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Blog Your Way to Live Another Day

There’s way too much information on the Internet to ever be able to digest every morsel available for one’s benefit. But, it’s not a bad idea to focus your attention on the truly relevant stuff that may make you better at what’s important to you: like flying.

There’s dozens of really good general aviation bloggers out there, and much can be learned from their postings. But it’s often from the added value of blog respondents, and the ensuing discussions that take place, that a fuller framework of learning comes about. It’s never, then, a bad idea to sift through the comments and learn far beyond what the source blogger had to say.

A recent blog describing the mishap incurred by the pilot of a Cessna Skyhawk told of the insidious stream of little details that lead to the pilot’s botched takeoff. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the pranging so described; however, the moral to the story was clear. The pilot had skipped steps in his pre-flight checklist. Do the latter frequently enough, then at some point fate will slap you with a lesson you’ll count yourself lucky to be alive to have learned.

You could skip the posts that follow the blogger’s description and still learn the importance for why it was written. But to carry on into the comments serves as an excellent way to re-enforce the lesson, if not to further observe that many candid souls are brave enough to admit that they’ve made the same mistake. The more one reads through such postings, the deeper penetrates the hook that consolidates the original lesson into serial observance.

“Most of my mistakes have occurred when I accidently skipped a checklist item,” concedes one of the posts following the initial story of this Skyhawk’s takeoff blunder. “The thing to remember is that we’re all human, and can make very stupid mistakes.” Never, he goes on to firmly state, rush a checklist. He’s right: everybody makes mistakes. And rushing through a checklist is but one rung lower on the silliness ladder to not using a checklist at all.

The accident pilot’s major faux pas in his mishap was to have brushed over his checking of his control column’s freedom of movement. It spawned a lot of comments worthy of adoption into one’s own way of doing things. “Do a control check as you take to the runway,” added one of the commentaries. “I probably check control freedom three or four times from pre-flight to take off. A lot can happen after the pre-flight. Something can move to block travel.” Indeed, adopting the doctrine that “anything can happen” is as useful a lesson one can assimilate. Checking, multiple times, that your yoke (or stick) moves through its full rang of motion is, thus, more than a perfunctory duty. Your life resides literally in your hands. Why skip such an easy (and critical) check that will go a long way to keeping you out of harm’s way.

A lot can, indeed, happen after the pre-flight, commented a veteran military pilot with experience at the controls of an RF4C Phantom. His lesson expounds upon the fact that even the best make mistakes. “I had to do an early takeoff controlled abort,” he stated of one particular occasion wherein something went seriously wrong in his takeoff plans. “I could not advance my throttles: something was blocking their range of motion.” A taxi back to park was quickly followed by a crew chief’s investigation into the problem. The issue: a checklist lying in the unoccupied rear cockpit had wedged itself between the rear throttle levers and console. Linked as the front and rear controls were, the very item that should have prevented this mishap – a checklist – was what led to the incident in the first place. The best lesson from this story, though, was the pilot’s further admonition. “Rolling down the runway is not the time to be running diagnostics. Abort and be safe, even if it means getting egg on your face.”

What was the issue that lead to the Skyhawk’s mishap? The pilot had an iPad mount fastened to his yoke in such a way that it blocked his view of the column. As a result, he hadn’t seen, as part of his pre-flight checks, that his control lock was not only still in place, but was mounted backwards (which, given its inverted orientation, contributed to it not being seen). He tried to take off, but instead, ended up with a bent airplane hundreds of meters beyond the end of the runway.

The pilot in this accident story will probably never make his mistake again. And when you’ve read what other pilots had to say about it, you’ll be wary enough to never make the same mistake either.

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