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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Learned About Flying From That

I was a senior in college when I first thought seriously of making aviation a career.  Like many before me, the first thing I did was to buy a copy of FLYING magazine.  There were lots of advertisements for flying schools and stories about all different types of airplanes and their avionics.  However, the article I enjoyed the most was, and still is, “I Learned About Flying From That”.  I am not sure why I found it so interesting, but I couldn’t get enough of them.  Before I had even taken my first flying lesson, I had read many of the articles that shared the stories of pilots who told the reader what they had learned from their “experience”.

I guess it is no surprise that after earning a private pilot’s license, flying in the military and over 35 years as an airline pilot, I am still fascinated by pilots telling their stories.  I especially like hearing pilots’ self-critique of what they thought worked out well and what did not.  I have used the information from those stories countless times in my career to keep me out of trouble or elevate my flying skill.  I think many other pilots, private and professional alike; find the narratives have tremendous value.

I recently wondered when the first installment of “I Learned About Flying From That” appeared in FLYING.  The magazine was originally entitled POPULAR AVIATION, and was first published in November 1927.   However, “I Learned About Flying From That – No. 1” first appeared in the May 1939 issue. The publishers included a preface under the title of this first article.  “This is the story of a pilot who had a harrowing experience that taught him a lesson.  It is our hope that other airmen will profit by his mistake.”   The first “I Leaned About Flying From That” was a story written about a rescue mission to Alaska in a Ford Tri Motor.  The author, Garland Lincoln, relates the circumstances, including the weather and his decision making process, that allowed their flight to end with the Tri Motor upside down in the mucky tundra.  Garland writes, “The lesson I learned?  That, whether or not lives are at stake, taking chances is silly.” 

The Aviation SafetyAction Program (ASAP) was initiated and authorized by the FAA for the same purpose.  It was intended to be a venue “to enhance aviation safety through the prevention of accidents and incidents.  Its focus is to encourage the voluntary reporting of safety issues that come to the attention of employees and certain certificate holders.”

It is unfortunate that ASAP has not been more successful sharing the actual experiences of airline pilots’ lessons learned in real life situations.  Each one is another “I Learned About Flying From That”.  Each one includes a narrative of the situation that initiated the report and then there is an opportunity for the pilot to self evaluate.  How would this situation be handled differently if it were encountered again?  What advice would be given to others to better prepare them for a similar situation?   Professional pilots are always interested to hear advice from their peers that will keep them out of trouble.

Currently the data is collected and analyzed and then distributed through standardized recommendations or via new or amended standard operating procedure.  I absolutely support the “just culture” that calls for immunity and anonymity unless there is reckless intent.  However, ASAP data is not just for safety managers. Once these reports have been de-identified and any retraining has been accomplished, the raw information needs the widest distribution.  It needs to be seen by line pilots as soon as possible.  The narratives would be seen by line pilots as essential reading.  Pilot associations as well should get behind the distribution of these reports not just protecting the anonymity of the data. 

What has changed since 1939?  Is aviation now so sophisticated that we don’t need to hear from pilots how they made their mistakes?  Will there ever be a time when we don’t need to be admonished by our peers not to take chances?  Will there ever be a time when we don’t need the advice of our fellow crew members?


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  2. The NASA ASRS reports are a good way to get near ASAP-like info.