Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When Procedures Fail

Learning the lesson the hard way

The more complex answer was something I mulled, pondered and stewed over for a long time. What good are procedures if we don't follow them? What if we follow them, but they fail us? We get distracted; we forget things. In fact, distractions happen so often we probably need to practice for them. (When I'm instructing, I purposely distract my students and do things like chatter away on short final, much to their annoyance, for this very reason.) Distractions are something we need to be aware of and plan for. In Dayton, I ended up looking like a dork, but it could have been a lot worse.

After the Dayton incident, I developed my non-violable, carved-in-stone air-show-flight preflight, written checklist. My crew follows it, puts a check mark after each item then puts their signature on it. I, as the PIC, check it and sign it off as well. This reminds me that no matter how much I rely on my team, I'm ultimately responsible for the condition of my airplane. And, if my crew gets distracted during the preflight, they know exactly where they left off by the check marks.

Whether you have a crew or not, this kind of checklist could work for you. Make copies and keep a stack of them in your hangar. Check each preflight item off with a pen when completed. If you get distracted, you'll know where you left off. And with any preflight checklist, you can at least back up a few steps from where you left off when something takes your attention away.

I don't like to make mistakes, and I don't like surprises, so whatever checklist I'm using, I have another trick up my sleeve that works in any airplane to eliminate errors. I always do a CIGAR check before takeoff, and a GUMP check before landing. These checks cover all of the important basics. I learned them early in my flying career, but I'm surprised how many newer pilots don't.

CIGAR: Controls, Instruments, Gas, Attitude (trim) and Run-up. In my Extra, I add an extra "C" for Canopy. You can add an "F" in there for Flaps depending on your airplane, and an "S" at the end for Safety if you're wearing a parachute.

GUMP: Gas, Undercarriage (Gear! Gear! Gear!), Mixture, Prop.

Not fastening my cowl and having it nearly break off isn't the only mistake I've ever made, but I don't beat myself up over it—unless I ever do it again! My art teacher used to say, "Mistakes can be your best friend." He meant it as a creative way to explore potential or "propel" you forward into a new direction, but I think it applies to aviation, as well. I have a lot of gratitude for the mistakes I've learned from—both mine and others. Mistakes give us wisdom, keep us alive and make us better, more careful pilots. When I screw up, it's just one more thing I don't have to repeat!

Isn't it great that flying keeps us humble? Just when you think you're getting pretty good, something comes along that lets you know you still have a lot to learn. That's at least part of why I love to fly. The challenge of perfection is always there, but it's so elusive we can never quite get our hands on it! Awesome.

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