Stupid-proof Your Flying with Aviation Safety — AviatorCast 137

What is the biggest liability we have as pilots, in our support of aviation safety? It’s OURSELVES. We are the ultimate decision makers. If we don’t make good choices, then bad things happen while flying.

That’s why we need to stupid-proof our flying as much as possible, in the name of aviation safety.

In this podcast we will discuss:

  • Why getting your head right FIRST, NEXT and LAST is the most important thing you can do.
  • How Checklists help keep us pilots in check.
  • Why habits, gouges and routines are essential in a fast paced environment.
  • How using recurrent training can make your skills skyrocket.

As a pilot I hope you’re always seeking to make better decisions, because your life and the lives of others depend on it. It’s simply part of our being as pilots to reach for that higher way of flying.

Episode Transcript

On this episode of AviatorCast, Stupid Proof Your Flying for Aviation Safety.

Welcome, aviators, to another episode of AviatorCast. Load up your flight bag with useful flight training topics, interviews and aviation passion. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires. Coming to you from Angle of Attack headquarters in Homer, Alaska, here’s your host and flight instructor, Chris Palmer.

Welcome, aviators, to another episode of AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer, coming to you from Homer, Alaska. Great to have you here. Hope you’re well. Hope you are working toward your aviation goals here for a little bit more information, inspiration, and just a step forward in this podcast today. So I thought of a topic of talking about like stupid proofing your flying, and some ways that we can build some routines, some checklists, some mindset into stupid proofing what we do, because at the end of the day, a lot of us have tendencies to do stupid things, and I think that’s just the human condition, right? That’s generally what we are always trying to do. So in aviation, we watch out for ourselves that way, make sure that we are trying to keep the ultimate safety.

So we are going to talk about in this particular podcast why getting your head right first, next and last is the most important thing you can do. That goes to human factors, that goes to that important decision making. Also being introspective, and knowing what you’re thinking and feeling, and how that plays out to aviation safety. How checklists help keep us pilots in check, also why habits, gouges, and routines are essential in a fast paced environment, and how using recurrent training can make your skills skyrocket.

So let’s just dive right in and go through several of these and have a discussion. So first off is the mindset stuff. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Kind of a funny saying that my wife says every now and again. Now, one thing I talk about every now and again is that humility is one of the traits that we certainly need as pilots. We know that there are hazardous attitudes out there that we learn about when we do flight training, and they are certainly true, they are present. We have all of them to a certain degree or another. We have several of them most, so you’d have to identify what those are. We’re talking about those things like resignation, anti-authority, invulnerability, macho. One I came up with was know-it-all, and there’s several others that I’m forgetting off the top of my head.

But those things that are kind of human nature that we tend to gravitate toward as an attitude towards certain things. So those are called, again, hazardous attitudes. You probably heard of them before, but the biggest thing we can do for aviation safety, for stupid proofing our flying, is to have humility. And this goes back to one of the core beliefs I have, even when it comes to aviation accidents, is that I never place myself as being better or more professional than the pilot that had made the mistake. So what I do is I rather take a step back and ask myself, “What would it take for me to get in that situation and make those same decisions?” And I feel like I learn more that way. I learn my limitations and what my problems are and how I can be better by being realistic about the fact that, “Hey, it can happen to me and will happen to me.” So that goes to humility, but just having the sense that, yes, we are our own worst enemy, and if we aren’t careful then we can get in trouble.

So this can be, again, this can be counteracted in several ways. We can define our hazardous attitudes so that we can avoid them. I think that’s very important to do on a regular basis. We can create what are called personal minimums. The FAA has these personal minimums that show what we are and aren’t willing to do in our flying, and those are more specific scenarios that we want to avoid while we build experience. And so you can see those on the FAA website. Just search “personal minimums worksheet” and they have something you can work through and actually come up with a scenario so you don’t actually cross that line. And those personal minimums are always better minimums than what is the actual legal minimum, or at least they are often better. If you’re really proficient, then of course you can go down to the minimums in certain cases, but you’re not leaving yourself a lot of wiggle room.

I just think that this whole mentality of being humble as a pilot is something we need more of. There’s just not a lot of room in aviation for ego, and when we get accidents that happen and things happen, it ends up being a breakdown at the end of the day in humility, in the pilot being able to identify problems in themselves and make a change as a result. So be humble, check yourself before you wreck yourself, probably the biggest point I’m going to make today.

So checking yourself. So checklists, we know that checklists are a thing. This is inherent in aviation, especially training and professional aviation where we use checklists religiously. So if you did your training right, you would have had an instructor that really drilled this into you, that you got got to do your checklist, you got to do your checklist, and it’s literally there to fight against the stupid. I’ll just call it the stupid. So it’s literally there to fight against these tendencies for you to forget, to do things incorrectly, and things like landing with your landing gear up and not switching fuel tanks, all sorts of things that are pretty crazy.

So actually the origin for checklists came from when they were developing the B-17. Must have been prior to World War II or at least the US’s involvement in World War II. They were doing test flights and one flight took off without the … It was an elevator lock. I think it was external, an elevator lock that was on the outside that had been left in, so they went down the runway and tried to take off and couldn’t control the pitch, and had an accident, and it was fatal. And that is when the checklists began to be developed in a very serious way.

And of course it is a mainstay in aviation now where we are using checklists constantly to check ourselves. Every airplane has a checklist. You’ll find them in the operating manual for your airplane pilot operating handbook, airplane flying manual, different names that they have, but you will find one there. You can also purchase them online through some different people who make laminated versions of them that are just in one card, and I like that version a lot because it has extra information on it, so you can also go that direction too.

So that is where the origin came from, but now we have checklists as part of our cockpit all the time. We fall in and out of practice with checklists, I think everyone does, where as we get closer to check rides, we use them a lot more, but really we should be using them all the time. It should just be habitual that we’re using them constantly. So if you get interrupted while you’re using a checklist, then you need to start the process over again or make sure that nothing was skipped, and also if you are falling out of the habit of using your checklists, make sure to pick it up again and start to use them again. That habit can be built, even if you didn’t originally learn it, to a great degree you can learn to do that checklist. Make it really convenient for yourself. Again, that’s why I have those laminated cards. I’ll put a link to it here on the website angleofattack.com or aviatorcast.com. You can find this episode and get a link for those, so they’re nice and laminated and they work out pretty well.

Make them easy to reach. Make them right there in your view. Sometimes I tuck them in the window between the glare shield and the window, or I’ll have it right under my leg, or somewhere where I can just grab it quick, reference it, and put it back. Very, very important that we go through those checklists and use them on a continual basis. So that is the checklists that we should use.

Another thing is simply habits, gouges and routines. And so this is kind of like a checklist, but it’s more of the things we do on a regular basis that make things predictable as a pilot rather than just leaving things up to chance. And so habits are things that we do the same way every single time. So when we walk up to an airplane to do a preflight, we do it the same way every time. We avoid being rushed through that process and we simply focus on that habit, and no matter what, we’re doing it the same way every single time, so that is a habit. I’m not sure what the actual definition is of a habit, but it’s got to be something along those lines, to where we’re eventually building some sort of muscle that we put into our flying, all right?

Now, there is a flip side to everything, right? Because if you do the same things every time, then you can get what is called confirmation bias, which is like your brain tricking you, thinking that you’re actually seeing what you want to see, but really it’s not there. And so it is important every now and again for certain things to mix it up, and so for the pre-flight for example, staying in that analogy, walking the other direction could be something that you do. Maybe doing your checklist backwards. Just different things to do that could help you mix it up a little bit to make sure that you’re not just going through the motions, but that you’re actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And that’s the difference here. So there is a flip side to habits where you can become so habitual on something you just forget, and that sounds interesting, but we can be blind to those things we’ve done so many times through habits. So just be careful about that too.

Gouges are kind of like acronyms, things that we use in aviation to quickly run through a checklist. It’s kind of like a memory item checklist. So one that I use is called CGUMPS, which is carb heat, gas, undercarriage mixture, prop, seatbelt, switches. I even say “snacks” to make my students laugh. So CGUMPS is a landing checklist. There are critical times in flight where we may be rushed for one reason or another where we simply need something to reference like that that can quickly get our head in the game where it may even be too busy to pull out a full checklist and go through it. Now, that’s never an excuse for a lot of operations, but I can say in the real world, operating in the real world, it’s just nice to have something like a gouge. So CGUMPS works well. CIGARS works well for takeoff, and I know that I can do CGUMPS really quickly and from memory, and set my airplane up and be good there.

So for example, one recent little twist I’ve done with CGUMPS, so it’s carb heat, which I actually check and look, gas, I look, you’re looking and verifying too. Okay. Undercarriage. This is something that I have started to verbalize recently where I say what type of landing gear I have. So I’ll say, “Fixed gear” or I’ll say “Retractable gear. It is down. It is three green.” But this gets tricky if you’re working with an amphibious airplane where you don’t want your wheels up for landing on floats or you want to make sure that your wheels are up in the floats for landing on water, and your wheels are down for landing on hard surface. So it just gets tricky. I just want to make sure that I’m checking myself to remind myself of what airplane I’m in. And then of course the other things too. But those are the sorts of things I think of when I go through this process.

Now, I did end up seeing someone do a gear up … I didn’t witness it myself, but I got there several minutes after someone did a gear up landing when I was flying in Wisconsin. We came in to land at the airport, ended up having to land on a grass runway that was more favorable to the winds anyway, but just minutes before us, a Cessna 182 landed without their gear down. There’s no reason for it other than they simply forgot, and it’s something that still happens. Who knows why, but going back to what I started with, with humility, I don’t look at that and say, “Oh man, what idiots. How could they do that?” I look at it and say, “Okay, what led up to that? Could I get myself in that situation?” And so that’s why I get kind of freaked out and in a little bit antsy about doing something like CGUMPS, because I know if I do it every time, then the likelihood of me making a mistake will drastically decrease in that case. All right?

So habits, gouges, routines, things you go through where you’re just doing it the same way every time, but maybe avoiding the idea of doing it the same way every time. Maybe it’s more important that we are actually doing it is the idea that I want to get across, is that we are actually performing those habits, those procedures, those things that we need to do in order to do it safely. So just the very act of doing a pre-flight, just the very act of doing a CGUMPS checklist, a bunch of different things we could talk about in aviation that lend to aviation safety. So that’s habits, couches and routines.

Lastly, and this is going to be a shorter podcast, but that’s okay, I want you guys to keep in mind something that the airlines do and that is recurrent training. So we know that we need three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to carry passengers, for day and night. We also know that we need a flight review every two years, and that is how we stay legal, okay? However, that’s not necessarily current. And so what airlines do is they actually do training more often than that, and on a regular basis they’re required to do so, and I think that we as general aviation pilots, if we want to remain safe, we would do well to adopt this voluntarily into our own repertoire. So at the bare minimum, those legal requirements aren’t really good enough to remain to be a safe pilot.

So what you can do is set up a regular schedule with a CFI. Maybe you meet with a CFI every six months and you go through some training. You can decide at that point if you want to get signed off for your flight review every six months or if you simply want to just go get some training. Whatever it is, it’s the quality of that training that matters more than the actual signature in your logbook. But do that and open yourself up to new experiences and new things and new perspectives, and even revisit things that you’ve done in the past, because I know that even for people that have gone through their private pilot training, they end up getting a little bit apprehensive about stalls, because they haven’t done them in a while, or they haven’t done steep turns in a while.

And I don’t necessarily want to get into the repetition of maneuvers constantly. That’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is, work on those things that you’re uncomfortable with. Work on those things you want to know more about. Go and experience different and new things under the safe, watchful eye of an instructor. That is what I’m trying to get across. And when you do that, then you are going to continue to grow as a pilot. You will continue to learn new things. You can check yourself and check the bad habits you may be forming, and maybe that’s even something you bring to the table, is you say, “Hey, I’m doing this voluntarily and I want you to look out for bad habits that may have formed in my flying, and please be very strict and point out what I can do better. Let’s make a list. I’m here to improve.” And I think that would be a really healthy position to come from in doing this recurrent training.

So again, we talked about the big picture thinking, of getting your mind right is the utmost importance to everything here, because everything stems from that. Getting in the checklist, and using those on a regular basis. The habits, the gouges, the routines that we do in aviation, making sure we’re actually doing them, and then the recurrent training that we can subject ourselves to.

So do you guys have any other ideas about how we can stupid proof our flying? I love to hear your feedback in the comments. I feel like this is something we could do a part two on, so go ahead and leave me a comment, send me a message. There are plenty of places to do that where this video is viewed or where you listen to it, and yeah, let me know what you think, and if these are things you’ve thought of before, or if you’re using them and they’re working, or if you have a situation where you feel like you’ve gotten into some complacency and had to make a change. Anyway, I’d love to hear your story, so feel free to reach out.

So thanks for being here. You guys can support by spreading the word of AviatorCast, of Angle of Attack, and what I do here. You truly are my road warriors, couldn’t do without you, so I appreciate you sharing this with flying friends, flying clubs, organizations you’re in, literally sharing it online and just spreading the word. I really appreciate that. I’m here to help people. If you do need any official training, again, remember that we do offer online ground school and we offer Checkride ACE for Checkride preparation, which is a really cool new course that you can get as well. All video based, all online, accessible wherever you are, whenever you want to jump in, so whether you need that or you think a friend could use it, please keep us in mind for that. And if you can, leave a review for the podcast, subscribe on YouTube, give us a thumbs up wherever you’re watching this. Stay on track.

Most of all, thank you for being here. You guys are awesome. I get a lot of great messages from people every single day, and I really enjoy the one on one interactions, and I really appreciate being able to help you. This is more something for the masses that we’re doing here, but if you ever need anything, if you ever need help, please just reach out. The best place to reach me is through Instagram messages right now. I keep up pretty well with those and respond to people, so keep up the positivity. Keep taking those steps. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you, and until next time, throttle on.

We sincerely thank you for joining us on AviatorCast. Please subscribe through your favorite podcast service and leave a review. Check out more flight training resources at angleofattack.com. There you can find this podcast, many free aviation training videos, as well as online ground school for private instrument, commercial and CFI. Got a Checkride coming up? Checkride ACE from Angle of Attack is your ultimate companion, guiding you through the process so you can conquer your big day. Thanks once again for joining us on AviatorCast. Turn left, contact ground point niner.

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