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In last week’s article about our new presentation titled,
“Flight 5481 Unraveled,” we discussed the efforts of the maintenance crew to
put out the fire and locate survivors from the Beech 1900 crash in Charlotte,
N.C.. Not mentioned in the article was the fact that the fire extinguishers strategically
located on the ramp did not work. The theme of the Pilot Safety Minute video
this week pertains to the importance of developing a positive safety culture
which includes checking the location and inspection tags of the fire
extinguishers on the flight line, hangars and aircraft.
SAFETY MINUTE VIDEO #62 ~
Fire Extinguishers for the Ramp and Aircraft
CAN YOUR GLASS COCKPIT KILL YOU?
By TC FREEMAN
We have had a several tragic aircraft accidents in the eastern United
States this week. One serious one was
the mid-air between a low wing single engine aircraft and helicopter at the
Fredrick, Maryland airport.* Interestingly, half of the accidents involved
glass cockpit aircraft known as Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA). While
being careful not to pass judgment on an investigation that can take National
Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators up to a year to finalize, my
thoughts are on the unique challenges surrounding TAA. Thinking outside of the
box for a moment, I wonder if the alluring glow of an electronic display be a factor
in some TAA accidents? Let me explain.
I had the rare opportunity to visit the awe inspiring state of Alaska a
few years ago with the combined mission of renewing my flight instructor
certificate and sightseeing. A major theme in class related to the rapid
expansion of TAA aircraft and the plea for flight instructors to get on-board
teaching this emerging technology.
The great thing about in-person refresher courses is meeting fellow
flight instructors; in this case, instructors from the famous “bush country.”
One of my classmates, Daniel asked if I had planned on flying while visiting,
but sadly my contact fell through.” He kindly offered to take me up in his pristine
Cessna 180 that his father bought brand new from the factory. Without hesitation
I accepted and we met at his hangar the next day. It was an awesome flight to
say the least. One of the coolest things I was able to do, that we can't normally do here in the
contiguous U.S., was to fly within a wingspan from the tundra terrain. We were
flying so low my host offered the following advice, “You might not want to turn
too sharply least we drag a wing.” While the bulk of my concentration was on
flying, I was also worried about not messing up an aircraft that obviously had
a huge emotional connection to his family. Remembering the TAA theme of the
class we attended together, Daniel sarcastically asked, “Do you know how much I
need a glass cockpit right now?” To that my answer was, “Let me guess, not
much.” Daniel said, “Yeah, just take a quick look down at the pretty screen and
BOOM you are dead.”
I see the point that Daniel made, which is to always keep the most
important first, flying the aircraft. It can be very tempting to become fixated
in the glow of a “pretty” screen when the task at hand requires hand-eye
coordination and looking out of the window.
It is also important to consider how we adapt to the changes from
digital screen images to the windscreen. Anyone that has done a considerable
amount of computer work knows that feeling you get after hours being a screen.
The consequence for pilots is a condition called “pseudo myopia.” According to
the American Optometric Association, “People who do an excessive amount of near
vision work may experience false or “pseudo” myopia. After long periods of near
work, their eyes are unable to refocus to see clearly in the distance.”** Myopia
is not advantageous for seeing traffic in the pattern or focusing on the runway
The key to combating this temporary condition is to take frequent
breaks, allowing the eyes to rest and regain focus. I know this can be
difficult on some hard instrument flights, but can be accomplished by letting
an autopilot, or another pilot, do the work for a while.
One technique that has not been taught in recent years is the importance
of adjusting the brightness of the screen to suit the conditions using the rheostat.
The chief flight instructor at a former flight school I worked at went into
great detail about how to correctly set the instrument panel lights. His
technique was to look outside of the windscreen while adjusting the rheostat to
a level just out of notice to peripheral vision. One word of caution: Don’t set
the lights so low that the pilot has to strain to see the instruments and
screens. We have all seen those drivers motoring down the highway at night with
their dash and GPS levels set to the maximum setting, talk about distracting! I
now see why the chief flight instructor put a lot of emphasis on cockpit
instrument lights correctly for all types of conditions.
Before some of you send me hate mail calling me a “glass cockpit hater”
let me clarify that I sincerely like technology. What I like to see is the safe,
efficient and effective use of technology. While I do have a concern that pilots
can become hypnotized by digital devices the best advice is to make a concerted
effort transitioning from cockpit to windscreen when inside the airport area.
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