Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pause Button

I was wondering about things to write about the other day. There are only so many pictures of communities, airstrips, clouds, storms blah blah that one can take photos of and still keep it interesting. Some of the more interesting stuff happens at night and the photos just dont work. So i was thinking of some more hairy times i have had. Maybe hairy isn't the right word, but when the workload gets to that level where you suddenly realise there is more going on in the aeroplane and outside and suddenly you are behind the aircraft trying to catch up. I like to think i'm a good operator and this doesn't happen very often, but i can think of at least 2 times when it has.

I used to play a lot of flightsim before i started flying. I loved it, and it actually did give me a firm understanding and grounding in aircraft/airspace procedures, terminology etc. Even so, i remember when there was a lot to do, i could pause the sim and set everything up and even look at a big map and figure out exactly what was going on. I don't have that luxury anymore, and even though it's not a hypothetical 767, I often have 8 very real passengers depending on my skill and expertise to do a flight safely and professionally.

I can't actually think of exact moments where i have wished there was a pause button, i just remember times when i have been thinking "what is happening, what is going on next." And it is a horrible feeling. Especially in IMC, with a dodgy autopilot, flying turbo aeroplanes, on minimum fuel, being told unusual vectors. The other day I was flying back into Darwin, and was given a vector straight into a storm. Naturally i said, unable and was given almost a reverse track due to other arriving/departing traffic. I was then in solid cloud, bumps and was fairly high for my DME/distance to Darwin. (FYI - We use a descent profile of 5 for our descents. Therefore at 9000ft, we use 9 x 5, and would need to descend at 45nm. But obviously common sense says that if there is a howling tailwind, and you are going straight in, then you would descend earlier.)

I was given a lower level and was finally visual and was then cleared a visual approach. I could hear Brasilia's and a Beech 1900 going around into Darwin, and this was the first alarm bell in my head. However, from where i was i could see everything. I kept descending and going towards the field. I was virutally established on the ILS anyway, so i knew my profile and speeds were in check for a visual approach. Yet as i approached 2000ft, i realised, i was visual with everything in Darwin, bar the airfield. There was just a curtain of heavy rain over the field, which was not even mentioned in the ATIS. I then requested to shoot the ILS approach and after the outer marker was able to get visual with a very wet runway.

Now this wasn't particularly a 'bad moment'. But for starters, i was doing a visual approach, i didn't have my plates ready or briefed for the approach. That was a few minutes of rummaging and pulling them out. It was an unexpected workload to then do the approach and have to reconfigure the aircraft for where i was in the approach. I just remember getting on the ground and it was just a messy and not really in line with my own single pilot procedures. I think every pilot has their own way of operating, and when they are suddenly forced to do it a different way, thats when mistakes and accidents happen. And it was just a moment where a pause button was needed.. just to stop, think and reconsider and reevalute the unexpected situation. Having said that, its situations like these that make us better pilots, as they usually force us to learn from our mistakes, or be better prepared for next time. Was i naive not to have a plate out or brief it already? Thats up to interpretation. Im flying single pilot IFR and probably should always expect the worst so im prepared.

Either way it was an uneventful flight in the end, and it was an experience i have taken under my belt in the game of learing. In other news, for all those pilots from Australia who i know, getting paid nothing to work in Indonesia, so that you can call a 737 your "office," get some real experience, command time so you too can experience making single pilot command decisions.


  1. Hi Mike. Thanks for another great post. What you said about learning reminded me of one of my favorite sayings: "Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions." I'm not saying you made a bad decision, of course, but I thought you might enjoy this saying, if you haven't already heard it.

  2. Thanks for a great post Mike. Really interesting to read a rundown of the thought processes of a professional pilot, rather than just the occurrences in the external environment. Definitely into these sorts of posts!