AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 18

PROFICIENT PILOT

Cockpit catnaps

BY BARRY SCHIFF

If you don't snooze, you could lose
IT WAS THE SUMMER SOLSTICE OF 1967, and we seemed
hung in suspension over Greenland at Flight Level 370 in
a Boeing 707 on the great circle route from Los Angeles to
London. Although midnight local time, the sun refused
to die. The northern horizon was a muted band of polar
twilight and the ice below a pale, purple haze.
We had endured a lengthy departure delay and
were hours behind schedule. The captain was tired,
shifting restlessly in his seat while trying to find a comfortable position. He finally gave in to the fatigue and
tilted his seat aft. " I know it's not legal to sleep in the
cockpit, " he groused, " but there's nothing in the book

BARRY SCHIFF

began his airline
career with TWA
as co-pilot on a
Lockheed
Constellation
in 1964.

18 | AOPA PILOT February 2021

that says I can't faint. " Moments later he was out. Gone.
The flight engineer and I were on our own on the flight
deck, an occasional snore-whistle breaking the silence.
At least this captain was direct about his need
to nap. Others, I discovered, preferred a different
approach. They would simply close their eyes and
claim to be studying a checklist tattooed to the insides
of their eyelids. I was initially amused by such ploys-
until discovering for myself what an efficient method
of study this can be. Although some might criticize
catnapping during the calm of cruise, this is certainly
preferable to fading on final. No joke, that happens.
I have flown with crewmembers so wiped out
during red-eye flights that they fell asleep during the
approach. I recall once landing into a blinding sunrise
at JFK after having been on-and-off duty for more than
16 hours. We were numb. After turning off the runway,
my first officer switched to ground for our taxi clearance. But instead of being cleared, we were advised to
return to tower. Puzzled, we complied. The controller could hardly contain himself as he asked us if we
would now like to have our landing clearance.

Such fatigue often is the result of being scheduled
by computers that cannot always sense when pilots
have had enough. Although there have been some positive changes to the working conditions of those who
spend a great deal of time flying on the back side of
the clock, more relief is needed. This should include
encouraging the FAA under certain circumstances to
make honest pilots out of those who can truly justify a
cruise snooze, which-under controlled conditions-
is much safer than falling asleep on final.
When the lone general aviation pilot becomes
fatigued, his only option is to land and rest.
Unfortunately, many of us feel compelled to push on
when we should be in bed. Pilots who drive themselves
this way may be involved in many more accidents than
we realize because the physiological evidence often
does not survive the crash.
Accidents resulting from pilots falling asleep at
the controls most likely occur between 0000 and
0600 local time. Unless investigators can determine
that the pilots were seriously fatigued and had been
" holding their eyelids open with toothpicks, " such
accidents are simply and perhaps incorrectly attributed to spatial disorientation or controlled flight
into terrain. They know intuitively but might not
be able to prove that many otherwise inexplicable
accidents were caused by pilots flying beyond their
endurance limits.
Several years ago, my good friend Richard Somers
and I flew a Beech Debonair from the East Coast to
West. We reluctantly opted to fly through the night
because Somers had to be in Los Angeles the next
day for a business meeting. Weather forced us onto
a southern route over the swamps of Mississippi and
between layers at oh-dark-hundred. The world beyond
our windshield was black and featureless. I do not
recall whose idea it was, but we turned off all interior
and exterior lights just to see how dark it really was.
It was as black as black can be. We saw nothing and
began losing reference to time and space-at which
point we began to experience a mild form of hallucination likely exaggerated, we were told, by fatigue. The
cockpit quickly became a flurry of hands groping for
switches. We could not turn on the lights soon enough.
Tired writers, I understand, also need to recognize
when it is time to rest.
AOPA
barryschiff.com


http://www.barryschiff.com

AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 7
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 8
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 9
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 10
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 11
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 12
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 13
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 14
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 15
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 16
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 17
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 18
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 19
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 20
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 21
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 22
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 23
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 24
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 25
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 26
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 27
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 28
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 29
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 30
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 31
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 32
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 33
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 34
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 35
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 36
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 37
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 38
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 39
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 40
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 41
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 42
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 43
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 45
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 46
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 47
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 48
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 49
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - 112
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - February 2021 - Cover4
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