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Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor


Something Completely Different

Although it kind of fits, that wasn’t intended to be a Monty Python quote.  Sometimes different is good; sometimes not, as we’ll get to shortly.

Remember the classic swimming pool game  “jump or dive”?  For the uninitiated, in this game, a person (for purposes of this conversation, we’ll use the term “victim”) stands on the diving board, approaches, vaults, and begins a …   And therein lies the problem; the diver doesn’t know whether the other player will call “jump” or “dive”.   The call, of course, comes when the diver is in the air just before the top of the dive (or jump), and statistically, there is a 50/50 chance that the diver will guess correctly and execute either a nice dive or jump.  The other result (which seems to occur WAY more than 50% of the time) is a spectacular belly flop.  I know this from personal experience – from the diver’s perspective.

As you may suspect, there is an aviation analog to this game, and the pilot is the diver.  The caller is a variable, and can be either Murphy or ATC.  And just like in the Jump or Dive game, when you get something completely different from what you expect, it’s rare that good things happen.  In fact, almost every one of the stories in various flying magazines that show how a pilot got into (and sometimes back out of) trouble includes an event completely different from what the pilot expected and/or planned for.

If you’ve been flying for a while, you’ve probably met Murphy.  You’ve had brakes fail while taxiing, flaps that wouldn’t work when you move the lever, instruments that failed, and if you’re really unlucky, an engine failure.  Sometimes, (shock and surprise) the weather is different from the forecast.

The other variant is when Murphy in the form of ATC gives you something completely different from what you expected.  This happens approximately 100 percent of the time on IFR flight plans.

So, how to keep Murphy’s call from resulting in a belly flop?  There are two keys to this.

First, reduce the surprise.  There are no belly flops if you know what the call is going to be. It’s why pilots that don’t want red bellies get weather briefs and do TFR checks even for local flights.   It’s why they make the most important decisions before they get into the plane.   It’s why they look at PIREPs.  It’s why they do thorough preflights.

Second, they prepare themselves for what happens when the call occurs and it is something completely different.  This is why pilots that don’t want to do belly flops do takeoff briefs.  It’s why they read the POH once a year.  It’s why they KNOW the aircraft limitations and memory items.  It’s why they don’t just keep current according to Part 61, they keep their skills current and sharp. It’s why they are always learning.  It’s why they know and understand the FARs.  It’s why they always know their options and leave themselves an out.

BTW, I even found four ways not to do belly flops.  One, don’t play that insane game (that didn’t occur to me until many years later).  Two, be the caller rather than the diver.  I’ll admit to a certain sadistic pleasure in making the call that resulted in a red tummy.  Three, bribe the caller to play according to a script you know, so there are no surprises.  And four, understand your options, know the rules, and think outside the box – the application of those is that I began with the full intent of doing a dive (in this case a forward one and a half), and at the call either kept the tuck a bit longer to go in head first if it was “dive” or opened up early and enter feet first if the call is jump.

Some might call that approach cheating, but it’s within the rules, though clearly it’s less exciting for the observer than it is when people use a more standard approach.  My feelings regarding that is captured in the following exchange:  many years ago a person, upon learning that I was a flight instructor, said, “That must be exciting.”  My response was, “Not if I do it right.