Editor's Log

March 2006 Issue

Editor's Log: 03/06

The Dumbest Thing
It’s no secret that pilots are human. While the advances in technology and increasing number of applications for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, may eventually reduce our numbers, the overall impact on safety will probably not improve measurably until humans are completely removed from the equation. This means a totally automated—and thoroughly debugged—set of protocols for the design, engineering, manufacture and operation of UAVs wherein humans are not allowed to influence any aspect. Until then, aircraft will still crash as a result of human error, regardless of the phase of UAV development or operation in which that mistake is made.

In the meantime, we must work to recognize and minimize the errors we make. There are several things we can do—follow checklists, get good training, fly well-maintained aircraft—to minimize accidents. But one of the main things human pilots can do to prevent becoming a statistic can be summed up thusly: Don’t do nothin’ stupid.

Our sister publication IFR each January runs a feature article entitled “Stupid Pilot Tricks.” In each year’s installment, author Jane Garvey (no, not the former FAA Administrator...) rounds up examples of non-fatal accidents that, well, fit the article’s title. The result is a humorous look back at the kinds of mischief pilots get into.

I’m not immune. For example, there was the time I tried to get a tired Cessna 150 off a hot, humid runway using partial flaps. It worked out, but the trees at the end were way too close and the initial climb was anemic. And I’ve forgotten cabin doors, oil access doors, proper switch positioning and other items with embarrassing results. And then there was the flight when...well, you get the idea.

The annual IFR article is always an eagerly awaited piece. But there are any number of stupid pilot tricks that never make it into Jane’s round-up because no accident or incident resulted. An untapped vein, if you will. Which presents you and I with an opportunity.

This magazine has long had a department, Learning Experiences, devoted to printing and exploring just this kind of error. It’s designed for pilots to publicly air problems they’ve had and discuss why it was an opportunity to learn. It’s cathartic, educational and anonymous.

So, why not tell us the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in or with an aircraft? Why was it dumb? What led you to take that particular action? Use our email address, , to send us a brief description of the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in an aircraft. We’ll consider including it in an upcoming feature article that rounds up, anonymously, these stories for and by our readers.

In the meantime, don’t forget to send in your submissions for Learning Experiences.

—Jeb Burnside