Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A pilot's sixth sense

These are mechanical checklists found on Air Canada's Airbus fleet. They sit on the dash and consist of louvre doors that the first officer closes when an item is actioned. They're used for: the "before start", "after start" and "before take off" checklists. The other checklists are read from a plasticized sheet.

Question: I've read that, sometimes, experienced test pilots can sense that there is a problem with the plane - shortly after settling into the cockpit. Do airline pilots also develop this sixth sense? Perhaps confirmed while running through checklists?

Sometimes when we enter the flight deck, we notice a switch not in the correct position. Immediately we think maintenance has been in and we check for other irregularities. But this is rare. That's why we run through a series of checklists every time. That way nothing is missed. (Turns out the medical field is pursuing how pilots conduct business through CRM, checklists and standard operating procedures).

As far as senses I know for instance we pilots use more than sight during take off.
We are not only looking at the engine instruments, etc but we go by feel. Does the take off feel right? A blown tire comes to mind. We go by smell. Any irregular odours? We go by sound. Irregular sound gets our attention. It's like we become part of the airplane.

One thing I've noticed over the last few years, and having amassed thousands of take offs is, if I have a smooth take off (no weaving due to crosswinds, nice smooth rotation, with the flight directors nailed) then I will most likely have a good landing. We learn through initial training a "good approach makes for a good landing." I'd like to take that one step further by saying a "good take off makes for a good landing." But why? I think it's because we are on our game that day, maybe good flight deck 'karma' amongst the other pilot, maybe the aircraft rigging is right on (not all airplanes are created equal), or maybe the seat is adjusted just the way we like it. I like the electric seats on the 319 and 321. Unfortunately, things were skimped a little on the 320 seats (manual only).

This is just my observation. Not only does an inner smile come when we are taking off, but if the take off is a smoothie then my landing should be one as well. How's that for a 'sixth' sense?


Lakotahope said...

Karma? Yeah, during my flight instruction days, I had just started soloing when I went in one day, got my keys and clip board and went to the plane. I noticed a cloud line moving in and I remember I didn't like it. I knew my flight wasn't going to happen when I got to testing the fuel in my wing tanks and I dumped the tester out. The fuel blew horizontally across my aircraft. I quickly tied it back to the tarmac and gave the keys back.. Some other instructors were inside and asked why I came back and started to kid me about a little wind. I guess they didn't know I was a student pilot. I remembered I was a student though! Karma was my friend...

Daniel Asuncion said...
This post has been removed by the author.
Daniel Asuncion said...

The sixth sense in pilots can mani-
fest itself in many ways. Years
ago, I went up in a glider (as a
passenger). I paid maybe $20 for
a ride.

At one point, the pilot politely
suggested that our conversation
stop for a few crucial minutes
so that he could fully concentrate
on what he was doing.

He also confided that since glider
flying goes from May to October
around here, being a passenger in
May is a bit riskier since the
pilots are a little rusty...

That was his gut feeling.

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