“Good Timing & Aeronautical
Decision Making”

By Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman

A popular topic this time of the year is “icing.” I have written about icing several times before, as have most aviation columnists. Though I will reinforce the seriousness of icing, this column will be more centered on “Aeronautical Decision Making” (ADM), which has become a part of the aviation vocabulary.

We all have decisions to make in our everyday lives, but none are more important than the ones we make in flying our aircraft. In a way, we could call it “risk management.” If we get out of bed in the morning and go about our daily routines, we are all taking risks. If we did not take risks, we surely would never get in our aircraft, and no one would be doing any flying.

To realistically assess risks, we need “knowledge.” The knowledge of where icing is severe enough to create a moderate or greater risk is still much of a mystery to even the best pilots.

Twenty-plus years ago, I had an extreme fear of “icing” and “thunderstorms,” especially embedded thunderstorms. Those are the ones you cannot see as they are obscured by surrounding Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). Since then, thunderstorm depiction equipment in the cockpit has improved greatly, and my fear has subsided. Not that I no longer fear thunderstorms, but when you know where they are, you can avoid them. Icing is a different story. If we could go to our magic boxes and have them show us where the icing is and avoid it, we would have far fewer accidents.

A comment I have made many times before; is that if you are flying in clouds or moisture and the temperature is below freezing, you WILL get ice! The big question is, how much?

Several years ago, in early spring, I was flying with an instrument student, and we were going to an aviation function from Wisconsin to Ohio. I am careful while training pilots, so I was extremely cautious when checking the weather for some possible icing to make sure that we would have another option should things get out of control. Our out was that the ceilings were high enough to allow us to fly below the clouds above the Minimum Enroute Altitude (MEA) during our entire flight and that temperatures at those altitudes were above freezing. All was routine in IMC conditions below freezing, picking up a trace of ice that could barely be measured until we got near the Peotone (EON) VOR. Suddenly without any warning, we hit a pocket of moisture, and we had 3/4 of an inch of ice in barely two minutes. This pocket was short-lived, and the flight was in no immediate danger, so I allowed my instrument student to experience flying with ice on the aircraft before descending several thousand feet to a temperature above freezing below the clouds.

Not playing a Monday morning quarterback as some people do, we will never know the circumstances that surrounded the fatal accident I mentioned at the beginning of this article; however, we knew it involved icing, high terrain, and a high MEA.

Aeronautical Decision Making must start with “knowledge,” as without knowledge, we have nothing in which to base our decisions. A great deal of this knowledge comes from our own experience, and some come from the experience of others. That is where good flight training comes in, and I must mention the training program I manage called “Bonanza Baron Pilot Training.” There are similar programs for other type-specific aircraft, namely Cirrus, Comanche, and Mooney, as some of the better-known programs, and I am sure there are others. Nothing beats in-person training as it allows pilots to interact with their instructors and other participants. I would also like to mention that the FAA sponsors programs to educate pilots as well, and either the type-specific programs or the government agency-sponsored programs may qualify pilots for Wings Credit and a Flight Review.

I remember one such course, which I took many years ago, on thunderstorms and using airborne radar, presented by an instructor by the name of Archie Trammell. This man was considered the best of the best in radar and thunderstorm avoidance. It was a sell-out crowd of aviators, including most of the inspectors from the Milwaukee General Aviation District Office (GADO), as it was known at that time, as well as many airline and corporate pilots. The knowledge I gained from this seminar was a lifesaver on an approach into Kansas City some years later in a Beech Baron with radar, as I was trapped by thunderstorms.

ADM is one of the most important parts of aviation safety and instrument flying, and though we learn from many of our own experiences, it is always safer to learn good ADM from others.

There are some flight characteristics of aircraft that are a lot safer and wiser to learn about from an expert pilot or instructor than to experience them on our own. For example, if the cabin door on a Beechcraft Baron with aftermarket vortex generators should pop open in flight, it could cause such a severe oscillation that it may bend the airplane. We learned in our flight training program to let the pilot close the door and check it carefully before every flight. Whenever you install aftermarket items on an aircraft, you become a test pilot. So, learn from others and save the grief.

Simulator training is a valuable asset to all pilots if you have a good simulator that truly represents the aircraft you are flying.

In my column in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I mentioned the documentary “Pilot Error,” which was based on the Air France Flight 447 accident of an Airbus killing all onboard. The flight originated from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France, and occurred over the Atlantic Ocean.

The conclusion of the investigation and the lesson to be learned was that the pilots did not know their aircraft well enough and could not figure out that the problem was a frozen pitot tube.

When the investigation was concluded, pilots were evaluated in a simulator, and most of them crashed the simulator in the same way as did the pilots of Air France Flight 447. Retraining airline pilots in coping with this procedure in a simulator have prevented accidents and changed ADM for those faced with similar circumstances.

My own experience with a frozen pitot tube occurred some 50 years ago on my instrument check ride, which was conducted in IMC conditions below freezing. It was a lesson well learned as I saw firsthand what happened when we forget to turn on the pitot heat. I recognized my error early on and passed the check ride.

In conclusion, it is important to understand Aeronautical Decision Making and the fact that it comes from good training. We cannot take it lightly, and we have to understand that everything in life involves some risk. Flying an airplane can be very unforgiving, so train from the best and most experienced instructors you can find. I remember the first sentence spoken by my first ground school instructor, “The wing is the thing that if you do not understand it, it will kill you.” Good judgment should be learned from someone else’s bad judgment, rather than one’s own bad experience.

Have a safe and enjoyable year of flying.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.