Those who truly love flying find that aviation is one of the things that actually defines them. It is their love and in fact their passion for aviation, that sets them apart from most others. People like this are easy to spot. If they hear the sound of an airplane, any airplane going by, they immediately look up, even when in mid-sentence!
There are a few other things that can immediately draw a pilot’s attention. Besides the sound of an airplane going over head, the sound of an engine sputtering and going rough, or worse yet, going silent. Then there is the sudden flicker and then blank Primary Flight Display (PFD) screen, or a steam gauge suddenly going to zero while you are cruising along relaxed and enjoying the flight. Besides your heart suddenly beating at a rate deep into the “yellow arc,” your mind is now also racing. You are searching for the reason you have lost your power, your radio, or your instrument(s).
While anomalies with your well-maintained aircraft or its systems might not be expected, they should be anticipated. That doesn’t mean you have to be scared, or panic. But you do need to plan ahead and be prepared.
So what can you do to avoid that less-than-ideal state of mind? First write down a list of ‘what-if’s.’ Review your aircraft operating manual, the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK), and then review your ‘If’s’ list with your favorite CFI. Next, go flying with your CFI to practice those what-if situations. Learn how to respond in a controlled, calm, and efficient manner while your instructor gives immediate input and feedback. Next, repeat those situations utilizing the new ideas and guidance provided by your instructor.
Once you have become proficient in handling emergency situations in practice, you will be far better prepared to handle them if one or more actually occurs during your flight. To maintain that proficiency however, you should practice handling them on a regular basis.
Ask yourself the what if questions, like “What if I am flying at twilight and I have an electrical failure, what should I do?” Perhaps you might ask, “What if my PFD’s go dark and I lose my radios,” what will I do? Well if you plan ahead and practice best procedures, you will at the least, increase your chances of handling the situation efficiently and effectively to prevent it becoming an emergency.
By running what if situations with your CFI, you are practicing the right things to do if or when a situation occurs. That prepares you to help yourself. But what if there was something you could do to help others help you under anomalous conditions. Well, in fact there is.
The PHAK says, “The survival records favor pilots who maintain their composure and know how to apply the general concepts and procedures that have been developed through the years. The success of an emergency or emergency landing is as much a matter of the mind as of skills.”
The PHAK additionally states that, “a precautionary landing, generally, is less hazardous than a forced landing because the pilot has more time for terrain selection and the planning of the approach. In addition, the pilot can use power to compensate for errors in judgment or technique. The pilot should be aware that too many situations calling for a precautionary landing are allowed to develop into immediate forced landings, when the pilot uses wishful thinking instead of reason, especially when dealing with a self-inflicted predicament. The non-instrument-rated pilot trapped by weather, or the pilot facing imminent fuel exhaustion who does not give any thought to the feasibility of a precautionary landing, accepts an extremely hazardous alternative.”
If you are flying at night especially if solo, you should consider carrying and actually wearing a dual color, LED, headlamp. It should have a white LED for use when doing preflight checks in the dark. By having the light on your head, the cone of light is always pointing where you are looking, and frees your hands to open and close access doors and panels easily. The headlight should also have a red LED for use in the cockpit. Red is used to help preserve your night vision.
Here is another tip that could also be a life saver in the event of an urgent situation at night, or essentially any other potential or actual emergency situation. When you file your flight plan, include your cell phone number in the remarks section. Clearly identify that number as your CELL phone. IF you also have a satellite phone (Sat-phone) be sure to include that number as well, and again clearly identify that the second number is a Sat-phone.
With those contact numbers in the remarks section of your flight plan, it helps to expedite controllers’ ability to render the correct service in the event you lose your communications ability or have a significant, if not total electrical failure, for instance. They can then call or text you, verify your status, and then offer the best advice to help you with your unique situation before it becomes an emergency.
Please read AC 91-21.1C
There are several documents pilots should read that explain the prohibition on airborne operation of cellular phones. FAA Advisory Circular AC 91-21.1C is one of them as is Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation, 47 CFR 22.925, specifically Title 47, Chapter 1, Sub-chapter B, Part 22, Subpart H, §22.925 which states that, “Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off. The following notice must be posted on or near each cellular telephone installed in any aircraft: “The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is airborne is prohibited by FCC rules, and the violation of this rule could result in suspension of service and/or a fine. The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is on the ground is subject to FAA regulations.”
The FCC prohibits the use of cell phones while airborne and the FAA supports this FCC restriction. The FCC rule applies to both private and commercial aircraft, and is intended to guard against the threat of interference to land-based cellular networks. Of course you might get in trouble with the FCC if you use your phone in flight, however we all know that a pilot can do whatever is required to meet the needs of an emergency during an emergency.
You can read an article by Valerie Salven, in Plane and Pilot Magazine* that discusses several situations where pilots had to resort to phone use to save their lives. The point is if you include the suggested information on your flight plan it will make it easier for ATC to reach you and help you before your situation becomes an emergency.