United 232 concepts applied to flight instruction part 1

Back when I lived in IA, I was able to meet breifly with Captain Al Haynes after a speaking engagement. He had recently reached mandatory retirement, and was going full bore on a lecture tour. I still believe he is on the speaking circuit, and hearing him in person is a great experience. I did locate an early transcript of his speech , and it is simliar to what I remember from those years back.

This is a multi part article, as he covered a lot of ground, but in the talk, and afterwords.

declaring an emergency
“I don’t know how many light airplane pilots you have here today, but I’ve talked to several groups of several pilots, and this one you can pass on Mary, they’re afraid to say anything, they don’t like to declare an emergency, they’re afraid their’ going to cause some problems or something like that.  And they said to me, well, you have all these resources of United Airlines at your disposal, and the center, and all this.  So do you  Three words: I’m declaring an emergency, and you’ve got it.  All the help you want.”

As flight instructors, we cover the FAR’s and the AIM, and the after effects of declaring an emergency to a T. One of the things it seems we fail to mention is that yes, all the help we need is available, if we ask. Sure, some folks will be ticked off due to delays, or an upset to their daily activities, especially if nothing happens. By the same token, those same people, even though ticked, are darn glad you made it down safely. One of the things Al impressed upon me as a CFI, was to beat it into my student’s heads to ask, and to lessen the emphasis on the after effects. A ton of paperwork, and a harried FAA inspector, is a lot easier to deal with, than a broken airplane, or human injury by either failing to declare an emergency, or not declaring one soon enough. Its obvious to us, it may not be so for a 70 hour private pilot.

post traumatic stress

“Now, I was never one to believe much in post-traumatic stress. had heard it a lot in WWII, from Korean, and Vietnam veterans, and Ithought, well, okay, if such a thing exists, I’ll let it go, because I don’t really believe it.  I believe it now.  And I’m asking you tobelieve it.  It may never happen to you–I’m fortunate enough not tohave suffered PTS–yet.”

Some of us, have experienced close calls, or actual accidents, or incidents that had the potential, or did seriously mess us up. I’m not talking about the student that does something stupid or we get caught off guard, but cases where a crash occured, or an inflight scenario of such a magnitiude, that causes long term significant mental anguish. Please note, this is quite different than the normal short term effects of emotional distress such as one might encounter in a car crash etc. As CFI’s, who have been through such scenarios, we may not talk about these very much. For some, its an issue where they don’t want inadvertantly regulatory oversight, for others, its embarrasement over doing something stupid, and for others, its being the tough guy.

One of the things Al Haynes mentioned was the importance of talking about these things, and doing so quickly, as a way of commencing healing and avoiding potential trouble later. I think this is critical in general aviation. We all know gung ho pilots, some with a 100 hours, some with a few thousand, who all of a sudden quit flying. My guess is, that in many cases, it wasn’t external factors, but something that happened in flight. My concern in this matter, is not loosing a good customer, but more so, someone may well be holding things in, and it could rear up and cause trouble in their life later on. We should encourage sharing of adverse situations, as an integral part of initial and recurrent flight training. An awareness of ways of coping, prior to an event, may be useful to a pilots mental health as well as the obvious impact such discussions can have in preventing future scenarios. Please note, neither Al Haynes in his talk, nor I suggest we grill someone for info, but that we lend a willing ear. I think it is reasonable to discuss this aspect of coping, in combination with ASRS procedures, and regulatory oversight. Despite the medical reporting issues that occur, seeking professional guidance after an event may not be such a bad idea. Remember, EMS, police, and firefighters are often required to do so. The lone pilot should not feel odd,  checking things out if need be, as a preventative measure.

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