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FEATURE ARTICLE

Greg Savide, WVFC CFI contactgsavidge@gmail.com 

 

Bang! What Was That Noise? 


Reacting and responding in milliseconds is almost impossible, but it’s what we try and teach our students every day.

 

In training a lot of time is focused on developing our reactions.  For example, during stall practice, when a stall of the wing is recognized, we train ourselves to react by lowering the angle of attack of the wing by releasing pressure on the elevator.

 

Not all situations are as simple as lowering pitch to regain control of the wing.  Many situations that may arise have an initial reaction phase, but then need a broader response to succeed.  The FAA proposes the “DECIDE” model, which stands for detect, estimate, choose, identify, do, and evaluate.  This model is the staple of pilot training and is one that we should all know.  If you haven’t heard of it, shame on you! Here it is:

 

https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aviation/phak/media/04_phak_ch2.pdf  (it’s currently under page 2-18 in the PHAK).

 

A similar model is the “OODA Loop”.   While it has only four steps, it covers all the key areas of problem solving that the DECIDE model details.  Let us see how we can apply the OODA Loop.

 

On a warm summer's day, you are happily flying when, Bang!  What was that noise?  Breathe.  Try and stay calm.  Panic and you will narrow your vision and hearing.  Studies have shown that the brain actually limits the amount of attention it gives to hearing in order to focus on sight in stressful situations. Next, remember the gospel:  Aviate, Navigate, and Communicate.  Keep flying, don’t hit anything, and if you decide you need help, say something.  Now you are ready for your OODA Loop.

 

Observe:  Take in everything around you. Start with a flow check, noting the position of switches and levers. Look at the gauges to see if they can tell you if anything is amiss.  What can you see?  Perhaps you notice the temperatures on the engine or instruments are too high.

 

Orient:What does this tell me?  A primary factor that can slow or even halt this step is denial. Just because you don’t want something to be happening doesn’t mean it won’t.  You are in a climb, on a hot day, at a relatively high-density altitude and your engines may not be getting the airflow they need for the power you are demanding.

 

Decide:What should I do to reach my objective, which as we all know is usually a safe landing.  Remember, sometimes it is better to do nothing at all. In this scenario though, I should start by trying to cool the engine by lowering the pitch, opening cowl flaps, increase the mixture and reduce the throttle.

 

Act:  Do what you decided.

 

Observe:  How did that change what I am seeing?  Are the temperatures decreasing?  Are they continuing to climb?  Are my other gauges still where they were before?

 

Rinse and repeat

 

The bottom line is we need to give ourselves space to think in stressful situations.  If we don’t have a structured approach to solving problems and allow our actions to be tightly coupled to our reactions, we will often create a negative feedback loop of reaction-action that will narrow our ability to process information.  This may be good for dealing with the proverbial tiger in the jungle, but should not be applied to complex and often ambiguous situations that may arise while flying an airplane, such as a rough running engine.  Unchecked anxiety leading to hasty and panicked actions often leads to tragic outcomes.

 

In the scenario given above high engine temperatures left uncorrected can result in dangerous conditions (detonation, pre-ignition, burned exhaust valves, etc..). But, using a structured approach to problem solving throughout the entire flight, preventatively, we can help to keep situations from developing. Not just at high density altitudes, hot outside air temperatures, and in a climb are the temperature gauges in my scan, information which I will use to help orient my observations, but also during cruise, descent, and landing as well.  If we constantly observe, orient, decide, and act we can intervene before a problem arises so that we have a safe and enjoyable flight. 

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