Which way is up?

One night just over ten years ago my brain played a trick on me.

I was cruising along in a Beech 1900 over Western Africa. The weather was poor. Outside the front window haze rushed by in the deepest gloom. I was hand flying that bird and staring down the six pack of instruments, daring them to move.

The inner ear is a funny thing. And that night, it conspired with my brain to make me think I was about to die. Slowly I felt my body turning. I knew the symptoms. I was entering into classic vertigo. I ignored my gut which said that any minute now the contents of the cockpit were going to fly across the cabin to my right. That’s where down was, my brain said. Straight out the right hand side window.

I casually informed my captain that I was fighting vertigo, and kept my eyes frozen to the instruments, fighting to believe them.

After a while, the feeling passed. I continued on the flight, and we safely landed in Dakar. This kind of disorientation is not unusual, but it can be very deadly.

When it happened to me, I was lucky enough to have another pilot flying with me and recent training to help me fight the feeling. Not everyone is so lucky.

Fred Zanegood wrote about a similar experience he had as a new pilot. As I read through the article, I was reminded of that dark night so many years ago. I’m glad I took the right steps in my situation, though I probably should have handed control over until I was no longer disoriented. It’s a lesson to think about for me this evening.

Have a read through Fred’s article, and remember to always take that choice of extra caution. It could save your life.

http://airfactsjournal.com/2017/07/lasting-impression-power-spatial-disorientation/#

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1000 Hours

A couple weeks ago I received an email congratulating me on 1000 hours flying with Mission Aviation Fellowship accident free. I received this commendation with mixed feelings. While I’ve worked hard over the last several years to fly safely, I’ve often felt that accomplishing that goal was a crazy mix of skill, caution, luck, Divine intervention, and excellent training. I’m honored to have reached this goal, but I look forward to the next flight and worry.

I’m not worried that I’ll decide not to be safe. I worry that I’ll let my guard down. I worry that I’ll start being just a little bit lazy. I worry that I’ll start to forget the lessons I’ve learned over the last 1000 hours.

So as an exercise of reminding myself, and as a way to share some hard earned lessons as a bush pilot, here is a list guidelines to remember.

  1. Take more fuel. You’ll never regret leaving behind that one bag to have another 20 minutes of fuel on board.
  2. Have about 3x more outs than you think you need.
  3. You can push fuel reserves, daylight, or weather, but never more one.
  4. Terrain is always closer than you think it is, unless you’re looking at it, then it’s farther away.
  5. If you can’t see due to low visibility, don’t go.
  6. If you think you can see in low visibility, you actually can’t, so don’t go.
  7. If can see, try it.
  8. Marginal weather in the mountains is really IFR weather.
  9. You can never check your airplane for damage too much.
  10. If something isn’t right, but you don’t know what, turn around and go home. Better to figure out what it was safe on the ground than on an accident report.
  11. Fridays are for mistakes. If it’s Friday you’re probably tired. Quit as soon as you catch yourself screwing up little things.
  12. Always fly a stable approach. This will be the hardest at your home base.
  13. Practice your emergency procedures, but do it safely. Touch drills are best.
  14. Passengers don’t know half of the danger they are in. Educate them if they can handle it, assure them if they can’t.
  15. Take-off performance isn’t a joke. Know your aircraft performance numbers for your altitude and add lots of margin.

What are some rules of thumb that you use?

Watch “Departure from Holuwon, a back country airstrip in Papua, Indonesia.” on YouTube

Flight Stats for Papua

As I get ready to leave Papua, I received a report of my flight stats from MAF. It’s cool to see numbers for my flight and cargo in the last two years. Here are some numbers to check out:

Flight time: 598.7 hours

Miles Flown: 73,166

Passengers: 2115

Cargo: 194,924 lbs.