Update September 2021
We often hear the notion of ‘personal minimums’ when we consider the go/no-go decision. Let’s explore these as they relate to you and the Jersey Aero Club. These will obviously be different for everyone, hence the personal nature of them. POH limitations should not factor into this go / no-go decision in the beginning. At first, you must consider your own health and well-being. Are you feeling well rested and clear headed? Has the ‘mission’ added any undue stress to yourself? Do you have a Plan B already thought out in case you’re not at peak performance or mother nature does not cooperate with weather? Always leave yourself an out when you make business commitments, for instance or family plans to fly off to vacation.
Assuming you’re well rested and ready to perform, let’s consider the weather next. This again is not a one size fits all decision here. You may be more apt to takeoff in one aircraft you fly and not another due to equipment familiarity or even perceived reliability. For instance, I’m much more comfortable in the Mooney or Skyhawk in IMC conditions than the Saratoga, while in VMC on a gusty x-wind day, I’d prefer the heavier Saratoga.
Our varied fleet, while good to have choices, adds to the complexity of this go / no-go decision. The more planes I’m checked out in, the more numbers and procedures there are floating around my head. I’ve mitigated this problem by making a few note files on my phone for each aircraft with their specific speeds and typical configuration settings. Before each flight, I simply review the note and I feel ready for action. We also now have a generic aircraft check out quiz that you could fill in as a refresher and simply review that document before flight.
The weather may look sunny outside your house the morning of your flight, but are there any weather systems advancing toward your flight path that may make things dicey on the other end of your journey? How many hours will you be away from home base? The old saying is, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait another hour.” When I soled students on X-C flights years ago, I was extra diligent with this weather check as the further into the future the TAF took us, the less reliable it was. They may have been perfectly suited for a 5-knot x-wind takeoff, but what about a wind shift and an extra 5 knots later that afternoon?
How would that wind shift stymie their arrival with the high trees at Lakewood Airport, for instance? Another consideration should be your local knowledge of your destination. I borrowed a Grumman American Tiger from a friend and flew it to Deerfield Valley Regional Airport, Vermont years ago. It was called something else back then. Admittedly, I was not overly familiar with the aircraft, although deemed safe by its owner. I was even less familiar with this airport. With a planned night arrival in the mountains and no weather reporting on the field, I tuned into a nearby AWOS and picked a southerly landing for my plane that evening. On final approach, our speed seemed way faster than it should have been. As I was contemplating my situation, I also inadvertently hit the flap switch in the middle console and retracted the flaps. Now I was no longer in a good place. I did an immediate go around and looked down at the field where I noticed a lit windsock favoring the opposite runway.
While the nearby winds were likely favoring a south landing at the other airport, it had nothing to do with this airport. The proximity to the ski area and mountains almost always brought the wind from the north and therefore I never had a chance. Thankfully I retracted those flaps by accident, or I may have continued down that path with a healthy tailwind and a short runway. Remember, iPads and GPS units were either not invented nor widely available back then, so ground speed readouts were only derived from ATC radar screens or E6B calculations. If I was to add up a flight risk assessment score using one of many FRAT tools available today, I would have taken hits for lack of aircraft familiarity, airport familiarity, nighttime, mountainous terrain, etc. and my score may have alerted me to the inherent dangers of that mission on that evening. From there, I could have either mitigated the score down by altering the mission or scrapped it altogether and maybe sought to accomplish the flight in daylight the next morning. Perhaps just a phone call to the airport’s operations office could have familiarized me to the airport enough to make for a far safer mission.
There are always options and there are more tools than ever to assist us with making this go / no-go decision. So, we’ve discussed your health and well-being, the aircraft’s suitability to make the flight, and the weather, but what about your abilities? Is this going to be the first time you’ve ever attempted a particular mission? If so, have you researched the best way to accomplish the mission from all those that likely came before you? The internet is full of people that just want to talk about what they’ve done and seen. Take advantage of that aspect. Finally, the 3D view in Foreflight is particularly useful in getting to know your destination in both day and night conditions, including obstacles, depending on which subscription you maintain.
Finally, on the subject or recency of experience, this not only starts with your handling of the aircraft on the runway, for instance, but what about your instrument proficiency as well. The more ratings and privileges you have on your certificate, the more complex your situation is when it comes to maintaining proficiency. It took me a long while after I was instrument rated before I went into the clouds by myself.
Think about your progression in this area and whether you’ve done what you seek to do before. Are you simply building on previous and recent skills or are you adding a whole other dimension to your bag of experience? An old King Air mentor of mine once told me many times, in fact, that every pilot is born with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience. Your goal is to fill up the one before the other runs dry.
JAC Safety Committee