The “Watch This” Factor

Because my daughter “Super Girl” is a new pilot and will hopefully be accompanying me on an overseas ferry trip this fall an article in Winged Victory:Women in webzine caught my eye.  It looks into the effects that gender plays in pilot error induced crashes.

  • Studies have shown variation in aptitudes, skills and cognitive abilities between men and women with the largest cognitive gender differences being in visual-spatial abilities. Apparently, research has proven that males possess greater visual–spatial skills than females but females may have better verbal skills than males. The former skills would be important when it comes to take offs and landing procedures, traffic avoidance and basic maneuvering of the aircraft while the later skills would be important to maintain safe air traffic control communication along with cockpit crew coordination.

  • Another study has found that the most common cause of crashes was loss of control during take offs or landings with 59% of female accidents and 36% of male accidents happening with either as a cause. Moreover, female pilots were found to crash more due to mishandling the aircraft while male pilots were found to crash more due to inattention and/or flawed decision making.

  • The ratio of pilot error between male and female pilot (from 1983 to 2002) reveals that female pilots may have a slightly higher proportion of pilot errors but another recent study found that male general aviation pilots were more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than their female counterparts. Those results support another finding that male general aviation pilots take more risks than female pilots and hence, have more fatal accidents.

The results seem to be that men are better stick and rudder pilots, the actual flying part of flying, and women are better at communication, the talking part of flying.  I’ve known and trained lot of pilots over the years and with a few exceptions I think the conclusions are fair.  The female flight instructor with 500 hours who when I was checking her out in my Cessna 182 porpoised her first solo landing that she ruined the prop and bent the firewall.  OK to be fair I’ve had 4 of my planes damaged or destroyed by dumb ass pilots and only one was female but that fact doesn’t fit with my male chauvinistic attitude so I will ignore it for now.  Of course their are exceptions to every rule, “Super Girl” is a great pilot with a natural feel for the aircraft and cool head.  The fact that she’s been flying with me since she was a little girl probably helped.  The final conclusion in the study is that female pilots have slightly more pilot error accidents but male pilots are more likely to get themselves killed.  This fact is easily explained.  When women fly it’s all business and no screwing around and when men fly too often it’s the exact opposite.  So you have to ask yourself, who do you want sitting up front on your next flight?

“We no longer call it the cockpit – it’s the box office.”


Resuce Me

OK, I’ve got a confession to make.   I’m a lucky S.O.B.   Always have been and hopefully always will be.  Not in every aspect of my life mind you but when it comes survival and life or death situations I always seem to come up smelling like a rose with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises and another good story to brag about.  It’s that lucky track record that’s led to my somewhat caviler attitude about aircraft survival.  Oh, I carry survival equipment when ferrying aircraft around the world but the gear I bring along on these trips is usually on the light side and mostly centered on surviving an ocean ditching.  When it comes to going down on land I guess I’ve always had this vision of me heroically bringing the plane down in some remote area mostly intact, climbing out unscathed and spending a few days Robinson Crusoe before being picked up.  I’ve got pretty good survival skills and the gear I carry while minimal would probably get the job done.  The problem is that I think I base my survival planning on a few optimistic assumptions.

Number one:   I not injured in the crash.  Probably a bit optimistic.  I think I’m a damn good pilot, who doesn’t?, but trying to bring a plane down in the Amazon rain forest or on the Greenland ice cap in one piece would be challenging.  With that in mind I’m going to have to assume that I WILL be injured in the crash and plan accordingly.

Number two:   I’ll be able to get out of the plane with my survival gear.  This has always been a big concern of mine and one reason I try to keep my ditch bag as small as possible.  In a water landing if you can’t get out of the plane with it you’re not going to have it.  I might have to start thinking about wearing a survival vest over my thick neoprene survival suit.  This factor could also come into play in the event of an post crash fire.  All the gear in the world does you no good if it sinks to the bottom of the ocean or burns up in a fire.

Number three:   I’ll be rescued in a reasonably timely manner.  This might be the case when I’m flying in the United States on an IFR flight plan but if I go down in Southeast Asia, South America or especially Africa I should expect to be on my own for a while.  Most of the time I’m flying over multiple countries who don’t keep track of where I am at all and even if they knew exactly where I went down, unlikely, they probably don’t any kind of search and rescue assets to send out anyway.

 with all these cheery thoughts in mind  I’m going reevaluate my survival gear and make some changes.  I’ll keep you all posted on my progress.  Here’s a writeup in General Aviation News about another  survival vest I’ve been getting some ideas from.  RESCUE ME SURVIVAL VEST

Water Survival

Coast Guard rescues two from the Gulf Of Mexico.




N265Q incident
1 pilot/1 passenger
In-flight fire with emergency water landing

We topped the aircraft off with fuel at Baytown airport (KHPY) on the east side of Houston Texas. I departed VFR and picked up our IFR clearance from Houston Approach en-route, prior to reaching SBI (Sabine VOR). I was cleared as filed, SBI LLA LEV Q100 SRQ KSRQ. We leveled of at 11,000 ft. After crossing LEV, we received lost comms procedures from Houston Center, which I am quite familiar with as standard operating procedure on our altitude and routing, having flown this exact flight many times in the past, including in N265Q. In approximately the vicinity of REDFN intersection, I noticed a small amount of smoke in the cockpit. I quickly alerted ATC that we had a problem before shutting off the master (in hopes that I had an electrical short which would be resolved by doing so). The amount of smoke increased exponentially almost immediately. Not being able to see very much, I popped the cabin door open and also the pilot storm window. While having the door open sucked out most of the smoke and made it possible to breathe, it was still nearly impossible to see anything. My passenger then yelled “Flames! Flames!” and just at that time I also noticed flames through the gap between the panel and glare shield. At that point, I immediately pulled both engines to idle and pushed the nose over into a dive. I activated the aircraft’s 406.1mhz beacon in the dive. By now, it was getting a bit toasty in the cockpit! It was nearly impossible to see out the windshield, so I flew the airplane by looking out the pilot storm window. Thankfully, it seemed that most of the smoke was being sucked out of the cabin door. I leveled the airplane about 100 ft above the water, saw a large yacht which I attempted to get as close as I could to without endangering, then touched down in the water. We skipped off the water, went about 30 ft in the air, and the next time we came down, the water grabbed us pretty hard. We stopped quickly enough that my prescription sunglasses were thrown off my face (they fit very tightly). I was able to keep the wings level, and we came to a stop in the same direction we were pointed in, right side up. I popped our seatbelts and we exited the aircraft. By the time we removed our seatbelts, the water inside the cabin was nearly up to the seats. We stepped out onto the wing and I grabbed our inflatable PFD’s and ditch bag. By the time we had them inflated and around our necks, we were up to our necks in water. I estimate the aircraft fully sank within 2 minutes of touchdown.

I carry PFD’s for every passenger. They were not really suitable for offshore use (I knew this when I purchased them, but went with this style due to size and ease of use. I would have loved to have offshore jackets, but it seems a bit ridiculous to carry them around in your airplane all the time.) We kept getting swamped with waves over our heads, even though the seas were relatively calm. I activated my SPOT upon entering the water (I have carried one with my since they were first introduced). The yacht never saw us. We waved and waved until the disappeared. We bobbed around in the Gulf for nearly 3 hours. A CBP fixed wing aircraft was doing a search pattern for 30 minutes before the USCG helicopter showed up. They both flew right over the top of us many times and never spotted us. The USCG chopper flew right over us about 6 times before they spotted us. This was where I started to become a bit worried. We could see them, but they could not see our heads in the water. We watched them fly over and waved at them, while I watched the sun setting. I knew if they didn’t find us within 30 minutes, we would be staying the night out there and our odds for survival would drop drastically. I am not sure how cold the water was, but into the second hour, we were both cold and shivering. Finally they spotted us.

The USCG did an excellent job on the pickup. It was the swimmer’s first water rescue. They were very professional. Later over a bite to eat, they told me that they had expected to find either nothing, or a couple of bodies. The commander attributed our survival to being ‘extremely well prepared.’ (I disagree with this a bit, more on that below.)

When I owned my Bonanza, I carried a life raft with me for these crossings. I fly regularly to Florida and Mexico across the Gulf during all times of year. I always carry a PFD for each passenger and a ‘ditch’ bag with water and cliff bars in it. My SPOT is always within reach. When I moved to a twin, after the first few overwater flights, I sold the liferaft on eBay. I looked at it as unnecessarily taking up space. After all, I can lose and engine and still fly to my destination! That was a big mistake. I would have given my left nut to have a liferaft out there. Not only would it have been much more comfortable, but it would have made us much more easy to locate. 2 heads bobbing around is tough to see, especially compared to a big colorful raft.

What I learned (or already knew):

If you fly over water like I do, bring a raft. If you don’t own one, borrow one.

Carry a PFD for each passenger.

Have a small ditch bag prepared with food and water.

Carry a PLB or SPOT on your person.

My Baron was equipped with double shoulder harnesses. Without them, we probably would have been knocked out and drowned yesterday. At the very least, I would have serious facial lacerations and/or a broken nose. I will not get into an airplane without them. I do not care if it is for a quick ride around the pattern. It is not going to happen.

I consider myself having been (barely) adequately prepared for this. ‘Well-prepared,’ as the USCG Commander put it, to me would have meant being in a life raft.

Things in our favor were the relatively warm water temperature, the relatively calm sea state, the pretty good weather in the area, my emergency contacts knowing exactly what to tell the emergency responders. Also, having lived aboard and cruised my sailboat for 2.5 years and being a USCG licensed captain, I have had extensive water survival training. That definitely helped. Did my seaplane rating help? Probably not (even though my seaplane instructor would like to believe it did!)

I have no idea with certainty what caused the fire. The OAT was in the low 40s and I had turned on the heater approx 5-10 minutes before the first smoke appeared. Turning it and the master off did not change the situation. It could have been many things, but I can only speculate ….

Everyone tells me I am very lucky. I tell them that if I was at all lucky, my damn airplane wouldn’t have caught fire.

Something else I have given some thought to … If this would have happened just 4-5 flight hours earlier, I would not be writing this post. A few days before this flight, I spent an entire day bouncing around the southeast almost all IMC and every approach to minimums or near minimums. I am trying to keep a good attitude about the whole thing, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that I am slightly shaken up over this ordeal.


Seeing that I fly over water, and I mean BIG water, for a living the subject of water survival is extremely important to me.  It was sobering to hear that it took the Coast Guard helicopter a long time to find the men in the water even though they knew exactly where to look.  I would hate to think about my odds of being rescued in the middle of the Atlantic even in a raft.   Over the years I’ve put together a ditch bag filled with items that would hopefully increase my odds of survival. It’s a never ending project and here is my latest find.

Doug Ritter Essentials Overwater Aviator Survival Vest

It’s $1,100 but it might be worth it.  Until then I’ll keep working on my gear.


  As a rule pilots are always looking for an excuse to go flying.  If they could take a plane to the grocery store when they’re out of milk they would.  So when my wife informed me that my presence would be required in northern Michigan this weekend to help her family cut firewood.  I saw an opportunity for a little cross country flight with number one son (NOS).  The questionable economics of renting a plane to fly up and help cut wood so her aging parents could save a little money to help make it through the long winter nights was not lost on me, but the main reason for the weekend was to get the family together and see if my brother in law could cut his arm off with a chainsaw.

  The only airport close enough to be practical is Prickett-Grooms, a quiet little airfield with a short 2,600 grass strip surrounded by tall pine trees.  The runway being a little short for the Queen Air I opted for the mighty Cessna 150 instead.   I wasn’t too unhappy about having to fly the 150 because I’ve started teaching NOS to fly in it and the long cross country would be great experience for him.  The flight up on Saturday was great.  With NOS in the left seat and Koda the wonder dog (KTWD) in the back we flew under a Blue Bird sky and over the beautiful fall colors.   A nice tailwind kicked us along at almost 94 knots! WOW! ZOOM!  NOS did a great job of flying and we spent most of the trip using pilotage to navigate over the north woods, picking out small towns, rivers and lakes to lead us to the airport.

  With a big passel of cousins helping the adults play lumberjack we were able to cut and split and stack three loads of firewood, enough for a really cold winter or two.  It was a great day in the woods capped off with a great dinner of steak and venison followed by a few beers and smart talk in the traditional Finnish sauna.   The next morning my wife drove NOS, KTWD, and I back to Prickett-Grooms for our flight home.  I walked out to the middle of the runway and pondered my options.  The rough grass runway has trees guarding both ends.  The trees on the west end are taller and closer to the end of the runway than the east end but there was a 5 knot wind favoring the west.  Even though the pilots operating hand book claimed it was possible I was still a little concerned about the underpowered 150 getting us out of there so I spent more than a few minutes weighing my options.  We had two adults, not too fat but still 165 lbs. each, a big dog in the back and half full tanks.  Not a really light load but I decided that it was light enough to get out of there into the wind and over the trees.  After we taxied down to the far end and lined up for takeoff I looked at the trees we would have to clear and thought “Boy, those trees are tall and close.  I wish I was in my 206.”  I told myself that if we weren’t airborne by midfield I would have NOS abort the takeoff.   When NOS pushed the throttle in I was truly unimpressed.  When we lifted off well short of midfield I still wasn’t happy.  Climbing, if you could call it that, at a snails pace I milked the flaps up as the trees got closer and closer and was genuinely relived when we cleared the trees and continued to climb.  With the scary takeoff behind us we put out nose into the twenty knot headwind and tried not to look at the sixty five knot ground speed reading on the GPS or the cars passing us on the freeway.  It was a long and bumpy ride home but NOS did a excellent job holding his heading and altitude despite being bounced around.  That boy really has a feel for flying and I couldn’t be prouder, he’s going to make a great pilot.  All in all it was a good weekend of flying with the boys all around.


Now We Know

Brake Test Sends WWII Aircraft Into a Ditch. Finally and on an odd note, its been reported that a 1943 Beech 18/C-45 ended up in a ditch in Virginia after its owner was performing a brake test and the brakes failed – sending the aircraft across a road with its nose coming to rest in a ditch (there were no injuries). When emergency crews arrived, they already found a tractor on the scene dealing with the mishap…

I don’t know, if you’re going to test the breaks on an aircraft you should have a plan on what to do if they fail the test.  Just sayin.