Flight Training - June 2015 - 18

SAFETY SPOTLIGHT

By George Perry

TRUE CONFESSIONS

THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE

S

ome time ago a friend and fellow general aviation pilot asked
me what it was like to fly single-seat fighters. My answer
surprised him: I said it's a blast, although I never felt entirely
comfortable. Since I was by myself, I never knew if I was
missing or forgetting something. I was always cautiously attentive
and could never fully relax. I knew intuitively that my training and
checklists were there to keep me safe, but the need to check and
recheck every detail was ever-present. Flying a GA aircraft by yourself is much the same. There are lots of in-flight items and duties that
require careful attention, deliberate action, and careful planning.
In the hypercompetitive world of
single-seat Navy fighters, the pervasive
culture was one in which pilots were
traditionally hesitant to admit mistakes.
The belief was if pilots admitted mistakes, others would think less of them,
and their prowess as a fighter pilot would
be questioned. This belief is, of course,
flawed-and the mindset ignores the fact
that humans make mistakes (to varying
degrees) on a regular basis. In time and
after losing many pilots and aircraft to
preventable accidents, the Navy took a
hard look at the root causes. It should
come as no surprise that, after realizing
70 to 80 percent of all aviation accidents
are caused by human error, it was obvious
to those in the safety community that the
culture needed to change.
Over the past decade, that shift in
culture took place. It was slow to happen-partly because of the natural human
resistance to change and partly because
that admitting mistakes ran counter to
the fighter pilot bravado that had been
fostered for decades.
In 2005 I was part of a squadron led
by a former Blue Angel pilot. On his first
day, he mounted a large piece of bent and
distorted chain-link fence on his wall. I
was in his office meeting my new boss for
the first time and asked about the busted
piece of fence. He said he had performed a
low transition during an airshow practice
and hit the fence with the tail of his F/A18. Subsequently, his buddies on the team
mounted it as a memento of his screw-up.

18 /

FLIGHTTRAINING.AOPA.ORG

"I keep it on the wall of my office as a
reminder that no matter how good you
think you are, we are all fallible. It keeps
me humble," he said.
This was the first time I'd seen someone
of his stature, a F/A-18 squadron commanding officer and renowned fighter
pilot, publicly acknowledge and even
"embrace" a mistake, especially one as
serious as that. It made a lasting impression and changed the way I thought about
my flying, aviation safety, and how one
creates a culture that promotes learning.

had known. The new pilots embraced it
quickly and liked the fact that they could
make and share mistakes without fear of
repercussion or diminished reputation.
Sharing honest mistakes helps everyone
become better, safer pilots. So I'll start-
I recently took a trip to Tangier Island,
Virginia, to drop off Christmas presents to
kids who live on an island that is accessible only by boat or airplane. On board
I had two passengers along with all the
gifts, so my aircraft was fully loaded. The
runway at Tangier Island is 2,400 feet long
and, in a Mooney that loves to float, that's
relatively short.
A few years ago the runway was
repaved and shortened and it now has
a displaced threshold. My goal was to
touch down right on the numbers so
I'd have as much distance as possible to
decelerate. I set up on a steady, stabilized
final approach, had my airspeed set, and-
when I thought the time was right-I
pulled power and began my roundout

A HEALTHY SAFETY CULTURE ADMITS
FALLIBILITY AND EMBRACES THE SHARING
OF HONEST MISTAKES.
Later in my career, when I became a
squadron commanding officer, I hadn't
forgotten the lessons from my former boss.
I didn't have a piece of busted fence to
mount on my wall, but I knew there must
be a way to convey the same message: A
healthy safety culture admits fallibility and
embraces the sharing of honest mistakes.
I started a program called "True Confessions." During pilot meetings we would
share our mistakes candidly with one
another. We told stories and let everyone
know about our in-flight learning experiences (mistakes). This type of open
dialogue was encouraged, and true confessions became an effective method for
turning mistakes into lessons learned. My
"older" pilots were hesitant at first because
this was a departure from the culture they

and flare. Turns out the headwinds were
just a bit stronger than I anticipated and
I touched down just in front of the displaced threshold.
This was a learning experience and,
given another opportunity, I would have
left myself a bit more margin and touched
down a few hundred feet down the runway instead of trying to be "perfect." This
confession is my version of a "busted piece
of fence" and something I wanted to share.
No one is perfect, and honest mistakes are
going to happen. Sharing them with one
another makes us all better. It's not always
easy or pleasant, but it's in the best interest
of safety.
George Perry is senior vice president of the
AOPA Air Safety Institute.


http://FLIGHTTRAINING.AOPA.ORG

Flight Training - June 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Flight Training - June 2015

Contents
Flight Training - June 2015 - Cover1
Flight Training - June 2015 - Cover2
Flight Training - June 2015 - Contents
Flight Training - June 2015 - 2
Flight Training - June 2015 - 3
Flight Training - June 2015 - 4
Flight Training - June 2015 - 5
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