When Bad Things Happen to Good Pilots

The Killing Zone

There have been a number of high profile air mishaps in the recent past: The Continental Bombardier tragedy in February; and in March, fatalities in the Pilatus PC-12 crash; and the FedEx plane crash in Japan. For some, it shakes their confidence in the safety of flying.

One of the oldest and most incorrect sayings in GA is that flying light aircraft  is safer than driving.. The best estimate was that automobiles had seven times as many accidents but as for fatalities, GA is seven times worse based on miles traveled, according to the Air Safety Foundation. Certainly, everything is relative. Over the past five years there were 1,539 fatal aircraft accidents. During the same period, 192,069 motor vehicle fatalities occurred. So what should we think about this?

There is an excellent book available titled: “The Killing Zone-How and Why Pilots Die”. It indicates that very low time pilots, as well as those with thousands of hours, can fall prey to overconfidence, bad judgement, and lack of recent experience. The key remedy: Ongoing training and currency. Never become complacent. While there is risk, it can be managed. Virtually all accidents can be traced to pilot error, not the aircraft. Buckle up and make sure that if something goes wrong, it wasn’t something you did or didn’t do.

Fly safe!

Update:-Commercial aviation is safer than driving. “The Killing Zone” seeks to explain risks associated with the hours of time combined with the  level of training in light aircraft where pilots are most prone to accidents.

Update #2: The 2008 Nall Report was Issued today


2 responses to “When Bad Things Happen to Good Pilots

  1. virgil xenophon

    Boy, that post is so true. One of the key concerns of the military is the abnormally high number of active duty pilots who are killed while flying light aircraft while home on leave–and complacency is the major factor–the attitude that, “hey, I can corkscrew this little thing down anywhere if I have to.”

    As for me, I don’t fly am and not current because when first in civilian life I couldn’t afford to as a grad student, then later the pace of my job didn’t allow me to fly enough to keep my hand in to the point I felt I would be a safe pilot. And funnily enough, I was never one of those who loved tooling around in the sky flying for it’s own sake (I know, makes me weird as a pilot.) Unless I was doing something with a purpose, like practicing for combat or actually flying combat msns, flying for it’s own sake is not that much fun, and unless one does a LOT of it, my feeling is that one is really unsafe but probably doesn’t know it.

    Now that I’m retired, however, I’ve got my eye on a little C170b with a factory instal STOL wing, hopped up Lycoming engine with a constant speed prop. all tenderly cared for by an 84 yr old ex Alaskan Bush pilot
    whose lost his medical.

    • Of course there is nothing that will compare to the drama and complexity of military aviation. There are many different kinds of general aviation and the areas with more rigor will come closer to a “mission”. (again, recognizing that combat experience is much different and much more difficult). Instrument flight, Aerobatics and flying military aircraft trainers(as a civilian) require more discipline and training. That’s why some of the ex-military aviators seem to gravitate toward these.
      You’re not alone in leaving the cockpit after a military career though. A friend, now retired, flew F-4’s off Yankee Station. After he left the Navy he never flew again, except as an airline passenger. Nothing wierd about it. It was impossible to match the adrenaline rush in combat flying or trapping on a carrier. To this day he doesn’t seem to have an interest in flying but he’ll still talk about his experiences in Vietnam.

      I hope you get the C170 (which is a great plane). You would do great credit to the GA ranks and frankly it is a whole lot of fun. Besides: Aviators are some of the most interesting people you’ll meet, on line *or* in person 😉

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