Human Factors, Angle of Attack Indicators & Buttonology

by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2019/January 2020 issue

In my column in the October/November 2019 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I wrote about the importance of knowing your navigation equipment and interfaces, and I challenged my readers to create a waypoint and hold at it. On my next flight after writing the article, my goal was to try this with different navigators, and the first navigator was the Garmin G1000 which went well, though we did have to search a few different menus until we found the best one that would help us create the holding waypoint. In writing the article and creating the illustration, I made a mistake which was caught by Don Kiel of Whitelaw, Wisconsin. The artwork did not match my clearance. SHAME ON ME!

I have written previously about human factors and their relevance to flying in general. In the movie “SULLY,” which was released a few years ago, it reminded us how important human factors are.

A few weeks back I was on an airline flight from Madison, Wisconsin to Reno, Nevada for the STIHL National Championship Air Races, September 11-19, 2019, and a series of unusual circumstances caused a distraction to the pilots which reminded me how these same circumstances could have caused an accident. The flight was slightly late pushing back from the gate, and as we began to taxi, a small child began to scream and cry. This was not the ordinary small child cry and it was quite disturbing to the other passengers. Somehow the child broke loose from his parents from a seat that was somewhere behind me and started running to the front of the airplane. One of the flight attendants must have called the captain on the intercom and the taxi was stopped immediately. The child’s father got up and started chasing the child, and a flight attendant followed and talked to the father. The father and child went back to their seat, and few moments later, the incident repeated itself. The pilot then taxied back to the gate and the father, mother and child got off the airplane. There was a fairly long delay as they needed to remove the family’s checked baggage. The airliner then departed the gate and taxied to the departure end of the runway.

The weather that day was very convective and we were delayed again as a micro burst and wind shear shut down the airport. We were number one for departure after the storm passed, and as we started our takeoff roll, something did not seem normal to me. We aborted the takeoff and turned off onto a taxiway approximately 2000 feet from our starting point. As we taxied back to the departure end of the runway, it became noticeable that the pilot was starting one of the engines.  Now it was clear. During the delays, the pilot shut down one engine to save fuel and did not remember to restart it. No comments were made to the passengers on the intercom, except for the delay for the storm.

Back to the back of the line, waiting our turn to takeoff, I thought about what had happened. Recognizing the situation, the pilot aborted shortly after bringing the power up. Could the same thing happen to other pilots? How do we handle distractions? Could we make a procedure change to keep a similar thing from happening again?

On Aug 27, 2006, a Comair Flight #5191 mistakenly took off on a short runway from Lexington, Kentucky, crashing into a wooded field, killing all but one of the 50 people onboard. Federal aviation officials said that after an initial examination of the flight recorders, or so-called “black boxes,” there was indication that the pilots of the plane, a Bombardier Canadair jet, used a 3500-foot runway at the Blue Grass Airport, which is much shorter than is typically required for a fully-loaded aircraft of that type. They stated that the pilots of this aircraft could have been distracted by the runway lights of the short runway being turned up, making them think this was their runway to depart on.

Elements of stress can cause a pilot to land on the wrong runway the day after his father’s funeral, and after he found out that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. The FAA has addressed these issues in publications and they are real. Flying in weather can also cause stress to the point a pilot begins to make bad decisions, all of which are part of human factors. We must never forget the five hazardous thought patterns that are part of our personalities (see below):

Anti-authority: “Don’t tell me!”

Impulsivity: “Do something quickly!”

Invulnerability: “It won’t happen to me!”

Macho: “I can do it!”

Resignation: “What’s the use?”

The FAA and other safety groups have worked hard to recognize our human traits and we have come a long way to improve safety by learning to recognize them.

There are never two situations that are exactly alike, and as we make changes to improve situations and safety, we often open doors to create new, more serious issues.

After making a secure cockpit door that was fool proof, no one would have thought of a pilot committing suicide and taking all of his passengers with him. This happened to Germanwings Flight 9525 on March 24, 2015.  It is important to remember that no two situations are exactly the same, and we must use common sense to apply what we have learned from previous experiences and the experiences of others.

Angle of Attack Indicators

Many of us have heard of – or have purchased – “angle of attack indicators” for our airplanes. Years ago, I wrote about these indicators and explained why I thought they were a waste of money. However, in recent months, I have been changing my mind with the introduction of several new units on the market. I do not see a direct relationship to instrument flying even though these units are instruments. They are most useful to the pilot when making approaches and landings on short runways and backcountry landing areas.

The Garmin GI-260 is an add-on option to the G3X, as well as other Garmin products. The feature I like about this unit, which has an audible sound similar to an automotive backup system, is that it gives the pilot beeps more frequently as he approaches the angle where the wing is about ready to stall, rather than a visual display. I have to say it was very accurate and worth the price should your Garmin equipment support it and you have a need.

As this column is centered on instrument flying, I feel the need to emphasize how important it is to understand how the system is supposed to work. And when your autopilot does something it is not supposed to do, it is time for the pilot to take over manually and fly the airplane.

In recent weeks, most of my flying has been with the Garmin G1000 glass panel cockpit and I forgot some of the traits of the King KFC 200 autopilot that is – by the way – one of my favorite autopilots and will always be a gold standard.

When the airplane I was flying started doing strange things, it was necessary for me to take over and manually fly the approach. I was ready to send the aircraft to the autopilot tech for repair after landing, but it was the operator – me – who made the mistake in pushing the wrong button. Later I verified my mistake and the autopilot worked as designed.

Until the next issue, keep training, know your equipment, and stay proficient in hand-flying those approaches!

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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