TRAIN TO DO IT WRONG, PART ONE(thanks to ICAS!)
Throughout the course of our flight training, we work constantly to perfect our flying. Whether it’s air show flying, professional flying or just flying around the traffic pattern, we strive to do it better. We are looking for that perfect landing and that smooth approach. In air show flying, we strive to hit the numbers and to do it perfect 1000 times before we add it to a show sequence.
While practicing a maneuver or a routine until you can do it in your sleep is important, it’s also important to train for failure. As instructors, we train our students to go-around when the landing isn’t right. In instrument flying we “miss” the approach when we can’t see the runway or we aren’t lined up well enough to land. Air show flying is no different.
You aren’t always going to hit those numbers. Your airspeed may be low or high. You may not have made the altitude you always use for the next maneuver or you may be at high density altitude and your engine just doesn’t have enough air to breath. This is where training can make the difference between success and failure.
Dealing with a blown maneuver is pretty obvious…Abort the maneuver and recover the aircraft. It’s when the maneuver isn’t blown, but it isn’t quite right when the decision is more difficult. When was the last time you climbed up high and trained to do a maneuver wrong? Can you do that maneuver safely if you are 10 MPH slow? How about 20 MPH slow? How will you deal with that situation? Can you amend the maneuver or should you abort it? In air show flying, the near instantaneous decisions that have to be made very close to the ground have too often had catastrophic results. The only way to know beforehand how you will deal with a maneuver that isn’t quite right is to practice doing it…not quite right. Aborting a maneuver or a sequence needs to be as routine an event as completing one. You wouldn’t think of flying a show routine without practicing until you can do it right. Why would you fly one if you haven’t practiced intentionally doing it wrong?
TABLE TOP EXCERCISES REVISITED
As North America moves into the heart of its 2010 air show season, many members are considering whether or not to conduct an emergency preparedness table top exercise in advance of their air shows. ICAS strongly recommends that you decide right now that this will be a part of your preparation, not just this year, but every year.
Even the best emergency response plan is just a static reference document until it is brought to life with a well-planned table top planning exercise or, God forbid, an actual emergency. These exercises are called table tops because they are emergency simulations conducted with all of the key players around a table top (as opposed to a real emergency which is managed on the ramp, infield, runway or parking area).
Table top exercises are to air show emergency planning what simulator time is to airline and military pilots…a chance to confront specific emergency situations in a simulated, controlled environment. They give event organizers an opportunity to “test drive” their emergency response plan. Ideally, a table top exercise allows everybody to respond to a simulated emergency as they would respond to a real emergency. A well-executed table top exercise uncovers problems with communications, internal contradictions within the plan, and aspects of the proposed emergency response that need changes or refinement.
Perhaps just as importantly, table top exercises are both inexpensive and easy to execute. Come up with two or three emergency situations and role play as you sit around the table.
A fire erupts in the north hangar. The fire truck on the north side of the airport is on the flight line. How does it get from Point A to Point B? How will it quickly turn around and navigate the crowds on the ramp? Does the show go on while the fired is managed? Will there be another vehicle to respond to an aircraft accident? Etc.
You should also plan for a worst case scenario level accident: an aircraft crashes in the crowd area with spectator fatalities and dozens of serious injuries or something similarly horrific. It is unlikely that you will ever encounter that kind of accident, but planning for it is important and will give your emergency response personnel confidence that they will be up to the challenge if the need arises.
Three or four weeks before your event, schedule two or three hours during a weekday evening. Invite all of the key players involved in emergency response to participate in your table top exercise. Role play your way through two or three specific accident scenarios. It’s an easy planning exercise that could pay off with huge dividends in the event of an actual emergency.