Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM)… The Plan and The Pilot

by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2018 issue

In my column in the June/July 2018 issue, the title was “Single Pilot Resource Management” (SRM), which is a big topic. Included in that article was a look at “aeronautical decision making” (ADM).

Since that issue, I have been involved with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of a fatal accident, which I am not privileged to discuss, but it ties into some of the topics in this issue and some of my previous columns.

In this issue, I will continue my discussion on “single pilot resource management,” “aeronautical decision making,” and a relatively close subject, “human factors” (HF), as they all tie together.

After spending 25 hours in the past 10 days flying my own Bonanza from Wisconsin to Newfoundland, I had a chance to look at and evaluate some of my own procedures.

I had a great time and would say the “Newfies” are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. While I was looking forward to this trip for a long time, I had to consider carefully the issue of “fuel planning.” It seems that most of the world outside of the United States use jet fuel, and avgas is hard to find at many airports. If available, it is expensive. We paid as much as $14.00 per gallon! Yikes!

In the June/July 2018 issue, I mentioned doing a regular evaluation of Plan, Plane, Pilot, Passengers, and Programming as part of single pilot resource management. Most of my attention was given to the Plane, its navigation equipment and having a functional panel. This issue will focus on the Plan and the Pilot.

In your preflight planning for a flight, how much detail do you give to checking documents and flight planning before departing, especially to or from airports you are not familiar with? On my recent trip to Newfoundland, it was important to check fuel availability, and as I mentioned, the price was high, but paying the price was much better than trying to stretch the flight beyond safe limits.

I can vividly remember two recent accidents involving fatalities because of fuel starvation. One of them was a former instrument student of mine who was returning from a Florida vacation with his family. He did an instrument approach to a Kentucky airport, asked the FBO what the fuel price was, purchased a soda but no fuel, and filed instruments to another airport about 50 miles away where the fuel was cheaper, and ran out of gas on the approach. The result was four fatalities.

Another fuel starvation accident occurred April 28, 2005, when a college student from Maranatha College in Watertown, Wisconsin, flying a Piper Archer, was returning to school after visiting his parents and ran out of gas over Lake Michigan. He made a successful ditching in Lake Michigan within sight of the Wisconsin shoreline, then called 911 on his cell phone, but drowned when the plane sank before rescuers could arrive. There are specific requirements stated in the Federal Aviation Regulations, and if followed correctly, you will greatly reduce the risk of a fuel starvation accident.

What Does FAR 91.167 say regarding IFR fuel requirements? The aircraft must carry enough fuel to fly to the first airport of intended landing (including the approach), the alternate airport (if necessary) and thereafter for 45 minutes at normal cruise power!

What does FAR 91.103 Say Regarding Fuel? You must plan your alternate based on all available weather reports and forecasts. You must consider any known ATC delays when planning your fuel requirements! There should be 45 minutes of fuel on board when you land!

When some pilots plan a flight, they think it is okay to just get the weather and go. They never look at takeoff and departure procedures or check the NOTAMS for navaid outages, or even airport and runway closures. ForeFlight has made it so easy for us to find pertinent information that we should always check before every flight.

On my recent flight through Canada, all of this information was available on ForeFlight, so there were no surprises during our trip.

On any flight we take from an unfamiliar airport or an unfamiliar part of the country, we should brief the plan and set certain departure and arrival minimums. For instance, I never takeoff or land at night at an airport I have never visited during the day unless there is a control tower. This is a safety backup should I miss an item on the approach chart in regards to the departure procedure (DP).

According to the DP for departing Tri-County Regional Airport in Lone Rock, Wisconsin (KLNR) on Runway 36 in IMC conditions or at night, we would hit high terrain (FIG 1). Even though Part 61 pilots can depart zero/zero, I would highly recommend following the recommendations outlined in the published standard instrument departures (SID) and DPs.

Every pilot should set strict minimums for themselves and not say “OH, I CAN HANDLE THAT.” In my own aircraft, my takeoff minimums are the circling minimums for the approach in use, and my approach minimums are the published minimums for the approach I will be flying. If the departure minimums specified in a DP are higher than the circling minimums, I follow those. This does not happen often.

Another personal minimum I have is that I will never fly IFR in an airplane I am not familiar with or one that just came out of maintenance.

The University of North Dakota (UND) Aviation Department published some great data on pilot minimums, and I would recommend using them as a guideline. It is obvious that the pilot, single pilot or crew, has quite a few items to deal with before departing on a flight and failure to do so could be catastrophic. There are always unforeseen items on every flight and everything we do in life has risk, beginning with getting out of bed in the morning. The plan as part of single pilot resource management is to help mitigate the risk, and I have only scratched the surface on this subject.

The pilot is the most important piece of the pie when it comes to single pilot resource management, and along with that comes “aeronautical decision making” (ADM) and “human factors” (HF).

The Bonanza Baron Pilot Training (BPT) program I manage has a class on human factors developed by our instructor, Dr. Greg Ricca, who is a neurosurgeon. If you have seen the movie “Sully,” which played two years ago, you would remember the part human factors played in the outcome of the successful landing in the Hudson River.

If you are a regular reader of my column, you may think that from time to time I have become a broken record as over and over again I stress “Know The Aircraft You Fly” and “Get Good Training.” This was the case with the successful landing in the Hudson.

Rate-Based & Attitude-Based Autopilots

Let us review “autopilots” as it has been some time since I have written about the basic autopilot types and why pilots need to know the differences. I have included with ADM some important pilot decisions, which need to be based on this knowledge.

The two basic types of autopilots are “rate-based” and “attitude-based” with most S-Tec and a few Century autopilots being rate-based, and most King and Garmin autopilots being attitude-based. This is important for the pilot to know in an emergency situation as to what is functioning and what is not.

Rate-based autopilots are driven off the turn coordinator, and they also use accelerometers to control the aircraft. Rate-based autopilots are not usually as smooth as attitude-based systems, so you see more attitude-based systems.

Going back to days before GPS and glass panels, most autopilots have not changed much in basic design. In those days and today, if the vacuum pump failed, so did the attitude indicator and the attitude-based autopilot. Statistics showed that the turn coordinator rarely failed, so even with a vacuum pump failure, the rate-based autopilot could still fly the airplane and do an approach minus flying a heading from the heading indicator.

A fatal accident that will always linger in my mind took the lives of a friend, his family and several people on the ground, and aeronautical decision making and human factors played a big role in this accident. The pilot was professional all the way and sat on many advisory panels for the FAA and NTSB, but errors can still be made by some of the best. Here’s what happened:

The pilot decided to takeoff in low instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), and shortly after takeoff, there was a discrepancy between the attitude indicator, heading indicator and turn coordinator, which drove the rate-based autopilot. In a high workload situation, the pilot was unable to sort out the problem, which he conveyed in radio communications with air traffic control. Knowing that turn coordinators rarely fail, he chose to ignore his attitude and heading indicator. It was one of those rare failures of the turn coordinator that was the contributing factor in this accident.

We as humans will never make equipment that will not fail or will we be able to solve every situation that may arise while flying, but we can improve on the safety of general aviation by learning all we can about our equipment.

The airlines have achieved a greatly improved safety record over the past several decades. Much of this has been attributed to simulator training and with the advancement of sophisticated simulators of general aviation aircraft, we can improve our safety records as well. We can create situations in the simulator that are too risky to do in an aircraft itself or may choose not to do because of bad experiences.

For instance, I once pulled a breaker to simulate a primary flight display (PFD) failure on a glass panel airplane in training. About $5,000 later, it was back working again. The manual said this should not have happened, but it did. As modern aircraft have progressed to sophisticated glass panels and state-of-the art navigation systems, it is increasingly difficult for the pilots to totally understand how items work as many of the manufacturers do not share their trade secrets in developing the systems. How does your AHARS work, Mr. Garmin? 

Know your aircraft and fly safe!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. Kaufman conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in a variety of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics, although he is based in Lone Rock (KLNR) and Eagle River (KEGV), Wisconsin. Kaufman was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Email questions to captmick@me.com or call 817-988-0174.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.

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