Safety Versus Convenience Plus Complacency!

by Michael J. (Mick) Kaufman
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine – August/September 2019 issue

When we think about flying, whether IFR or VFR, we must always consider the part “human factors” play in every flight. In the Bonanza/Baron training program (BPT, Inc.) which I manage, we offer a course on “human factors.” It was developed by one of our instructors, Dr. Greg Ricca, who is a neurosurgeon. Since my previous column was published in Midwest Flyer Magazine (June/July 2019), there was a fatal accident involving a Beech Duke that hit me especially hard, as I knew the pilot. You may have seen the footage of the accident on the Internet, which was taken with the airport surveillance camera. Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft rolled and crashed.

So, how did a pilot with above average skills allow such an accident to occur?

I have looked back at some of my own experiences over the years and saw myself in similar situations. In the early 1970s, I was flying a Twin Comanche out of a 2200 ft. airstrip on a regular basis. The Twin Comanche had a rather high VMC (minimum control speed), and you would never reach VMC when the aircraft was on rotation. Therefore, you need to be ready to jerk both throttles back at the first sign of an engine failure, but complacency eventually takes over, as you do not think this will ever happen to you!

That may have been the scenario in the Duke accident as the pilot was flying out of an airport way too short to allow the aircraft to reach VMC before rotation. The pilot regularly flew out of this short runway because it was close to his office, and he commuted home via airplane on a regular basis. It was convenient, but it compromised safety, and like me years ago, complacency set in.

We can apply these same rules to flying into challenging IFR weather, as I recall a trip some 15 or more years ago returning from El Salvador in my Bonanza.

After a long day of flying, we were all too anxious to get home and the weather had been rather good most of the way. I was headed to my home airport, Tri-County Regional near Lone Rock, Wis. (KLNR), and this was before the days of in-cockpit weather. The only approach at the time was a VOR-A approach. As we approached Rockford, Illinois (KRFD), I called Flight Service for a weather update at KLNR and they reported ceilings around 1500 feet and two miles in light snow. Madison, Wisconsin (KMSN) some 35 miles to the east was showing clear skies!

Thinking that we could handle the weather, we continued on to KLNR. On our approach, we picked up a load of ice to the point that a missed approach was not an option.

I have asked myself many times why I did not divert to KMSN and get a motel room, as it had been a long day.

If I were to say I learned something from this experience, I would have to say “yes,” I did.

Last summer on a return flight from a vacation in Gander, Newfoundland with that same Bonanza, which I have owned for 30 years, a similar situation occurred – only this time I encountered thunderstorms. Now equipped with in-cockpit Nexrad radar, I was again returning home after a long day of flying high above Lake Michigan, heading for KLNR. I checked radar and saw a line of thunderstorms approaching my destination from the west. Still wondering if I could beat the weather as I approached the Wisconsin shoreline, I contacted air traffic control and requested to start my descent with a possible deviation and landing at Madison (KMSN). A check of the METARs a few minutes later confirmed the deviation was necessary with wind gusts at KLNR exceeding 40 kts. I may be a good pilot, but in testing those skills against knowledge of what could happen, knowledge won out and I am here to write about it.

New Avionics For An Old Airplane!

In a previous issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I wrote about my avionics update that was then in progress in my Bonanza. Well, the update has been completed, and I flew the airplane home. I must say I am very happy with the equipment I selected, which was done on a shoestring budget.

I am not trying to discourage our readers from going all out with a panel update, but I needed to keep my wife happy.

Often, I am asked by readers and students, what they should install in their aircraft for avionics. I tell them that it all depends on what you would like to spend. It would not be hard to spend 45 AMUs (Aviation Monetary Unit) of $1,000 per unit. Seeing that my budget was 1/10th of that amount, I got creative in purchasing some used and new equipment and now have ADS-B in/out, a WAAS approach certified GPS, roll steering (GPSS) on the autopilot, and an upgraded transponder. For new equipment, I added a Garmin GDL 52 and a Garmin Area 660, which made for an excellent combination!

When I flew the airplane home, I followed my own rules – never fly IFR after maintenance until you first check out the equipment and feel comfortable with it.

The flight home was challenging, as there was a lot of weather to contend with and I had to deviate several hundred miles due to thunderstorms. I will add that my Sirius XM weather subscription, which was displayed on the Garmin Area 660, made this flight possible. I would say that this one flight paid for a full year’s Sirius XM subscription.

You never have too much information when navigating around weather, especially on a long flight of more than 500 miles, and strategic planning involves more than Nexrad radar. It is great to be able to see the locations of high and low-pressure areas, fronts, storm cells, lightning, pilot reports and icing probabilities. As I mentioned before in my previous columns, the importance of flying the airplane and having too much information, and doing excessive button pushing, can be distracting. So know what information is important on a particular flight.

May your summer flying be safe. Don’t substitute convenience for safety or let complacency set in!

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 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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