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Vectors for Safety

January 2020

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Happy New Year!

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous, and safe 2020! Please remember, "Always fly like your life depends on it!"


Safety Initiative Update

Safety Initiative for 2020 - Safety Initiative 2.5

I have some ambitious plans to expand the Safety Initiative for 2020! The goals of what I am calling Safety Initiative 2.5 are to

  1. reach more pilots with useful and practical safety information.
  2. cover a wider range of topics including human factors, operations, and aircraft maintenance.
  3. deliver information via a broader spectrum of formats, including micro-learning.

I will, of course, continue the monthly "Vectors for Safety" publication. But, beginning with this edition, most of the publication will be hosted on my website. A subscriber let me know that my "Vectors" emails were sometimes not getting through because the images were hosted on a non-secure site. The easiest fix for that was to put the entire "Vectors" publication on my site in blog format and simply notify subscribers that it is there and provide a link. Those of you who were subscribers prior to my failed attempt at retirement in 2017 will recall that is how it was done previously.

I will be doing more webinars and live, on-site presentations. I have an FAA accredited activity for an Aviation Safety Stand Down which I would like to do again. Some of you may have participated in one that I produced in 2015. I can do it live, on-site, via live webinar, or as a hybrid event online, but also with several hosts providing venues and projecting the event for all to see. Hosts are sometimes individuals, but more frequently FBOs or flying clubs. If anyone is interested in being a host, a sponsor, or a volunteer to assist with the event, please contact me.

I will also be creating more online courses, some for FAA Wings credit along with others that would be interesting to pilots but would not qualify for credit.

Funding for this expansion has come from reader donations, sales of my books, sales of my Human Factors Ground School course, and some sponsorship from the nice folks at Avemco Insurance.

All of you can help with goal #1 by forwarding this email to a pilot or two who is not a subscriber and invite them to subscribe. Also, posting links to the "Vectors" section on my website is a great help in expanding the subscriber base.

In Range of Syracuse, New York? Mark Your Calendar for Feb. 29, 2020.

The Syracuse Aviation Safety Stand-Down has been an annual February event for many years. It has typically been a very well-attended, all day event. I will be speaking again this year, as I have done many times in the past. My presentation this year will be an all-new, lively program on mental inertia. I hope to meet some of you at the event. I will post additional information as it becomes available.

Human Factors Ground School for Pilots is Open Until February 3

The Human Factors Ground School course has been a hit! Thanks to you who have purchased it. You have greatly helped to expand the safety initiative. I wish I could offer the course for free, but the online learning management system I am using has a cost that must be covered along with other development costs. The previously offered discount has expired but I am now offering the course at 20% off the retail price to subscribers of "Vectors for Safety." The subscriber cost is $159.20.

Here is the official course description: Nearly all aviation accidents have their roots in human error. This updated course will present basic human factors and apply them to Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) and Risk Management. The influence of the unconscious mind, including our cognitive biases, is explored without the psychobabble, but with practical application examples. Some accident analyses are presented to illustrate important concepts. Lessons are primarily delivered via narrated video. Pertinent documents are available for download and review quizzes are provided for each section. A final course quiz must be successfully completed to earn FAA Wings credit.
The course is valid for All 3 FAA Wings Credits at the Basic Level (Basic Knowledge-1, Basic Knowledge-2, Basic Knowledge-3)
Completion time is approximately 3.5 hours.
Important notes: The coupon must be used by January10, 2020. The course will be available through February 3, 2020. After that date, the course will not be available and Wings credit will not be issued.

Shawn Benson's Blog

Shawn Benson is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a BS degree in Aviation Maintenance Management. He holds FAA certifications including A&P, IA, and Private Pilot. He has more than twenty-five years experience in the aviation industry including both airline and general aviation. (Yes, we are related. Shawn is my son and has agreed to share some practical aviation maintenance advice with us from time-to-time.) Shawn can be reached at

Your Engine is Talking, are You Listening?

By Shawn Benson

The last thing any airman wants is to get the “silent treatment” from an aircraft engine, especially in the air. The key to listening to the engine is understanding the data that the engine is providing to you. With a proper preflight, monitoring the engine instruments, combined with data from aircraft maintenance can provide a realistic picture of the engine’s health. A word of caution, the picture is only clear with accurate and consistent data.

Most of us have experienced an obvious case of the “silent treatment.” An example would be when we yell “clear prop,” turn the key and nothing happens. Maintenance determines the cause as a partially discharged battery not allowing the start contactor to close. In this scenario, the aircraft may have been talking to us the past few months with the engine cranking a little slower each time or a delay in the starter contactor engaging after turning the key. Another possibility is that perhaps the airplane has not been flown in 45 days due to the holidays and bad weather.

Piston aircraft engine failures are rare. A partial engine power reduction is much more likely. The engine is always talking, sometimes loudly and sometimes providing subtle hints that individually may not make sense, but, when combined with other data points provide a data “trend.” Some symptoms of engine problems can be easily detected like an oil leak. Other symptoms like engine oil turning dark in 5 hours since last oil change can be much harder to identify, especially if the aircraft is operated by many different pilots.

Preflight of an engine is an important part of determining engine health. Make sure you are using the correct checklist and take your time to learn what you are looking for and what you are looking at. Below are some engine related items that are easily overlooked during your preflight that you may not have learned in flight training:

  • Check the oil level and put the cap back on.
  • Look for fuel leaks around the engine. Aviation fuel dye will indicate a fuel leak.  In a preflight you will rarely see a “wet” fuel leak around fuel injectors or primer system. 
  • Look for oil leaks. Oil leaks must be identified and the cause determined.  Do not blindly accept that aircraft engines leak oil.  A small oil leak can be an indicator of an impending cylinder separation or crack in the engine crankcase.  A crack in a cylinder where the cylinder head is threaded onto the barrel is very difficult to identify.  When the cylinder is at operating temperature, oil is capable of exiting the crack in the cylinder leaving a fine mist or small droplets in the engine compartment and even on the windshield. Make sure you look at the oil cooler for any signs of deterioration, leaks, impact damage etc. 
  • Verify that the air filter is secure and clear of restrictions.
  • The Exhaust system should to be looked at top to bottom.  Look for white exhaust stains at the cylinders and joints for exhaust leaks and cracks.  Verify security of the exhaust.  Also, look up the exhaust pipe and verify that it is not restricted or blocked by debris or muffler baffle.
  • Don’t forget to use a proper flashlight when conducting an engine preflight during the day.

All aircraft are equipped with basic engine instruments to determine if the engine is operating in or out of operating parameters. Make sure that the engine instrumentation is accurate and monitor the engine instrumentation consistently. Identifying that engine temperatures are rising and oil pressure is decreasing is definitely an engine trend worth listening to. This trend can occur in a single flight or may be a subtle trend over many flights.

Some aircraft are equipped with additional digital engine monitors that have the ability to record and track the data. Be sure you know how to use it and interpret the data. When properly used, engine monitors in combination with engine maintenance data can provide an engine trend that can identify engine problems early and can be easily and economically corrected.

Engines operated regularly with regular oil changes and accurate engine instrumentation have better reliability. Flying Infrequently and/or prolonged periods of inactivity reduce reliability and overall engine life.

Proper engine operation should be followed at all times. Take the time to allow the engine to warmup before conducting a run-up. The time required is usually longer than you would think. Use the checklist and preform a proper engine run-up before each flight. Verify that all engine instrumentation is working properly.

As you approach the runup area, take note of any fluids or debris on the ground. If you observe something like an oil slick or debris it may be from the aircraft that just departed. Please consider letting someone know of a potential problem. After you have completed a run-up, as you taxi to the runway, look back at the runup area and check for any puddles or debris that appeared. Oil coolers can fail during engine runup causing all of the engine oil to go overboard in a few minutes.

The engine and the rest of the airplane is always talking and providing data. The challenge is to be a good listener and consistently collect the data. Never throw away or ignore the data! Sometimes the data may be confusing and you may need to obtain more data for clarification. If you identify an engine problem in flight, follow the checklist and don’t attempt to troubleshoot. Get the airplane safely on the ground to prevent the “silent treatment.” Being proactive and involved in aircraft maintenance will help improve your airplane listening skills. Maintenance personnel rely on you to accurately communicate what the airplane told you.

Listening and understanding the data will allow you to make better and safer decisions concerning the margin of safety and airworthiness of the aircraft you are operating.

Notes from Being Better

Act More Like a Three-Year-Old

Sometimes three-year-old children “get it” better than adults. Most three-year-old kids pass through a stage in which 90% of their speech consists of a single word question, “Why?” My grandson seemed to get stuck in this stage for several years, though in reality, it was probably only ten or twelve days. The stage was probably fueled half by curiosity and half by a desire for adult attention, but it illustrated something that adults should do more of in our quest to be better. We should do more questioning. To learn more, read the current post in the Being Better Blog. For more information on the "Being Better" program, click here.

Gene's Blog

Only as Good as Our Next Flight
By Gene Benson

A new year often brings a new sense of purpose. We resolve to exercise more, eat healthier, lose weight, save more money, finish a project, start a new project, or something else.


You know I will put an aviation safety spin on this, so here we go. We should consider devoting a little time to some introspection on how safe a pilot we are. As a human factors specialist, I realize the many shortcomings of introspection, but it can be helpful provided we vow to be honest with ourselves and really try to do that.

We should begin by debunking the myth that a high-time pilot is safer than a low-time pilot. While the low-time pilot may be somewhat lacking in experience, the high-time pilot may be more complacent. The more experienced pilot may also have been positively reinforced for skipping steps or taking chances if nothing bad came of those deeds.

Flight hours alone are not a good metric for measuring safety. Personally, I boast of having “more than fifteen thousand hours of accident and incident free flying.” That is great for promoting book sales, online course enrollments, and speaking gigs. But as the attorneys and financial advisors say in their TV ads, “previous performance does not guarantee future results.” A running joke in the airline industry used to be, “You’re only as good as your last landing.” I would like to revise that to, “You’re only as good as your next flight.” The past is not an accurate predictor of the future. Regardless of how good we used to be, the question becomes, how good are we now? Lack of recurrent training, cognitive decline due to aging, or physical changes including mobility, vision, endurance, new medications, and other issues can negate the expertise gained by thousands of flight hours.

Many of us can name an experienced pilot who had an accident. Perhaps the most famous example is the accident that took the life of famed test pilot Scott Crossfield when he tangled with thunderstorms and his Cessna 210 broke up in flight. There are many more examples.

What can we do to make sure that our next flight is not our last flight? There is no foolproof answer to that, but there are some steps we can take. Of course, there are the standard tools such as the IM SAFE Checklist and the Risk Assessment Matrix. But as I have written previously, both tools require subjective assessments and are therefore vulnerable to our cognitive biases.

It is better if we use tools that rely on objective assessments such as the Flight Risk Assessment Tool or the Personal Minimums Checklist. These require customization to the individual pilot, but the time and effort spent doing that is very much worth it.

Additionally, I would suggest developing a personal recurrent training schedule and establishing a minimum level of recurrent training. Spoiler alert: FAA recent experience requirements are minimal at best. We need to establish our own recent experience/recurrent training requirements that ideally include dual instruction and simulator time. Any time that our minimum training has not been accomplished, we vow not to fly as the only pilot in a control position until the standard has been met. We can build this into our personal minimums checklist or keep it as a separate document.

In summary, we must not rest on our past experiences and hope that future flights will be successful. We must be proactive to remain proficient and safe.

Accident Analysis

Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the mistakes of others and perhaps avoid repeating those mistakes. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or a dumb mistake. But let's remember that the accident pilot did not get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go have an accident today." Nearly all pilots believe that they are safe. Honest introspection frequently reveals that on some occasion, we might have traveled down that same accident path.

Piper PA-22 Loss of Control in the Traffic Pattern

The NTSB accident report includes the following: “The private pilot was landing his airplane at his home airport at the conclusion of a local flight. The airplane was last seen flying normally on the left downwind leg of the airport traffic pattern, and the wreckage was subsequently discovered in a location consistent with a turn from the downwind to base leg of the traffic pattern. Read more...

Safety Initiative Support

Most things on the internet appear to be free, but few actually are. Most sites bombard the user with advertising, many track your use and collect personal information, including your IP address to sell. I do not do any of that. I personally fund the Safety Initiative with the help of donations from my readers, sponsors, online course sales, and an occasional paid event as well as book sales. If you find this Safety Initiative to be valuable and would like to help support it and help it expand, please click below. Thank you.

Book Sales

I have several publications available through Amazon, including my book, "Fifty Years of Flying Insights." Signed copies of the paperback version are also available. Click here to visit the Publications Section of my website.

Disclaimer: Material contained in this blog is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as directive, doctrinal, or instructive. Individuals should consult with their flight school management, certificated flight instructors, aircraft manufacturer recommendations and directives, Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and/or appropriate FAA publications including the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), and applicable FAA Advisory Circulars (ACs) for specific guidance relative to any information or before employing any recommendations contained in this newsletter. Further, nothing on this web site or in this section is intended to contradict or be in disagreement with any official FAA rule or regulation, nor should such material be interpreted or construed as such. This web site is intended exclusively to promote general aviation safety and to increase awareness of current events in aviation.

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