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"Keeping the Fun in Flying!"

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 ******************************************************** BLOG #62: October 27, 2014 



     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.

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Fire Extinguishers for the Ramp and Aircraft
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     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 for landing.

     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.




About the author:

TC Freeman has been flying since he was a teenager and is now an aviation speaker and author. Being employed as an Aviation Safety Specialist for state government, he has a passion for spreading the thrill of flying just for the fun of it via the website,


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In this audio book TC Freeman discusses; straight in approaches, dealing
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Dierks Bentley - Cirrus Time Machine


A short video on what country musician Dierks Bentley loves about
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