"Of Dreams and Metal Detectors." An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, February 29, 2012


"Of Dreams and Metal Detectors."



In one of those great moments, I took my eldest daughter for her first flight in a light aircraft. Her excitement and sheer joy reminded me of a time 40 years ago when my father had first taken me aloft in a seat that was complemented by a control column instead of a tray table. Yet within that period of my lifetime, the face of aviation security has changed so incredibly that one wonders if the joy is being strangled at the grass roots level of aviation.

My parents told tales of barnstorming pilots landing on local farms and taking folks for their first flight in frail machines with open cockpits. Airfields were far more developed by my childhood, but the ability to interact with ‘planes and pilots was far more common. Airfields were littered with new Pipers, Cessnas and Beechcraft, while DC-3s and Beavers fired up their radials, the Mustangs in civilian garb roared skyward to tow targets for the military. There was all manner of wings to climb upon and instrument panels to gaze at through hands cupped on Perspex.

As long as you paid due respect to taxiways and people’s property, there were basically no limitations upon the budding young aviator. Free to wander and explore, query and question. And those who called the airport their home could not encourage the next generation enough, hoisting them into seats and on occasions taking them for that prized goal; a circuit! A small camera with 12 valued frames of film was standard equipment and the week’s wait for developing was almost too long to bear. The entire experience of a visit to the airport was about as good as it could get for a keen youngster.

And then the events of 11th September 2001 took place and forever changed our world and our industry.

Flying internationally in the months following the attacks, security screening was heightened to a level never seen. When Richard Reid attempted to take an aircraft down with explosive shoes only a month later, footwear became the next target. Less than two years later, Heathrow was the scene of a strong military presence when fears of a ‘surface to air missile’ attack raised their head and we walked through Terminal 4 surrounded by combat ready troops. The scene was not so different in 2006 when the liquids and gels Trans-Atlantic plot was foiled. The postcards of Pan-Am Clippers and bow-tied waiters were long gone, now replaced by the harsh reality of a 21st Century under fire.

These security measures were inevitable, not only to deter those who would attack an aircraft, but to provide some degree of confidence in the industry for those who choose to fly. Undoubtedly there will be further measures in the future as one and all recognise that it is an area of ongoing review where complacency is potentially the greatest weapon. But how has this brave new world affected the next generation of starry-eyed aviators?

At some airfields, easy access has been replaced towering fences and coded security gates. Benches which once offered unobscured views are cordoned off and security vehicles pause and at times question those peering through fences with a telephoto lens. The accessibility of aviation has disappeared for many youngsters and the sterile airline terminal and boarding through a windowless aerobridge is the most that is on offer to many. Is this an environment where the dreams and excitement can be nurtured as they once were?

In the face of these hurdles there is definitely still hope for the next wave of budding aviators and engineers, however, a greater degree of responsibility also rests with those of us who have already taken to the skies and can remember the times before the sky went a darker shade. Programs such as the ‘Young Eagles’ in the United States are growing elsewhere and  offer an opportunity for youngsters to go flying in a general aviation aeroplane free of charge through the generosity of volunteers. Youth organisations around the world such as Air Cadets seek to encourage air-mindedness and offer opportunities for their members to get see aviation at a closer range than is normally available.

While these organisations due a tremendous job, the responsibility doesn’t end with the group; it stays with the individual. As pilots, instructors, owners and engineers staff we should take the time to avail opportunities to those young minds that show an interest in our chosen endeavour of aviation. It may be in the form of organising a school excursion to your airfield, or attending a careers night; it may be even in the form of taking a bright-eyed future aviator for a lap of the airfield. The reality of our times is that these gestures will be less spontaneous and more the subject of procedures and protocol. Accordingly, that will call for a greater degree of organisation and effort, but it is something we must undertake.

Sure, the internet offers images, videos and glimpses of aviation hardware from around the world, but a computer can never impart the true sounds, smells and air-sense that spinning props and popping exhausts bring to life. It is as much about environment as it is imagery.

A failure to encourage those coming through will manifest commercially as a ‘pilot shortage’, but the shortcoming runs much deeper than that; it is the loss of opportunity. Not all those we encourage will pursue aviation as a career or even pursue it as a hobby, but their exposure to aviation and the magic of flight may just set the wheels of imagination and ambition in motion. That one flight may serve to provide a young mind with an insight into why self-discipline is important or how safety is always a consideration. The lesson may just be as simple as someone taking the time out to show an interest.

The headlines will continue to spread gloom about an industry under threat, but that does not mean that there is no room left for a youngster’s dreams. In a world of security fences and metal detectors, we all have the ability to go against the trend and encourage the next generation to share in the joy of flight.



"Sally B." An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, February 28, 2012



         Boeing B-17 "Sally B" taxies out at Duxford, England.

"When Jets Get Upset." (Part One) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp

Owen Zupp - Monday, February 27, 2012


                                "When Jets Get Upset."

The loss of a commercial airliner is a devastating event that the world still struggles to come to terms with. While statistics tell us that such an accident is a rare event in modern aviation, the sight of a charred fuselage is no less distressing. At the core of such devastation, one of the major causes to routinely surface is the ‘loss of control in flight’. So how is it that in the 21st Century an advanced airliner can become out of control?

What is ‘Jet Upset’?

In 1985, China Airlines Flight 006 entered a steep spiral following the shut-down of an outboard engine on the Boeing 747 while cruising at 41,000 feet. With the autopilot engaged, the speed began to bleed off with an increasing degree of asymmetric yaw proving more and more difficult for the autopilot to handle through the use of aileron control alone. Finally, the Captain disconnected the autopilot, but the aircraft subsequently rolled through 60 degrees of bank before pitching nose down dramatically, losing over 10,000 feet in 20 seconds. The severely damaged aircraft was finally recovered around 10,000 feet above the ground. Although some passengers were injured; all survived.

By contrast, the outcome was the loss of all on board in 1991 for the crew and passengers on board a United Airlines Boeing 737 approaching to land at Colorado Springs Airport. The pilots were well aware of the clear air turbulence that could be generated by the prevailing winds, although they could not possibly foresee the dramatic impact it would have upon their relatively routine flight. Only a minute after noting the first fluctuations in airspeed, the aircraft had rolled inverted, pitched its nose down vertically and crashed just 3 miles short of the airfield.

Both the China Airlines and Colorado Springs events are instances of flight control being lost. However, they are just two occurrences in a long line of similar events. In fact, in terms of worldwide airline fatalities, the loss of control ranks a close second to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) in its prevalence. Various studies place the number of lives lost at around 2,000 per decade through this type of accident.

This loss of control in flight is often referred to as a ‘Jet Upset’. Through a variety of possible instigators, the aircraft ultimately enters an extreme or abnormal flight attitude. In an effort to quantify what is an ‘abnormal’ attitude, the following limiting values generally apply;

• Pitch attitude greater than 25 degrees nose up.

• Pitch attitude greater than 10 degrees nose down.

• Bank angle greater than 45 degrees.

Even so, it is possible for an aircraft to be ‘upset’ within these parameters if it is flying at speeds inappropriate with the conditions.

While these parameters may be seen as mild for a Pitts undertaking an aerobatic routine, they are quite abnormal for airline category aeroplanes. By comparison, even when an airliner is conducting a maximum speed emergency descent, it will not exceed 10 degrees nose down and most aircraft will start to bark warnings at the crew if the bank angle exceeds 35 degrees. And yet, throughout history and through a variety of circumstances, jet airliners have continued to experience ‘upsets’.

The Usual Suspects...and others.

Jet upsets are not a common occurrence, but like CFIT, their very nature often equates to a horrendous outcome. Another challenging aspect of jet upsets is that they are so varied in their origins. The causes can be as varied as man, machine and the very environment through which they pass.

Many upsets are environmentally induced. Under the broad title of turbulence, clear air turbulence (CAT), mountain wave effect and windshear are regular offenders. Severe weather phenomena such as thunderstorms, icing and ‘microbursts’ have also lead to bringing down perfectly serviceable aeroplanes. One of the major contributors to jet upset events is ‘wake turbulence’. Although generated by fellow aircraft and not Mother Nature alone, it is definitely a feature of the aviation environment. The spiralling vortices that drift down invisibly from the tips of aircraft are a necessary evil by-product resulting from the generation of lift. Worst at the high angles of attack and slower speeds of approach and landing, they leave following aircraft particularly vulnerable close to the ground. That’s not to say that striking wake turbulence in the thin air of the upper flight levels is not possible, or equally attention-grabbing. Fortunately, through further study, aircraft design features such as winglets and air traffic separation standards, much is taking place to reduce the incidence of wake turbulence events.

Aircraft systems are not without blame when it comes to jet upsets. Generally speaking, aircraft system failures are rare. Even so, flap asymmetry, issues with flight spoilers or an erroneous stall warning may all contribute to a potential upset. Similarly, instrument failures, or conflicting information being presented to the crew have led to aircraft entering abnormal flight attitudes. While this has occurred through misinterpretation and subsequent incorrect inputs by the pilot, auto-flight systems are no guarantee of safety either. Autopilots, autothrottles and automatic stabiliser trim control have all been culprits at one time or another. The reliance upon these normally reliable systems can often lead to a temptation to leave them engaged until they are at the limit of their abilities. In fact, sometimes automation can mask the true cause and reducing the level of automation can assist the pilot before the situation deteriorates too far.

As always, the human factor cannot escape mention. There are rare occurrences of pilot incapacitation, but far more frequently it is the misleading sensory inputs and pilot disorientation that are recognised for their role in the loss of control in flight. However, while a major player, visual cues and vertigo are not the only vulnerable aspects of the human form. The ability to both gather and interpret information from the instruments is a critical pilot skill and varies from one pilot to another. Control inputs are subsequently based upon the timely, correct understanding of the information presented and an incorrect response can not only initiate an upset, but exacerbate it once it has commenced..........

Check back fpr Part Two of "When Jets Get Upset". You may also be interested in 'The Fatal Stall'. CLICK HERE.

Airbus A380 Tailcam. A Different Perspective. An Aviation Blog Image.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, February 26, 2012



"Airbus A380 Tailcam. A Different Perspective."

"What's The Story??" An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, February 26, 2012



"What's The Story???"

If you're new to the blog, you may have missed "The Big Bang Theory."

CLICK HERE for the full story.



"The 100 Day Fighter". An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, February 23, 2012

"The 100 Day Fighter."


This week marked the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin and so appropriately, and as a tribute, I thought I would post this special memory of the "100 Day Fighter". Lest We Forget.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the days didn’t come much darker than in 1942 for those on the edge of the Pacific War. Darwin had been bombed and sitting on the distant fringe of the Commonwealth, Australia was confronted with an advancing Japanese foe approaching its doorstep while the British Empire battled tyranny in Europe. To this backdrop the all-Australian Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Boomerang was born in little more than 100 days.

Born of the Times.

Britain was hard pressed to meet the production needs of its own Royal Air Force as 1941 drew to a close and the American industrial arsenal was still gaining momentum with its emphasis on the war in Europe and its own requirements. Australia’s small air force was already weakened with the deployment of front line squadrons and personnel to the European theatre. Only a threadbare force based in Malaya and a variety of non-fighter aircraft at home represented the nation’s air power.

Aware of the predicament and without a foreseeable means of bolstering their stocks, the decision was made to set about producing an Australian fighter and fast! At the time, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) was producing the Bristol Beaufort bomber under licence and a derivative of the NA-33 North American Harvard, the Wirraway. At the helm of CAC was the highly regarded, Wing Commander Lawrence Wackett. Using the resources available to him and a contractual clause permitting modifications to the NA-33, Wackett and his time devised an aircraft that would be based upon the Wirraway.  This would minimise the requirements in design, manufacturing and tooling processes and open the door to use the Pratt and Whitney engine already in production for the Beaufort bomber. 

Designated the CA-12, the ‘Boomerang’ utilised the centre section, empennage, wing and undercarriage of the Wirraway, while melding it with newly designed forward section to accommodate the larger 1,200 HP radial engine. Gone from the Wirraway was the two seat configuration, replaced by a lone pilot, and the armament was moved to the wings in the form of two 20mm cannons and four .303 machine guns.

The net effect was a compact looking fighter whose appearance could be better described as stubby rather than sleek. Yet the achievement of its production and logic could not be argued with. When the first CA-12 flew in May 1942, it had taken only 4 months to grow from a concept to a living, breathing aeroplane. Furthermore, to a nation in danger of losing its supply, much of the supporting materiel was readily available to the commonality of design and production processes it shared with the Wirraway.



Flight of the Boomerang.

From its earliest flights, the Boomerang was earmarked for its manoeuvrability. When trialled against the Curtiss P-40, which the Australian government had ordered, it out-turned its highly regarded opponent and demonstrated impressive rates of climb. However, its stubby airframe was not conducive to speed and was inferior to the Kittyhawk in this critical department. This trait was further hampered by the CA-12’s engine’s tendency to overheat, resulting in flight with the engine gills partly open and creating drag.

Originally, labelled the CA-12, the Boomerang would evolve through the CA-13 and CA-19 to tally a production line of around 250 aircraft. There was even a lone super-charged CA-14 trialled in an effort to increase the top end speed of the type.

The Boomerang’s active service commenced in 1943 and primarily consisted of patrols and convoy escorts, though its limited range proved made certain sorties difficult. With the impending delivery of the faster Kittyhawk fighters, it seemed that the Boomerang’s days were numbered and would be remembered as little more than a stop-gap measure. Yet, just as the Wirraway had been the forerunner in the Boomerang’s design, it was to prove its predecessor in an operational sense too.

The Wirraway had been serving in New Guinea with the RAAF in an Army Co-Operation role. Operating at low level, they provided reconnaissance, artillery spotting and the first generation of Forward Air Control (FAC). The Boomerang now presented itself as an ideal replacement with better armament, manoeuvrability and a zippy rate of climb. While it may not have excelled in its original design role as a fighter, the Boomerang won the admiration of many of the troops in its close ground support tasking.

Operationally, the Boomerang slid into history at the war’s end with its final posting winding up in 1946. Interestingly, the Wirraway from which it was spawned found a new life post-war as an advanced trainer, much like the Harvard. As such, it continued to serve with the RAAF while its offspring was relegated to the scrap heap.



The Boomerang Comes Back.

The Boomerang now seemingly filled the gaps in books detailing military fighters, much as it had done in its active life. There was not much thought in the mid-1970s of seeing a Boomerang brought back to life, other than perhaps in the archive rooms of a national museum: and in the mind of a teenager named Matt Denning.

In 1975, at only 15 years of age, Matt convinced his father to purchase the bones of CA-13 Boomerang A46-122. It was a little more than a beaten up fuselage frame, but became the catalyst for one of the most remarkable restoration stories ever. Restoring what he had and scouring the countryside for any other components, Matt gradually worked towards restoring ‘122’ to static condition. With the assistance of many across the nation he amassed such a stockpile that in 1982 he decided to undertake the mammoth task of a restoration to flying condition.

With unrivalled persistence and determination, Matt Denning saw his dream take flight on Valentine’s Day 2003; 28 years after he had first acquired the airframe of A46-122. Today, ‘122’ is owned by the Temora Aviation Museum, but is still to be found gracing the skies with Matt at the helm.

Seeing Double.

For most, such an undertaking might wear the enthusiasm levels somewhat, but not Matt Denning. On June 26th a second CA-12 Boomerang (A46-63) rolled out from his Queensland hangar and took to the air for the first time since it forced landed in 1943 following an engine failure.

Though Matt took the historic aircraft into the sky, this time it has been restored for owners from South Australia. It is another immaculate restoration and credit to the man behind the Boomerang today.

Craftily, there has been a second seat fitted aft of the cockpit. In keeping with the quality of the restoration, this modification is virtually invisible to most observers, but enhances the practical use of the aircraft twofold.

The Stop Gap No More.

The Boomerang may have been borne of desperate times in an exercise of compromise, but it is better remembered as an aircraft of answers. It offered the Australian people an interim fighter when none was on the horizon and instilled a level of self dependence when the Empire seemed so far away and distracted. It displayed ingenuity at its very best to utilise existing parts and processes and deliver an aircraft from paper to ‘plane in around 100 days.

It remains the only fully designed and built Australian aircraft to see active service. While it may have only provided breathing space until the arrival of the P-40 Kittyhawk and the like arrived to re-establish a degree of air superiority, it found a vital role down amongst the jungle canopies of New Guinea. Those foot soldiers would not have seen the Boomerang as a ‘stop gap’, but more likely a saving grace.

Regardless of performance or role, the CAC Boomerang fills a special niche in aviation history. A niche that we can still be reminded of as restored examples of the little fighter weave across the sky and pay tribute to those who have gone before.

The Practical Pilot. "Be Prepared" (Part Two) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, February 22, 2012


                           "Be Prepared." (Part Two)

                                            Click HERE for Part One.


A Personal Preflight. (cont.)

.....Ensuring that all licences and ratings are up to date is a basic responsibility, but equally critical is the matter of currency. Currency can be precisely defined by regulations, but these must be seen for what they are; base level requirements. Only you know if you are satisfied with your level of currency and comfortable to strap loved ones into the seats behind you. Are you clear on your engine failure procedures? How long since you last flew a go-around? There is legally current and genuinely current; ensure the latter is always the case.

Personal fitness is also too often overlooked. Head colds and blocked ears are an obvious indicator of inadequate fitness to fly, but it is the more subtle issues that can sometimes slip beneath the radar. Inadequate or restless sleep, pressures at home or the office can all impinge upon a pilot’s performance without manifesting in the form of straightforward symptoms. Yet these silent ailments are no less threatening to flight safety than their diseased counterparts are.

Whether it is our level of knowledge, currency or fitness we need to be able to step away and logically assess whether we are up to the task of flying. If there is any doubt, our responsibility is to stand down. As such, these assessments are best made well before the flight as there is added pressure as we stand at the airport with the aircraft on the ramp and our passengers waiting expectantly. Furthermore, the earlier we assess our preflight readiness, the more time there is to rectify the situation.

A State of Readiness.

In addition to self-assessing the fundamental issues of readiness, there are numerous common sense preflight strategies to ensure that the flight goes as smoothly as possible.

At the forefront is time management. Anything that can be calculated, organised, studied, flight planned, booked or scratched before arriving at the airfield is an opportunity to alleviate the load on the day you go flying. Additionally, by attending to these matters well in advance permits the exercise to be unrushed. A review of the weather or NOTAMS the night before may avoid surprises and offer time to plan alternative strategies. Time is critical and very few sound decisions are made in haste. This theme carries through to the day of the flight. Allow for bad traffic driving to the airport, allow additional time for flight planning and readying the aircraft. A pilot shouldn’t be racing around or the body will be in the cockpit with the mind still at the briefing office.

‘Armchair flying’ is another technique to fine tune flight management away from the aeroplane. We’ve all seen aerobatic pilots standing alone, arms out and ‘flying’ their routine through their minds eye. For emergency drills, envisaging scenarios before they eventuate can reduce the shock value and potential confusion that may result from an event such as an engine failure. Reviewing the vital actions in the comfort of your home and re-briefing them before take-off will go a long way to providing clarity of thought and executing the appropriate actions should the unthinkable occur. Airline pilots frequently armchair fly ‘engine out’ manoeuvres or other emergency procedures, particularly as they prepare for simulator sessions. The same benefits are there for all pilots in rehearsing procedures to the point that they become second nature. Again, this frees up some of that finite ‘brain space’.

Cockpit organisation is also too often overlooked. Ensuring that ALL of the charts are on hand, along with licences, pens, flight plans and so on can be done well before flight time. Devise a system where the same items are stored in the same compartments of the flight bag, thus not only highlighting any absences but also permitting blind access on a cold, wet night in turbulence. The same applies to stowage in the cockpit; item must be secure and accessible. If you drop a pencil, have another, have your charts folded and ready to go at your fingertips. Flight decks are not for foraging.

Whatever the preflight strategy may be, simply having one puts the pilot ahead of the game. There will always be instances of last minute changes and the best laid plans going awry, but being timely and organised will even offset some of this drama. Even so, do not permit yourself to be rushed or pushed into a corner beyond your own zone of comfort and competency. As every preflight transitions into taking flight, as a final check the pilot should ask, “Am I ready?” If the answer is “no”, it is never too late to walk away in the interests of safety.

Be Prepared.

Whether flying professionally, or for leisure, there will always be responsibilities and duties requiring attention. With equal certainty, at the heart of flying for every pilot there should be a great degree of enjoyment.

To ensure that this occurs, pilots need to eradicate as many pressures and stresses as they possibly can well in advance of taking to the air. A sound approach to pre-flight preparation and the development of personal strategies and organisation will go a long way to meeting these goals. With as many issues addressed as possible, it will free up mental capacity to cater for unexpected eventualities and manage the flight with a minimum of stress and also allow some gazing beyond the cumulus and the contours below. After all, we have the best seat in the house.


The Practical Pilot. Friendly Words of Warning.

"Tomorrow's Wing...Here Today." An Aviation Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, February 22, 2012


                                  "Tomorrow's Wing...Here Today."


An interesting perspective of the Boeing 747-8F's wing, highlighting its efficient raked wing-tip and the state-of-the-art General Electric Gen-X engines.

"Just One of Those Days." An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"It was just one of those days."


It was just one of those days again.....in a good way.

Like so many mornings in the airline game it began in a hotel room with an alarm clock sounding at an hour too early to accurately recall. A shower, a shave and a stealthy exit, carefully trying not to slam the door and disturb the other guests. An exchange of pleasantries and a room key to the sole staff member manning the foyer desk, before a cheerful ‘Good Morning’ to my fellow pilot.  As the car makes its way to the airport along the darkened roads, we both check the latest weather and radar paints on our iPhones. What did we do before these things? In the briefing room we pore over the detailed weather and ‘Notices to Airmen’ before ordering our fuel load, passing through security and finally walking out to our aircraft sitting quietly on the tarmac.

The control tower was still asleep as we brought the Boeing to life for the day and then passengers started to climb aboard. A few more calculations and then the ‘tower’ was open for business. We received our ‘airways clearance’ from the chirpy Air Traffic Controller and I’m sure that I could smell coffee on his voice. The runway lights were on, the sun was threatening to rise in the east and we were all ready to go. Engines started; we’re on our way.

Climbing out from Hobart, the darkness grew deeper very early in the flight as we entered a low layer of cloud. Some thousands of feet later the cloud began to glow and then I was in clear air with a line of bright orange sunrise back over my shoulder. The brilliance only lasted a few minutes, before once again the cloud consumed the aircraft and held it in its grasp until 30,000 feet. By then we had well and truly set course for Melbourne and a solid white blanket lay below us. Thirty minutes later and we were over Bass Strait with the thrust levers closing to initiate our descent into the Victorian capital.

Not much was happening on this sleepy Sunday morning, so Air Traffic Control instructed us to fly a straight line at our maximum speed to join final for the northern runway; an instruction that we happily complied with. As the cloud thinned out the coastline lay below and we shadowed the waterline with the high-rise of the city looming ahead and out to our right hand side. This stretch of coast was familiar to me as I had dawdled along it during my fund-raising flight around Australia in 2010. At that time I was flying at 120 knots and around 1,500 feet, now I was on descent from the flight levels at 320 knots. Still, from the higher vantage point I could pick out various features and mentally retrace my steps.

The view as we passed Melbourne’s skyline was beautiful as we began to decelerate. The early morning sun silhouetted the buildings without affording the full detail of colour. But there was colour; seven or eight dots of colour. In the stillness of the early morning air, a sea of hot air balloons silently drifted into the sun’s earliest rays and was illuminated by its light. They appeared to be untethered lanterns welcoming the day from on high. It was spectacular.

We continued on and landed at Melbourne, but after such a breathtaking start to the day, the latter phase of the flight could not compete as a spectacle. The flight deck truly is the best seat in the house and I treasure every day I spend there. Every day offers something new, so really, today was just another one of those days.....but in a good way.


Title Image supplied by "Picture This Ballooning."


The Practical Pilot. "Be Prepared" (Part One) An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, February 20, 2012



                                    "Be Prepared"


For two simple words, the Boy Scouts motto of ‘Be Prepared’ has cast its net far and wide. Whether it is an academic endeavour or sporting pursuit, the ability to turn up cold and expect success has been shown to border on folly. Aviation is no exception and it is often the work outside the cockpit that will determine the success within.

No Rest for the Wicked.

The term ‘Private Pilot’ is often misunderstood. The inference that it is almost diametrically opposed to professional aviators is both unfair and inaccurate. Whilst some may choose to aviate for leisure, it is very difficult to be a leisurely aviator. The level of theoretical and practical knowledge required to gain the licence is not insignificant, nor is the ongoing effort and cost to maintain standards and currency.

Regardless of the level of licence, there are regulatory requirements and minimum standards that must be met. There are check rides and exams, medicals and manuals. This continual scrutiny of the pilot’s knowledge and ability is not necessarily the most enjoyable aspect of aviation, but the challenge that stems from it reinforces that flight is a worthy pastime.  It’s not easy, but very few worthwhile endeavours are.

The scrutiny does not always come from a higher authority; in fact it most frequently results from the standards we impose upon ourselves. Much of the ability to meet these challenges will not be found in the cockpit, but in the time spent considering a flight’s conduct before the engine even starts. Sound flying begins with sound preparation.

The old adage goes that “poor preparation results in poor performance”. Ask any Designated Flight Examiner about the warning signs of a poorly prepared candidate and they will be able to recount a number of instances where the outcome of the test was obvious even before taking flight. A pilot may have wonderful manipulative skills, but these will very quickly be undermined by a lack of approach, organisation and attitude.

Incomplete paperwork, poor punctuality, scruffy appearance, absent equipment and inadequate briefing materials are just some of the ‘red flags’ of a pilot on the back end of the power curve. The majority are tasks that could have been completed well in advance of the flight and free of the pressure imposed by time constraints. Yet time and again, pilots will box themselves into stress-filled corners because of lack of preparation.

While these warning signs may be evident to an examiner or flight instructor, it is even more critical that they serve as warnings signs to the individual. They may indicate that today might not be the day to go flying, or if it is, that a little extra vigilance is needed after a few long deep breaths. From time to time everyone will run late or forget to pack a chart in their ‘nav bag’, but it is important that these are not symptoms of poor overall preparation.

A Personal Preflight.

So why can’t we just get in and go without adequate preparation? Primarily, aviation is a task that calls for thorough planning. It requires the co-ordination of numerous tasks while being subject to the variables of weather, clearances and aircraft serviceability to name just a few. When these variables compound with time constraints and the everyday demands of operating an aircraft, the pressure can begin to mount. The cockpit can very quickly escalate to a place of spiraling workload at the expense of the fundamental safety of the aircraft’s flightpath.

As humans, we are only endowed with a finite brain capacity to manage multiple tasks; there are only so many balls that we can keep in the air. If the workload is permitted to intensify beyond our limits, the ability to prioritise and make decisions will be compromised and we may become myopic on a single task at the expense of the overall flight management and safety. Hence, it is imperative that we have a strategy in place for the management of the workload and one of the greatest means of achieving this is through sound preflight preparation. Many of the tasks that can prove distracting can be addressed before the chocks are ever pulled away, it just requires thinking ahead.

Thinking ahead can take many forms and placed under the banner of ‘preflight preparation’. Firstly, there are core issues that are expected of a licensed pilot. These include sound knowledge of the aircraft, its performance, limitations and systems. Not just an aircraft type exam that was passed at the time of endorsement, but a practical understanding of the aircraft that is reviewed from time to time. Similarly, the rules and regulations that will govern the flight should be fundamental knowledge........


Check back for Part Two of "Be Prepared" and the next instalment in the 'Practical Pilot' series.

The Practical Pilot. Friendly Words of Warning.

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