Posted 2 years 338 days ago ago by Randy Rowles
A couple weeks ago, I was conducting a Private Pilot examination in Texas. As we were approaching the airport returning from the cross-country phase of flight, we found ourselves in an area of light drizzle and rain. As the applicant entered the downwind leg, he began to reduce power. Almost immediately, the engine began to run rough and only got worse as the applicant reduced more power. I immediately engaged carburetor heat…problem solved!
During the post-flight briefing of the exam, we discussed this event at length. My question…why wasn’t carburetor heat engaged prior to reducing power? The applicant explained that his instructor had taught carburetor heat assist would be enough and there would be no need to manually engage the system. To support this claim, the applicant provided notes on the subject taken from ground training lessons. We discussed this point further, researched additional information on this topic, and came to a much different conclusion. Manual use of carburetor heat during relevant conditions or as directed by the manufacturer would be the safest course of action.
This was the first time this applicant had been involved in the onset of what could have been an actual in-flight emergency. His initial reaction to a rough running engine…confusion. The continued lowering of the collective, which is known to make the condition worse, was automatic. After the flight, the applicant asked me how I reacted so quickly. Many thoughts went through my head trying to answer his question. Was it training, experience, situational awareness, or a mixture of them all? I would simply say YES.
A pilots first in-flight emergency may be as simple as a door opening after takeoff, or as complex as a throttle cable snapping to the engine. We as pilots don't get to choose which emergencies we will encounter, nor when they will occur. Our plight is to be ready for the unknown. With lots of practice, a pilot can develop the physical skillset needed to engage aircraft emergencies.
But how do you mentally prepare for an in-flight emergency? This is a personal challenge to be dealt with and often untested. The fight-or-flight response is core to this subject. Being mentally engaged during flight is the first step in successfully dealing with an in-flight emergency. In todays society, it is common to see pilots video taping their flight experiences via a social media platform. What is often concerning about these videos is the pilots complete lack of awareness of the actual operation of the aircraft.
Training is the mechanism to support lack of experience. The instructional environment, when facilitated properly can aid in the mental readiness of pilots for such in-flight emergencies. The secret ingredient to mental readiness is stress management. When training a pilot to deal with the unknown, using enhanced stressors during training will enable the pilot to learn the art of focus. Some examples of acceptable stressors during flight training may be a squelch failure on a radio that can’t be turned off, multiple clearance changes during instrument training while hand flying the aircraft, or unplugging their headset and eliminating their ability to communicate with the outside world. All these techniques enhance the pilots stress level and demand thought to succeed.
Enhancing the importance of stress management combined with teaching the pilot to maintain a vigilant focus during flight will enable the ability for systematic problem solving…one problem at a time!
About Randy: Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.