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Vectors for Safety

April 2020

Safety Initiative Update

The Health Emergency

Much has changed in the world since the March 1 edition of Vectors was published. Many of us are under a mandatory lock-down and those who are not, need to severely limit activities and exercise extreme caution. Being over the age of 70, my wife and I are remaining in our house and utilizing a grocery delivery service. We are taking extreme caution to sanitize everything that comes into our house, not only the groceries, but also the mail.

We are volunteering the best way we can without leaving the house. My wife is doing in-home volunteer work for a local charity and I am working to provide relevant online content to keep people engaged. The work we are doing of course also keeps us engaged and allows us to have a sense of helping in some small way.

But we are not sitting at our computers all day either. We are very fortunate that we enjoy each other's company and get along extremely well. We watch movies, do jigsaw puzzles, work together around the house, text and chat with friends, adult children, and grandchildren.

We, like you, are trying to make the best out of a bad situation. We are doing our part to follow the guidelines and hoping that everyone else will do the same.

Out thanks and admiration go out to the many folks who still must go into harm's way every day. That of course includes the healthcare workers, but also the grocery clerks, delivery drivers, sanitation workers, and all those who are too numerous to name.

NTSB Report on Drug Use

The NTSB issued a report on March 10 regarding drug use among pilots. It was picked up by the Associated Press and, as usual, it does not make us look good as a group. In short, toxicology tests performed on pilots killed in crashes between 2013 and 2017 showed that 28% had used at least one impairing drug. that was up from 23% for the period between 1990 and 2012. Although some illicit drugs were detected, sedating antihistamines were the most frequently found drug that could impair a pilot's ability, followed by pain relievers including opioids.

Click here to read the full NTSB report on their website.

Looking a bit beyond the NTSB's study on drug use, we must remember that a toxicology report is only done on a pilot who died in a crash. Even when there are fatalities involved in an accident, a surviving pilot is not tested. What would the statistics show if all pilots involved in an accident or incident received toxicology testing? I am not proposing testing those pilots, I am simply wondering what percentage of those pilots would be found to have an impairing substance in their blood.

I read many accident and incident reports and I am frequently baffled as to what caused the mishap. Fuel exhaustion, runway excursions, hard landings, unexplained loss-of-control, and other events, happening with experienced pilots who have recent experience, are puzzling. We know that any level of impairment, regardless of the cause of the impairment, lowers our capabilities thereby decreasing the margin of safety.

Click here to watch my YouTube video "Talk Load vs. Capabilities"

This month's featured accident illustrates the danger of what I call "Accidental Impairment." Find the Accident Analysis section farther down this page.

Pilot Talks

In an attempt to help pilots stay engaged, I conducted five sessions of what I called "Pilot Talks" between March 22 and March 25. My intent was to provide pilots with an opportunity to tell stories, ask questions, and generally do some "hangar flying." I used Bright Spot's Zoom Meetings platform which was new to me. I survived the learning curve an became comfortable with the system. Though the subscription supported up to 100 attendees, I wanted to limit the attendees to not more than 50 for each session so that we could have interaction. To accomplish that, I used Eventbrite to "sell" the free tickets. As it turned out, the series was not as popular as I had hoped and there was no need to limit attendees. The most heavily attended session had 16 folks and the least attended had 3 including me. I hope that those who attended had an enjoyable time. I know that I enjoyed connecting with pilots from around the U.S. and Canada.

I think I might try the "Pilot Talks" again, but with a stated topic for each session. I will send out a special email blast when that is decided.

Upcoming Webinar on Aging Pilots

In case you did not receive the FAA SPANS notice, there will be a webinar on the subject of aging pilots. It will be conducted on Saturday, April 4. Here is the description from the FAA: "Although we don’t like to admit it, there are physiological and cognitive changes that occur as we grow older? How do these changes affect our flying, and what can we do to stay safe as time marches forward? This seminar will provide insight into factors affecting older pilots and identify tips and techniques for accommodating these factors. Targeted to older pilots and flight instructors, but useful for any pilot or anyone who accompanies older pilots."

I am not participating in the webinar, but I know the two feds who are involved and they are straightforward and put on an interesting presentation. Click here for more information on the webinar.

Stay Engaged with Online Courses

If you are among the many who are having some downtime, why not stay engaged with some online aviation courses? Most of mine are free and some are valid for FAA Wings credit. Check them out on my website by clicking here.

The only one that is not free is the Human Factors Ground School, but as a special offer to keep folks engaged, you can enroll for half-off by clicking here.

Website Updates in Progress

I realized that my website had become a bit disorganized and the content had outgrown the capacity of the site. As I continue to expand my safety initiative, it became apparent that "Vectors for Safety" needed to be separate from my other content. Beginning son, all of the safety initiative content will be found on rather than on For now, everything except the catalog of accidents is still on I will be transitioning the content over the next week and I will post a notice and a link on when it is completed.

Shawn'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

Opportunity for Aircraft Maintenance

by Shawn Benson

Spring is here! Time to dust off the airplane and get out and fly! Well that was last month, before the world changed. Since many of us pilots and mechanics are now sitting at home, this is still a great time to familiarize yourself with unfamiliar aspects of the airplane you fly or maintain. If you are one of the lucky ones who can actually work on the airplane right now, don’t waste the opportunity that you have.

According to 14 CFR Part 43, Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, Rebuilding, and Alteration, the holder of a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR Part 61 may perform specified preventive maintenance on any aircraft owned or operated by that pilot, as long as the aircraft is not used under 14 CFR Part 121, 127, 129, or 135. 14 CFR Part 43, Appendix A, Subpart C provides a list of the authorized preventive maintenance work that an owner pilot may perform. Consult with your aircraft maintenance provider and if you think you are able to perform preventative maintenance give it a shot. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t try it.

If you do any of the preventive maintenance authorized in 14 CFR Part 43, you will need to make an entry in the correct logbook to document the work done. The entry must include the following information:

• A description of the work performed, or references to data that are acceptable to the administrator.

• The date of completion.

• The signature, certificate number, and kind of certificate held by the person performing the work.

Remember that your signature constitutes approval for return to service only for work performed.

Take a look at the Airworthiness Directives (AD) for the aircraft you operate or maintain. AD’s can be issued on the airframe, engine, propeller, avionics, appliances, and STC’s installed on the airplane. In recent years, new AD’s have been issued or revised that contain additional requirements with additional inspections at certain time intervals or mandatory replacements. Certain AD’s have additional repetitive inspection requirements that will be due between annual inspections. Now is an excellent time to verify that all the AD’s are up to date and there is an opportunity to get the work performed by an A&P now. Aircraft are operated all the time with an overflown AD.

There are also many resources on this new thing called the internet that provide good information and training during our extended stay at home. Many aviation associations and institutions have made additional content and training available that can greatly help in keeping your aviation mind sharp. Now is an excellent time to get some recurrent training or even learn some additional skills. For example, if you think you want to build an experimental airplane order a practice or starter kit. Composite practice kits (fiberglass and foam) and aircraft fabric practice kits are an excellent way to inexpensively learn the basics before making a large commitment.

Stay safe and don’t take unnecessary risks. Find ways to keep busy and keep your aviation skills sharp so you are prepared for flying season.

Gene's Blog

Applying what we Know to the New Reality

by Gene Benson

Fifteen or so years ago I designed a set of four coffee mugs each with an aviation safety theme. I had a few sets made up and I gave them as gifts to friends and business associates. One of the mugs, when seen from the front said, “Safety is in the attitude…” The reverse side showed an aerobatic biplane nearly inverted with the caption, “…of the pilot.”


That statement is still true today, but with even more meaning. As pilots we are trained to follow established procedures. We are all very much aware of pilots who did not follow procedures and are no longer with us. We have now been given a new set of procedures to follow during the pandemic. They are procedures to keep us safe in life, not just in aviation.


Just like in aviation, some of the new procedures are inconvenient, time consuming, and contrary to our old habits. But also like in aviation, they are-evidence based and valid. Perhaps we should consider them to be our emergency checklists. Social distancing, cleaning groceries and other things before bringing them into our homes, frequent hand washing, coughing into our elbow, are important to our well-being and perhaps also to our survival.


We must maintain a positive attitude just like we would during an in-flight emergency. We must maintain control of our psychological attitude, follow our emergency checklists, and continue to maintain control until the emergency is over.


And again, just like in aviation, if we see someone doing something that we think is dangerous, we should speak up in a kind and non-threatening way, to remind the person of the correct procedure. Of course, we must set the example for everyone to see by strictly adhering to the recommended practices.


I frequently remind everyone to “Fly like your life depends on it.” Now I will say, “Perform as if everyone’s life depends on it.

Accident Analysis

Piper PA28-140 Fuel Mismanagement, CFIT, and More

Huntsville, TX October 2, 2015

Fatal: 1

Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the misfortune of others and perhaps avoid an accident. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or as 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

The NTSB report includes the following: "A mechanic who worked for the fixed-based operator (FBO) at the airport reported that, on the day of the accident, the private pilot taxied the airplane to the maintenance hangar where he inflated the nose tire. The pilot told the mechanic he was flying the airplane to a nearby airport because someone there was interested in purchasing the airplane. No known witnesses saw the airplane take off. The air traffic control tower at the nearby airport did not have a record of the airplane landing there. The pilot was reported missing, and the wreckage was located later that evening on property adjacent to the departure airport.

The airplane came to rest inverted in a small clearing in a wooded area. The fuel selector was found in the "off" position. The left-wing fuel tank contained 2 cups of fuel, and the right-wing fuel tank contained about 4 gallons of fuel. A small amount of fuel was dripping from the right fuel cap before the airplane was righted. No evidence of fuel drainage from the left fuel tank was found. The airplane was not equipped with an ELT which likely contributed to the delay in locating the airplane. An examination of the airplane and engine did not reveal any anomalies that would have prevented normal operation. Damage to the starter housing from impact with the ring gear was consistent with slow rotation/no power at the time of impact. Based on the evidence, it is likely the engine lost power due to fuel starvation, which resulted from the pilot shutting off the fuel supply to the engine.

Although the autopsy and medical records showed that the pilot had arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and kidney stones, there was no evidence to suggest the pilot suffered an acute cardiac event or other medical incapacitation during the accident flight. A low therapeutic level of diphenhydramine, a sedating common over-the-counter antihistamine used to treat the common cold and hay fever, was detected in the pilot's heart and urine; however, it could not be determined whether the pilot was impaired by the effects of the drug at the time of the accident."

The NTSB Probable Cause finding states, "The pilot's mismanagement of the fuel supply to the engine, which resulted in fuel starvation."


NTSB Photo

As we try to dig deeper into the causes of accidents, the presence of diphenhydramine raises a flag. After the final report was completed for this accident, the NTSB issued a warning about the long-term effects of that drug. The recommendation called for no flying until at least 60 hours after the last dose of diphenhydramine. (The guidance is a bit more complex than that, but the simple interpretation works out to be 60 hours.) What is diphenhydramine? It is the main ingredient in Benadryl, Ambien, and other OTC medications.

I believe that most pilots are responsible when it comes to drug and alcohol use. It is possible that the upward trend in drug use among pilots is "accidental impairment." Taking an OTC medication such as a sleep aid or an allergy treatment is not uncommon. We need to make ourselves aware of what might lower our capabilities so that we can make smart decisions about when to fly and when to stay earthbound.

That raises another issue. If we have decreased capabilities that adversely affect our ability to fly safely, what about driving? One could argue that driving a vehicle down a busy highway at or above posted speed limits requires at least as much mental sharpness as flying a small GA airplane. That is a different discussion, but this is called Vectors for Safety and we all want to be safe all the time. Not just when we are flying.