Plane & Pilot
Thursday, December 1, 2005

World's Stupidest Pilot Errors

So many mistakes are just asking to be corrected

World's Stupidest Pilot ErrorsIf you’ve ever been to a farm, you know that when one cow makes up his mind to blaze a trail to the feed trough, the other cows always follow. It doesn’t matter if there are obstacles along the route or the farmer hasn’t put corn into the hopper—cows blindly follow. They don’t use judgment, ask questions or learn from their mistakes. I call this the Moo syndrome. Pilots may be eons apart on the Darwinian scale, from cows, but they, too, follow each other, disregarding the mistakes made by their predecessors. The outcome could very well be disastrous, but they still blindly follow." />

Pilot number three most likely never read any of the accident reports or the FAA regulation that requires two people to be on hand for a hand-propping exercise. This commercial pilot valiantly exhibited the Moo syndrome in January 2005 by single-handedly hand-propping a Cessna 172 with the tail tied down with a good rope. Unfortunately, he had to untie the tail with nobody in the airplane, and when he attempted to climb into the cockpit, he fell and reached forward, pushing the throttle full speed ahead. Luckily for this pilot, he managed to drag himself on board and regain control, avoiding parked airplanes and only damaging his own plane by smashing into a fence. What does the regulation say? One person must be the proppee and the other an airplane-savvy person in the airplane with feet on the brakes. To hedge against pilots blindly heading to the accident barn, the FAA says it would be a good idea to chock the airplane as well.

Pilots do stupid things. One pilot couldn’t defog the windshield, but took off anyway. During the takeoff roll, he concentrated on keeping the airplane “straight,” but didn’t detect that his ground track wasn’t parallel to the runway. When the windshield finally cleared up, he was looking straight at a fence, so he applied aft elevator control to clear the obstacle. The airplane crashed into the fence, then came to rest upright. How can a pilot blindly try to fly when he or she’s unable to see out the front window? Another pilot, with his head up and locked, grew impatient waiting for a heavy rainstorm to move away from the airport. When the first glimmer of a hole appeared, he launched. During the takeoff roll, the wind increased, the rain fell harder, and the pilot struggled to maintain directional control. The takeoff was eventually aborted, but the airplane overran the runway and struck a fence beyond the departure end. The weather reported at the airport included winds from 300 degrees at 17 knots, gusting to 27 knots. How anxious was this pilot to get to the accident barn? When it’s black to the west and a sucker hole forms, don’t be that sucker, even if the other pilots go, or you may end up in the accident barn.

Pilots’ egos also embrace the Moo syndrome. “Get-home-itis,” being a top gun or thinking weather can’t kill you are common traps we could die from. On November 14, 2004, a Cessna 152 was destroyed when it impacted trees and terrain while maneuvering near Lyons, Colo. Luckily the “Die? Who, me?” commercial pilot and passenger weren’t injured. This egotistical instructor took his student to a practice area above a cloud deck. Conditions were IFR, but no flight plan was filed.

On the descent through the clouds, they “ran into trees.” The ceiling was 600 feet, the visibility was three miles, and the temperature dew point was 1/-1. Anyone who thinks he or she can fly IFR without a clearance and descend without being on an approach definitely is destined for the accident barn.

On the other hand, just being thirsty at the wrong time got a pilot into a fender bender. Forgetting to set the parking brake, the student pilot, who had just completed his run-up, decided to get his water bottle from behind the seat. In doing so, his feet slipped off the brakes and he rear-ended the airplane waiting for takeoff ahead of him. How many of us pilots who are in a rush don’t set the parking brake during a run-up? Maybe we should all take heed and not become a statistic that repeats itself.


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