6 Ways To Get Smart On CRM

Mig-29 airshow crash

I hate to see good men and women die – and I especially hate it when it’s because of stupid decisions or mistakes.  It seems that anytime an accident occurs, the pilot finds him or herself squarely in the crosshairs of the crash investigators – and rightfully so.  These aircraft don’t just crash themselves! (Well, 9 out of 10 times they don’t!)  At least some element in almost every accident on record can be attributed to the pilot.  After all, we are humans right?  Unfortunately, we aren’t learning our lessons as well as we should.  Over the past 10 years the NTSB has found the fatal accident rate in general aviation has risen 25%.  Each year over 400 pilots and passengers aboard general aviation aircraft are killed in one of 1,500 flying accidents.  There are several steps you as a GA pilot can take to avoid being another statistic in the flying demographic with the highest accident rate.

In the 1970’s a new concept was developed to help curtail a disturbing increase in GA fatalities: Crew Resource Management (CRM).  Those pilots who do not fly with a crew (most fighter pilots and GA pilots) refer to the concept as Cockpit Resource Management or Single Pilot Resource Management.  CRM is a methodology meant to help improve what I like to think of as “pilot intangibles”.  These intangibles are the things I believe make a good pilot: high situational awareness, clear communication, the ability to effectively manage multiple tasks while airborne, and the capability of making good, sound, fact-based decisions.  The CRM concept saw marked safety improvements in the commercial and military aviation sectors, but has yet to produce earth-shattering results in the GA world.  Why is that?  Because GA pilots aren’t exposed to the rigorous ground training and CRM academic requirements that are a regular part of the professional pilot’s life.  I believe every GA pilot should approach flying as if it were their job.

Here are six things you as a GA pilot can do to incorporate CRM into your flying:

1. Attend a class.  Every year in the military we have to attend an “Instrument Refresher Course” and a CRM class.  If you’re a commercial or military pilot these classes are typically provided for you.  Why not seek out one of these courses yourself?  Crew Resource Management LLC is an example of a company that offers extensive CRM training in a group setting.

2.  Take an online course.  King Schools offers a very thorough CRM training right from your computer. Other courses are available – just do a simple Google search and you will find a treasure trove credible training sources.

3. Read a book.  For those who are resistant to technology or who just prefer reading in book form, there are several books available such as Crew Resource Management, Second Edition (Kanki, Helmreich, Anca) that cover the topic in detail.

4. Talk to other pilots.  Seek out that retired Navy pilot who lives down the street from you.  I promise he will bend your ear backward with information that could one day save your life!  Always look for experienced pilots (I’m not talking the 300-400 hour pilots, I’m talking about folks who have exceeded 1,000 hours PIC time.)  Worst-case scenario snag an airline pilot in the terminal who is waiting for her aircraft to show up and ask for her scoop on CRM.

5.  Study NTSB reports.  Reading about the causes of real-world aircraft accidents will allow you to ponder the pilot’s actions and consider how you would have responded in a similar situation.  You can search for specific accidents or you can pick at random through their Accident Synopsis By Month page.

6. Pick one or two CRM concepts on which to focus during a training flight.  Get a fellow licensed pilot to go up with you and look for opportunities to practice good CRM.  Caveat: Don’t ever put yourself in an actual emergency situation on purpose.  It is best to practice simulated emergency procedures with a current and qualified flight instructor on board.  “Chair flying” (the act of thinking through a flight before going up) can do wonders in this regard. Chair flying with a knowledgeable pilot friend is even better!

I will leave you with a brief case study:

The C-17 Globemaster hurdled off the runway in what appeared to be an effortless feat.  In spite of its lumbering size and weight, this C-17 was performing maneuvers in a flight envelope not normally entered by the average cargo pilot.  This specific aircraft was being flown on this particular day as part of a training sortie in preparation for the 2010 Arctic Thunder Air Show held at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.  The pilot and crew would be performing aircraft maneuvers demonstrating the relative maneuverability of the heavy cargo jet.

Sadly, just moments after takeoff, this glorious spectacle would become one of terror as onlookers witnessed the mammoth aircraft enter an unrecoverable stall and impact the terrain killing all four crewmembers on board.  It was noted in the accident investigation that the pilot in command had by far exceeded safe flight parameters when he entered an aggressive turn not in accordance with the demonstration plan.  Recovery inputs were applied too late to preclude a stall, and the aircraft impacted with full aft stick input.

Had the pilot and crew properly applied the CRM principles of Crew Coordination, Situational Awareness and Decision Making, the aircraft may have been kept within safe parameters saving the lives of those onboard.

Please treat your flying as if it were your profession.  Seek out all the knowledge you can to improve your situational awareness and enhance your decision-making capabilities.   I promise there will come a time in your flying career that you’ll be glad you did!

Do you have a good CRM story to share?  What have you found to be the most beneficial “pilot intangible” in your flying?  Please share your comments, and share with others in the flying community!