Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When Accidents Happen

I recently read this post on "Fear of Landing" about a 16 year old boy (Sam Cross) who crashed while soloing a few years back. What an awful thing! It is certainly a sobering post to read for anyone who is going through or who has recently been through flight training. It's also so frustrating because it seems like this was one that was preventable!

Apparently, the student pilot was out doing pattern work (or circuits, since this occurred in the UK) at a towered airport. While on final (and I think after he had initially been cleared to land), he was asked by the Tower first to go-around, and then to turn to the left and do a 360 (an orbit) to allow faster traffic to land in front of him. The controllers in the Tower had just gone through a shift change, and the new controller apparently did not realize that this was a student pilot. Being asked to do a go-around, and especially something as unusual as a 360 off of final would be stress-inducing for any pilot. For this student pilot, he wasn't able to process and do what was asked while still "flying the airplane". As a result, he stalled, spun, and crashed.

My flight school has a policy that students flying solo should identify themselves to controllers as "student pilot" as part of each transmission. (i.e. "Cleared to land, 17N student pilot". When I was going through my cross countries, I remember scoffing at the need for this. I thought, "I don't want to advertise that I'm a student pilot! They'll just make fun of me if I goof up. Or they'll treat me as if I don't know anything!" I also remember being very grateful to be able to include that "student pilot" designation at times-- like on one transmission when I got mixed up which runway to land on, or another when I needed help withe slower progressive taxi instructions.

After reading this, I feel foolish for having felt so confident that I sometimes did not include this designation when checking in with a new controller. Now I see that this is more than just alerting a controller to the fact that you may not get the transmission just right-- it prepares them to help you move through the airspace in the safest way possible for everyone.

So fly safe out there! And don't be ashamed for someone to know that you're just learning. We all need help from time to time.

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