The 10 Commandments Of Aviation Safety
There are some things you should absolutely positively know about any airplane you’re flying before you even start the engine
8 RISE TO THE OCCASION Altitude is the ultimate equalizer. In keeping with the old saying “The least valuable things to a pilot are altitude above, runway behind and fuel in the truck one minute ago,” altitude heads the list of safety requirements. Nearly every parameter of flying gets better at higher altitude. No matter what the glide ratio, the safety margin is improved with a wider pad of air between you and the ground, and out west, high altitude is a necessity to avoid running into the rocks. Thinner air up high presents less resistance to the airplane, so cruise speeds are higher. As you climb away from Earth, engine power decreases, and the positive aspect of that is fuel burn decreases. Colder temperatures at high altitudes keep the engine happy, but heaters are installed in most aircraft to keep pilots comfortable and generally work better than air conditioners (not often available in most singles and light twins). Communication and navigation radio range increases up high as well, although most radio navigation these days is being delegated to GPS.
9 THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT There aren’t many acceptable excuses for not using all the available runway. Okay, it’s probably true you’ll only clobber things up if you insist on using all 12,091 feet at LAX in your Cessna 150, but most of the time in most airplanes, there’s no excuse not to use all the asphalt. Thirty years ago, when I was working on my twin rating, my instructor, United Air Lines captain Gary Meermans, used to guarantee me that I’d lose an engine any time I accepted an intersection takeoff. His argument was simply that I’d feel like a complete idiot if I departed from an intersection, had an engine failure and ran off the end of the runway by 50 or 100 feet when I could easily have stopped in the available space if I had only used the entire runway. (Gary also used to suggest I had better maintain the centerline or I could expect an engine cut on the off-center side.) These days, I flight-test Cessna 300/400s, Dukes, Navajos, Barons and miscellaneous other models for a large maintenance facility in Long Beach, Calif., and I always insist on using all of the longest runway, even if the only maintenance was changing the oil and pumping up the tires.
10 THE DETRI “MENTAL” SIDE It may seem unrealistic to suggest that pilots should remain calm in the face of adversity, especially when they’re hurtling through the void at 200 to 300 fps or more, but the reality is you’re far less likely to survive the inevitable threesome of problems if you lose your cool. The majority of aviation emergencies don’t demand immediate action to save the day. Unless you’re at risk of losing control or hitting the ground, you should have time to take a few deep breaths, fly the airplane, get out the book or checklist, and work out the problem. Don’t be in such a hurry that you immediately transition to flail mode. You’ll only compound your problems and fears.