Pilot-Engineer Wars

There is a thought that engineers created performance charts just to drive pilots crazy. And, as if that were not enough, they had to include “notes,” “cautions,” and “warnings.” The pilots need to heed all those, too, just to keep from making a serious mistake–according to the engineers.

Just to be clear, a “note” is something pertaining to the operation of the aircraft. For example, a note may be something as mundane as, “Add 10 percent of the total distance to the ground roll for takeoff in high, uncut grass on soft-surface runways.” What the pilots want to know is how in the world did the engineers come up with 10 percent?

And how high does the grass actually have to be to require exactly 10 percent? One question pilots often ask is, “Can l get away with eight percent for moderately high grass?”

Another question they have been known to ask (of the airport manager) is, “Dude, when are you gonna mow the runway?”

When the engineers discovered the pilots were not paying enough appropriate attention to their “notes,” they had to up the ante. This is how “cautions” came into existence.

According to the engineers, not paying attention to cautionary items could result in damage to the aircraft or a systems component. Pilots read this as, “If you don’t follow this rule, you may have to pay for the repair.”

This brings us to the most serious of the engineering terms: the “warning.”

Pilots are careful in disregarding the warnings. The description of the “warning” is that failure to heed the warning may result in serious injury–or death. Words written in such strong terms have a tendency to grab pilots’ attention.

For the most part, pilots do a creditable job heeding the cautions and warnings; notes, occasionally not so much. The notes sometimes will surprise a pilot as in, “Wow, that took a long time to takeoff.” Or, “Whoa! It shouldn’t take that much room to stop!”

On the serious side, notes are sometimes very difficult to read. Unlike cautions and warnings, which are typically printed on the page in a prominent manner, notes might be “hidden in plain sight.”

Consequently, this is what leads some pilots into trouble in their flying. They look at a performance chart, predict what their airplane will do, and either miss the note, misinterpret the note, or ignore it, thinking it does not pertain to their operation.

The only way pilots can avoid this is by becoming very familiar with the airplane–to include a thorough review of the performance charts. In becoming familiar with the charts and graphs, pilots need to highlight each note, caution, and warning and then they need to interpret and discuss each with other pilots flying the same make and model aircraft. Afterwards, it becomes a matter of applying the pertinent details of the information to the fight.

Then it only becomes a matter of being safe.


© 2011 J. Clark

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6 Responses to Pilot-Engineer Wars

  1. flyinggma says:

    I miss spending time with my performance charts. It must be time to add another endorsement to my certificate so I can get some planned flying time in again.

  2. Joe Clark says:

    I understand that. Here’s a program for you: this year or next, you finish your instrument rating, followed by your commercial pilot certificate one or two years later. Then, you are primed to start your CFI, after which you do your CFII, and if your really ambitious, throw in a multi-engine and ME CFI certificate. Add a rating or certificate every 18 to 23 months and you would not have to complete a BFR for a very long time (you could even complete glider ratings, helicopter certificates, seaplane ratings, and hot air balloon certification).

    Happy Mother’s Day to your and your daughter,

    • flyinggma says:

      I love this Joe!! I still plan on pursuing the seaplane rating this summer. I have an instructor lined up just have to wait for a few scheduled items to clear the calendar.

      • Joe Clark says:

        Oh I am so envious! I tried getting my seaplane rating first in 1971 and then various times since. Throughout different periods in my life, if I had the money, I didn’t have the time because I was working and if I had the time, I didn’t have the money because I was not working. In the meantime, I have seen the cost of the rating go from $75 (six hours of flight instruction, one hour for the checkride, all inclusive) to the present fee of $1200 to $1500…. *groan*

  3. The operational empty weight of an airliner should include 500 pounds for the books of charts.

    • Joe Clark says:

      I know, Harrison. It was the same in the Navy, too. But we also had special books for all those other things we dropped off the aircraft and shot out the front.

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