Thursday, December 5, 2013

What can you do next when something goes very wrong?

Suppose you were sitting in the front seat, flying a graceful LET L-13 Blanik sailplane being towed aloft, as shown above. What would you do next if if the towline broke, or if your tow plane lost power? There are two very different answers for that question. I know that because three decades ago I was the student pilot in the glider, and had been drilled to keep track of what altitude separated which of them would apply.

As is shown above, if you are at a low altitude, then your only imperfect but satisfactory option is to look for open ground and land straight ahead. At higher altitude you instead could safely turn around, and return to the airport runway. Returning to the airport is the perfect option. When it just is not possible, there’s no reason for wasting time trying to achieve it. You have to adapt and try something else instead. (For example, watch this video animation of the crash landing by US Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River).

The bulb on a projector almost always burns out just as it is switched on. Three decades ago I had that happen to me just as I began to speak during a technical conference in Houston. Then I froze, and just waited for the projectionist to put in the new bulb. What I should have done instead was to proceed with my introduction. It had four text slides I could have equally well have read from my notes. But, I had only rehearsed with my slides, and hadn’t considered what I’d do without them as a crutch.  

Another aviation-related post on this blog is about checklists - Is your speech ready for takeoff? Are you sure?

Where did the inspiration from this post come from? When I checked the statistics for this blog, I found that last week over 180 people had viewed a post from June 17, 2012 titled Fear is based on perception and not reality about a magazine article by aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff. On December 1st Patty mentioned that post on her Facebook page.

The image of a towed Blanik came from here

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