Maneuvering Flight    

By: David St. George, ATP, MCFI, DPE

     Just getting around the pattern is one of the most hazardous operations in aviation! Maneuvering flight, which includes take-off, landing and flight below 1000' agl accounts for 67% of all accidents and about 21% of all fatal accidents. This would not be so shocking if we spent a lot of time here, but pilots spend only about 5% of their time in the pattern. 67% of accidents occur where we spend only 5% of our time! This distressing statistic indicates that pilots are not skillful in basic aircraft control. It also demonstrates that pilots are either unaware of the risks in maneuvering flight or they are not handling them well.

     As soon as the pilot certificate is in hand, trips and fun-flying dominate pilot attention and the idea of "practicing" is repugnant. Consequently, hard-won skills deteriorate rapidly. Pilots launch off and drone for several hours and land (once) at their destination. Pretty soon any flight slower than cruise is scary and landings start to become a real adventure! Paul Craig, in his book Killing Zone, documents the dramatic rise in accidents after pilot certification. Part of this is exploring new territory without supervision, but lots also would be deterioration of basic skills. Recurrent training must be part of every pilot's repertoire and would make flying lots safer and enjoyable for the passengers. A personal pilot proficiency plane is essential to safety.

     In the landing phase of flight, at least half of all accidents could be prevented by a simple cure: a willingness (and readiness) to "go-around" when a landing is not going as planned. Once the landing is not predictable and safe, a go-around should be executed, don't worry about the time or what someone else thinks. Pilots should be comfortable and especially capable in this maneuver since it is a pilots"s "safety net" if things start to go badly. Unfortunately botched go-arounds are also a common accident cause. Every time I line up on final I guarantee you I state two things clearly to myself. The first is "this is show time" so I sit up, get real sharp and pay attention. The second is " I can always go-around if something happens." This can be either something I mess up, conditions on the runway, something with the plane...etc. If anything is not working, I am out of there for another try.

     Basic airmanship is often neglected in primary training, especially in the bright glow of new glass flight displays. Looking out the window and using the rudder correctly have unfortunately been relegated to the trash bin of history. The new attitude seems to be: "If I can engage the autopilot on take-off and it will drive this fine machine to my destination, who needs to fly." I really wish people with an attitude like this would stay away from self-powered flight and hire a real pilot. The bad publicity of these glass planes hitting the ground (and buildings in NYC) is making every other pilot look like a dope. Learn the rudder well and the various uses for this basic control! Please work to overcome the "automotive paradigm." We are absolutely NOT "driving in the sky." Practice often and strive for excellence in your flying.