Making That Flight Safe as a Superior Pilot!

By Michael J. Kaufman



“A Superior Pilot is one who uses his superior knowledge to avoid situations that may require his superior skills!”— a very true statement from an unknown author.

As a flight instructor teaching new pilots and upgrades to additional ratings, I use a syllabus that I have developed over the years. The FAA has provided guides for instructors regarding what is needed to be taught and what will be addressed on the check ride. We see topics like “CFIT” (controlled flight into terrain); “ADM” (aeronautical decision making; however, these may be some of the most important topics in pilot training.

In our BPT flight clinics, we emphasize this. Instructor Dr. Greg Ricca teaches a course on the “Aging Aviator,” which references aeronautical decision-making and human factors. This has been a very valuable course, as we are all aging.

As new instrument pilots, there is very little superior knowledge or superior skills to back you up after making a bad decision, so we must learn as much as we can from others. After completing an instrument training and passing the instrument check ride, pilots should know how to fly the airplane by sole reference to instruments; get established and fly an approach; and communicate with ATC.

New instrument pilots lack the skills needed to analyze the weather, the route, and in handling an in-flight emergency, if one develops. When an emergency arises and it does happen, do you as a pilot have the knowledge to analyze what resources you have lost and which ones you still have at your disposal to handle the situation? It is always better to have a plan for the unexpected, which in many cases can be done on the ground before departing.

Becoming a superior pilot takes many hours of flight time with many decisions made, hopefully, most of them will be good ones. However, I might add that I have made my share of bad ones. Those bad ones, hopefully, will lead to better decisions in similar future decisions; however, sometimes the pilot does not get a second chance.

Learn all you can from others, so the decision you make will be a good one. This is where our BPT in person flight clinics come in, not only do we learn from the instructors but the interaction with other participants in the program. In an FAA publication, it says flight instructors can teach good decision-making. This is not totally true, but flight instructors can influence good decision making.

Scenario #1: I was returning home from a flight to El Salvador, Central America in my Bonanza on Feb 18, 2000. It was a long flight and after clearing customs in Key West and checking the weather, I decided to fly home to Wisconsin. I had a reliable autopilot and an instrument rated co-pilot on this flight.  The weather was forecasted to be good and was as forecasted until I called Flight Service passing Rockford for an update for Lone Rock. The weather as I recall was 1500 overcast and 2 miles in light snow. It was after 1:00 A.M. in the morning, and I wanted to sleep in my own bed. The weather at Madison, WI just thirty-seven miles to the east was clear and visibility was ten. I decided on doing the VOR A approach to Lone Rock. I picked up so much ice on the approach that a missed approach was not an option, bad decision, (get-home-itis). As luck would have it, I broke out about 1500 feet, a long runway, landed fast, no flaps, lesson learned!

Scenario #2: Several years ago, I did an instrument rating for a gentleman in Watertown, WI. The pilot had a Piper Arrow and owned a small business but was financially strapped as the instrument rating cost about 10K. He received his rating and did a reasonably good job during his training. A year or more later he took his girlfriend, his son and his girlfriend to Florida in the Piper Arrow for a vacation. His son proposed to his girlfriend at Disney World, a happy time for all. On the flight back to Wisconsin the weather was low IFR, but the pilot had gained some good IFR experience since his training so that was not a factor. The pilot shot an approach to an airport in Southern Illinois and that went well. The pilot needed fuel and asked the fuel price at the FBO, did not buy any fuel, drank a soda, and filed an IFR flight plan to a nearby airport.  On the approach to that airport the airplane ran out of gas, bad decision, (save a few dollars, “maybe”) no lesson learned, four fatalities.

Scenario #3: My wife and I have a lake home in Eagle River, Wisconsin and often fly the Bonanza there for weekend getaways. I always look at the long-range weather forecast as we prefer to fly up and back, one hour airplane ride versa a five-hour car ride. We were planning a late Sunday afternoon flight back to our home as the ride is usually smoother later in the day. I checked weather Sunday morning and again just before the ten-minute drive to the airport. After the pre-flight, we taxied to the fuel pumps from the hangar and filled the main tanks. This was to be a perfect VFR flight home; however, after the run up and completing the checklist, I decided to do a last-minute weather check. I have Sirius XM weather, so I can get the weather on the ground. I did not believe my eyes as I saw a line of weather starting to form an east/west line along our route going through Wausau, Wisconsin. We decided to take off but watch the line as we headed south. About twenty miles into the flight near Rhinelander, the line had developed in intensity. We made a 180-degree turn back to Eagle River and put the Bonanza back in the hangar. We spent another night at the lake and flew home the next morning with no incident or weather, good decision, learned from previous experiences. Have reliable weather available in the cockpit and remember to check it even if you don’t expect to see any weather problems.

Scenario #4: During the summer of 2021, I did an instrument rating for a pilot from Madison, WI in Eagle River, WI. During a drive to the airport one morning, we spotted a sports car with a for sale sign in the window along the route. We stopped to check it out, and he bought it (before I could). After his training, I offered to fly him to Eagle River to pick it up. As in all my pre-flight planning, there was a check of weather which indicated a chance of thunderstorms that day. I departed from my home airport to pick up my passenger at the Middleton Morey airport. All went as planned and with the passenger on board as we headed to Eagle River. Along the route, we started to see weather developing on my Sirius XM weather display. At this point, it looked like a deviation to the west would solve the problem, and that is what we did. As we approached the point where we planned on being direct to Eagle River, weather had developed just along the route to our destination airport. I thought of flying northwest and approach our destination airport from the north only to see weather had closed in all around us. By looking at the intensity of the weather, I suspected hail. There was only one option, get on the ground, and by luck, the Merrill Airport was less than five miles away. We landed and got the airplane in a hangar. Thanks to the Merrill Airport manager and staff for their quick efforts. As storms continued, we got to use the crew car to drive the rest of the way to Eagle River and came back the next day to get the Bonanza, good decision, to land and drive the rest of the way.

As a recap of this article, I hope those who read it can relate to some of their own experiences on their way to becoming a Superior Pilot. We can never say we know it all—Superior Pilots continue to learn as well. Hopefully, we can see that Aeronautical Decision Making along with Human Factors have an important role in our flight planning, flying VFR or IFR. It is sad to see bad decisions as in Scenario #2–it cost lives and just for trying to save a few dollars. I have seen that situation happen time and time again. It might be over fuel prices or the expense of getting a good airplane checkout or recurrent training. Check out the schedule for BPT in person flight clinics for the spring of 2022, we all can improve our knowledge of aviation and become a Superior Pilot.

Keep learning, analyze your pre-flight planning well, get good recurrent training and continue to read the Captains Corner, then you will become a Superior Pilot.

Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman