Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aerial Phobias

Aviation’s bogeymen, and how to handle them

All of us have things in our lives that make us uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of terrorizing us. As kids, it’s what’s hiding under the bed. As adults, it may be spiders, high places or the IRS. Pilots have their own special bogeymen, some of which we know as stalls, crosswinds, stall/spins and engine failures.

It should be pointed out that the above AREN’T irrational fears because they’re very real threats. However, they’re threats that respond quite well to training. We’ll have to live with those bogeymen for our entire av career but with the appropriate training, we’ll at least know how to keep them hidden under the bed. We’ll deal with them, not fear them.

Training is the key to almost everything in aviation, including chasing the bogeyman away. The wonderful thing about training is that it generally only takes a few hours of focused instruction to build our skills and confidence to the point that we accept our fears as minor inconveniences, not obstacles.

Note: We said “focused” instruction. Before we get in the airplane, we’ll single out one area that needs improvement and work on that area only. One hour, one subject, one skill. That way, our brain is totally focused.

While we’re hammering away on a given skill, e.g. avoiding stall/spin accidents, we’ll find that some of the work we’re doing feels suspiciously like basic flight instruction of the old “keep the ball in the center, control your nose attitude” variety. This is because the basics as they apply to normal flight also apply directly to the sometimes extreme situations we’re working on here. So, in the following paragraphs we’ll develop anti-bogeyman training scenarios but at the same time, we’re going to weave the basics into the narrative because they apply and can never be stressed enough.

Engine Failures

Of all the fears built into flying, losing power is probably the one that tops the list. And well it should. It’s the one threat that depends on more luck and preparation than pure skill. However, being able to fly with the ball centered and the appropriate airspeed means you’ll have a more efficient glide, which gives more time to sort things out.

It’s likely that the instructor will point out that engine failures are sometimes our own fault. Common pilot lapses often back us into a corner, like taking off on an empty tank, forgetting to change tanks, not recognizing carburetor-icing conditions, etc. The instructor will be constantly quizzing us about such items. At the same time, he’ll be hammering us on our engine-out priorities: First, fly the airplane (nose down to maintain speed), boost pump on, change tanks, select the landing spot.


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