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What is safe?

Marc D

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What is safe?


That is tough to define. I will start by saying it is an attitude. I know lots of guys that have tremendous flying skills, but they are totally unsafe. In other words, they have a terrible attitude.


Safe? Safe changes once you have kids.


Safe? Safe changes as you gain more experience. In other words, your attitude changes.


Safe? "Bad company corrupts good morals" You might do stupid things around the peer pressure of other unsafe pilots. If they are really really bad then when your attitude slips you don't seem to notice it so much. You still feel "pretty safe" compared to them.


Safe? Being around Nurses/medics has made that a whole new question for me because their definition of "safe" can be very weird!


Safe? Safety is a balance. Too much "being safe" and you might as well not fly.


Safe? Safe changes from day to day. IMSAFE. Some days I just shouldn't do the same type of operations I do other days. Or at least I should do them in a different manner. Slower for example.


Safe? My father taught me how to fly and every year for many years now I reassure him that I am flying safer this year. I don't think I was flying reckless the year before, but something happens as you get more experience. Every year you now know how much you didn't know the year before. So you always wonder what you don't know now. This awareness makes you say things like "I am flying safer this year"


Safe? I am only as safe as my next flight will be. Many dead guys were safe pilots.


I just scratched the surface. Please add your thoughts.



Marc D.




Marc D. AS350B3 Pilot, St. Patrick's Lifeflight - Missoula, Montana - Metro Aviation




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I think being safe has a lot to do with confidence. Not necessarily in your physical skills as a pilot. Sure, honing your skills and confidence in your ability is a fine trait to have. However, that confidence should also include your ability to determine risk vs. reward of a particular mission and the self-confidence to defend that position in the face of pressure from peers or superiors. This is especially important when someone is trying to get you to fly beyond your assessed abilities (even if it's your own ego).


Of course, you should also be confident enough to re-assess your decision if new information is presented.


I probably tend to be on the slightly over-safe side of the spectrum. I'd rather err in caution than over-estimate my ability. Now, maintaining that attitude as I get more experience will be the thing. . .



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  • 6 years later...



For me, some sea changes took place over the years, in my little head, after attending so many accident scenes. SAR missions. landing beside. Oh, oh. Theory is one thing, witnessing the harsh reality... is quite another.


I think that was what really slowed me down. There is one question I found myself asking, after some really GOOD guys I knew got killed in various aviation pursuits, aerobatics, airplanes, helicopters.


"Moggy.... WHAT do you think that you know... that HE didn't know...?"


Meaning: "Damn! That poor old boy was safe, experienced, knowledgeable, absolutely no fool, and look what happened to him? What hidden land mines am I innocently hop-skipping past, because I know no better?"


If that makes sense.


"Sounds like a stupid thing to do"


Not really. Easy.

Edited by Francis Meyrick
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Muggy that was an excellent cautionary tale! Yes... there but for the grace of God go I. So many ways to make a mistake in this business. Vigilance is an attitude that becomes harder to practise when tired and stressed. I highly value hearing others stories, close calls, and the analysis of what went wrong when tragedy strikes.

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Cool. Glad you liked the Muggy Musing.


It's kind of hard sometimes to do justice on paper to what yer thinking. Sometimes you scribble something, and you worry about it sounding preachy. Then you scribble something and it sounds a bit banal, irreverent, cocky or arrogant. Then you.... end up thinking; "Oh, blow it! And you just have at it. If they like it, great, if they hate it, great, and after all, sticks & stones can break my bones, but I've a volume on my phones!"

So I just blast away, knowing I always please SOME, and annoy the anti-Spam hell out of others! Or I'm "self promoting" when I'm writing about flying... I kind of like that accusation, 'cos I fancy being Napoleon, one hand above mon coeur. ("A Streak of Mischief")


One (true) accident bugged me for a long time, because I felt there was a theme worth telling. I had a shot at it, and there is more to this than perhaps just a blogger's blog, if you know what I don't mean. Anyway, kind of in the same "it's easier to slide into than you might think, and there for the Grace of God, slide I...." here's one I had quite a few emails about. Yeah, right, I ain't sayin' nuthing more...


Old Zeke



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Safety is a culture....it has to be grown.

well, yes, but so is Bubonic Plague. I,e. the Black Death. There's always stuff growing. It's telling them cultures apart that's the key maybe.


I keep a little Microsoft Word Document about, and i add to it stupid stuff I've done, so I don't forget. Once in a while I go and visit, and it keeps me 'umble. I've written some of them up.


I see some Sky Gods about whose bearing and aloofness makes me wonder if they have conveniently forgotten their past all-too-human booh-booh moments.


There for the Grace of God, go I.


Stuff happens, out of the blue. Vigilance, vigilance.


I don't think I'll ever forget the bemused look on the little Chinaman's face as he was following my cigarette around, trying to light it. I was shaking that bad....


Blip on the Radar - Part 19

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I just recently completed my initial training with a new employer, one of the larger Canadian helicopter companies. The training was very thourough, took ten days total with a few days of non flyable weather (freezing fog). As a result we spent much time on the ground sharing stories and generally shooting the sh$t as happens when many pilots are confined to a hangar.


My training captain and I were sharing experiences about near misses. I mentioneed that after an incident 4 years ago that required rescue I had experienced some PTSD symptoms with some loss of confidence. He opened up to me about a situation he got into which I think is worth sharing.


So here is the short version as I remember him telling me.


This very experienced mountain/bush/utility pilot was flying along in a 407 by himself in a remote northern area. I don't recall if it was spring or fall but there was snow cover on the ground and it was below freezing. He had a long way to go and was concerned about fuel with unexpected strong headwinds. The weather started to really deteriorate. He found himself squeezed between a lowering ceiling and a broken layer with ground reference becoming difficult. He realized the only safe thing to do was find a place to land and wait it out. He found a hole to weasel down through and set up an approach to an area with some rocks for reference. On short final the wind was howling way stronger than higher up and he lost all reference. The right bear paw hit the rocks first because he was rolling right with no reference. That righted the machine and he landed hard but unharmed off level in the rocks. He shut the helicopter down and got out to inspect for damage. It was a blizzard outside and when he opened the baggage compartment his sleeping bag blew away. He managed to hold onto the satt phone and survival kit. He was able to make a call and let his company know where he was, the helicopter was flyable, but he had to stay put with the situation he was in. 3 days went by with no change in weather. He had initally started the helcopter every hour in the freezing temperatures so it would be able to start when the situation improved. The situation did not improve. Eventually he didn't have enough fuel to leave. The military sent a plane with SAR techs on board but there was no where to land. He was able to talk with them on the radio and told them he had a 60 knot wind on the ground. They didn't believe him and said his pitot was frozen. This was day 4 or 5 by now and he was very cold and had run out of survival rations. The two SAR techs parachuted down to him. One SAR dude broke his femur on landing when he hit the 60 knots downwind on landing. The stranded pilot managed to drag him back to the helicopter and take care of him. Now there were three survivors. Apparently the SAR guys carry 18 hours of supplies. They were there for another 4 days. Eventually they were all rescued by helicopter. He lost a lot of weight but recovered with no long term physical effects.


My training captain spent 10 days in this survival situation. He said he was pretty gun shy afterwards but did some counselling and was able to get back on the helicopter horse. His words were, "I went to ground in a bad situation and at least I'm alive". We talked about doing a good job of crashing so you walk away if the helicopter has a mechanical or you are forced down, but that's a whole other subject. He had some great advice there.


Take aways for me: Land before it gets quite that desperate to get to ground. After hearing his story I've added a mini survival kit that I will carry on my person. I have a good personal kit for remote work but if you crawl out of a wrecked machine the better kit might not be there for you. I made a small kit with a spot messenger device, small tarp space blanket, string, wire saw, tin foil flat folding cup (to boil water), and fire lighting equipment. At least I can call for help, get under shelter and make a fire with what I have in a small waterproof bag strapped to leg, because worst case scenario all you have is what's on your person. In arctic conditions wear all the clothing you need to survive while flying.


For the lower 48 this story might not be so relevant. The same GET TO GROUND BEFORE IT'S TOO DANGEROUS TO DO SO moral still holds anywhere.


His other words were, "fly like a bird". Watch what they do. They always take off and land into wind even if it's a quick turn on short final, and they know when to sit on the ground.


Just passing on his real life story which he graciously shared with me.

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@ whistlerpilot


excellent post. I did enjoy both the content and the style. Those of us who live to fly (pathetic creatures) can't ever get enough of this type of reflection. I admire your training captain. Those are the best teachers. Guys who will -happily- share their experiences, good and bad, without pretense. I suspect the guys who really love their craft, somehow that joy comes through in their stories and anecdotes.

For the lower 48, the story is just as relevant. Well done. ;)

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In Navy fixed wing AOA is of primary concern in the landing pattern. But at night, at the ship, when the weather's not good on speed AOA seems too slow. So the fudge factor that gets used is max trap + 2 knots for each 1,000# of fuel over + a knot for each wife and kid. Some even add in pets. If you have a big family, with lots of pets, and if you are a Mormon, before you know it you need full afterburner before you snag a wire.

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