Don't Talk Yourself Into it!
July 1, 2019
The FAA defines Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) as,
“…a systematic approach to the mental process used by pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances….”
When the FAA talks about ADM, it really likes pilots to work through the DECIDE mnemonic but today let’s skip the post-mortem flagellation of that particular equine, OK?
I did a brief study many years ago of accidents involving aircraft with ballistic parachutes, which have saved many lives in the years since then.
When parachutes were deployed, there were clearly accidents where the parachute saved the day. One where an elderly pilot had a (fatal) heart attack and his wife, who had been briefed about the parachute, deployed it, and landed safely, saving her own life. There was another where improper maintenance had been performed and one of the flight controls departed the aircraft, rendering it uncontrollable. The pilot deployed the parachute and saved his own life.
Good job parachutes!
Then, like in virtually any sampling of aviation accidents, some of the accidents left one wondering:
What were they thinking?
Fuel exhaustion, scud running, VFR into IFR, etc. were all there. The usual “hit parade” of GA accidents…
What were they thinking? This was the question I asked myself and I didn’t like the answer. It was clear that in at least some of the cases, the pilots must have said to themselves; “Well it’s risky but that’s why we have the parachute!”
I completed the manufacturer’s very professional type specific training on one of the aircraft which included everything a pilot might need to know about how and when to deploy the parachute, but little if anything on the aeronautical decision making leading up to the necessity of deploying the ‘chute.
Herein lies my brief lesson in ADM: If you find yourself in a train of thought that says something like the statements below, it’s not your day to go flying. Pilots who live long, accident-free lives do not seriously think or say things like:
“I’m not worried about that rough-running engine. The other one is fine and besides, we have a life raft!”
“This cloudbank is only a few miles thick and I’ve had instrument training for my Private Pilot License. If anything goes wrong, we’ll just deploy the parachute.”
If a pilot recognizes this train of thought in themselves or others, alarm bells should go off. The existence of emergency equipment should NEVER be an excuse to engage in hazardous behavior. Don’t talk yourself into an accident.