July 2019 Issue

Stress In The Cockpit

I would like to extend congratulations on this article. (“Stress In The Cockpit,” May 2019) It represents a thoughtful departure from the routine reviews of everyday flying. When placed in context that over 80 percent of all accidents are due to pilot error, it highlights an intrinsic human weak point that all pilots share. I’m sure we all have had the experience making the comment about someone we know, “How could he/she have gotten into a situation like that?”

Oddly, you validate an observation I have long held. The human mind must have a mechanism with which to deal with all the millions of bits of sensory information it receives every minute. From the beginning of maturation at birth, the brain begins a catalogue system of identifying and responding to these stimuli. From a bird chirping to the smell of smoke, you don’t have to turn your head to know what it is and how to respond. That is why you duck at the sound of gunfire or an explosion.

You can well imagine the overload that would occur if you had to think about every little sensory input from moment to moment. The sun on your face, a horn blowing, the brush of your clothes, people laughing, a car passing get the picture. To a certain extent, experience can help overcome these deficits, by adding to the brain library of, “Oh! I know what that is,” and more importantly, the automatic response to it.

But...there is a limit. And as you point out, once you reach or exceed saturation, it’s a new game—one that usually ends poorly!

Tom Malone, M.D.
Via email


Recovery Technique

David Kenny’s May 2019 spatial disorientation article (“Lessons Not Learned”) was excellent as usual. I have some thoughts which I would like to see evaluated by aviators smarter than I. Here is the process I have been experiencing and practicing for several years with the goal of learning to recover from inadvertent VFR into IMC and also for recovery from spatial disorientation:


• Quickly recognize danger of IMC entry or disorientation.

• Immediately center the stick (or yoke) and hold it steadily in the centered position.

• Check your compass heading (preferably your GPS track). Maintain that heading/track by using rudder only.

• As you maintain the compass heading, you also maintain your altitude by throttle adjustments or gentle fore or aft stick movements to the centered stick.

Completely ignore the ailerons and whether the wings are level or not. (Ailerons are the controls that kill us when we chase our physical sensations in panic.) My Kitfox will settle in to a near-wings-level attitude as it becomes established on the chosen compass heading.

Calmly determine the compass heading of your desired destination and then turn the airplane to that compass heading using rudder only. I have flown my Kitfox using this process many times and am impressed with the ease of maintaining control and blocking out the temptation to use the ailerons. I also used this while flying with Foggles and an instructor. I am imagining that this technique will completely avoid the risk of the graveyard spiral. I would love to hear what you and your readers will have to say about this.

I am also interested in thoughts about VFR overflights of Class B, C, and D airspace. What would be best practices to do this most safely?

Paul Phillips
Via email


Your VFR-into-IMC recovery technique includes some elements of the 1954 study we’ve been discussing, especially when it comes to leveling the wings and using rudder alone to establish and maintain heading. Our only comment is that it takes more time to change heading with rudder alone, and we have to be mentally prepared to accept the delay. As for VFR over B, C and D airspace, we always suggest trying to work with the responsible ATC facility, which often means obtaining flight following. It’s beneficial for everybody, although typical Class D towers don’t offer much in the way of radar services, or care if you’re above them.