Flying in the Himalayas, with the terrain above me! That was a challenge I could not resist. I applied immediately for the job, got an interview and soon after acceptance. My employer Widerøe Airline, was positive and a leave without loss of seniority was accepted. My wife Wenche accepted also even if she was pregnant with our third child. A boy was born and away I went with Wenches blessings. Just 2 months later she and the 3 children was with me in a nice home in Katmandu. I was checked out on the STOL ports and ready to take over from my predecessor Captain Don Lelievre, a French Canadian.
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This adventure started for me in 1985. I was a Twin Otter Captain in Widerøe Airline in Norway. Widerøe was a domestic airline which connected the Norwegian STOL ports with National domestic and international airports. We where told that they at the time was the Worlds largest Twin Otter operator. The STOL ports covered the west coast mid and northern Norway. The flying was demanding with VFR/IFR operations in fjords an mountainous terrain.The weather was often extreme. The Twin Otters was scarcely equipped, there was no autopilots, weather radars or ground proximity warning systems. The ground equipment on the STOL ports were equally basic with non precision approaches and basic lightning. All this prepared us well for the Nepal STOL mission. When ICAO contacted Widerøe and asked if any pilots would be interested in flying the UN plane in Nepal, they clearly stated that this was due to De Havilland’s recommendation.
As I have written about the What, Why, How and When´s and my views on Airmanship, I will now turn over to the practical and maybe ultimate sample of what this is all about. I will write about our STOL mission in Nepal in the mid-eighties where we flew on some of the most critical airports in the World. I use the word critical instead of dangerous as I truly believe that all these airports can be operated on within acceptable safety criteria. I do not subscribe to such terms as “The Most Dangerous Airport” in the World, etc. this is often credited Lukla, also known as Tenzing Hillary Airport. There is no doubt that Lukla and other airports in Nepal are some of the most critical airports in the World. After all it is unusual that most of the flying is done with the terrain above you instead of below you. In such a critical environment we rated the airports in 3 categories: A – B- C. A was the “easiest” ones, while C the most critical. Note that all the mountain airports where STOL ports, i.e. Short Take Off and Landing fields, which demanded precision flying. The proverb: “Any runway gets to short if you land in the wrong end!” has a special and significant meaning there.
I apologize for not having blogged for a while. Thank you to the many positive comments. The NEPAL STOL Mission video is soon available in DVD format. I will focus on text to that extent as it will explain what airmanship is in real life. I will write info on each airport in the video including the various challenges we had when operating them. The operations where on the edge of what can be done in flight, but with the right knowledge, attitude, skills it can be done with acceptable safety margins. So fasten your seat belts and I´ll tell where, when, why and how
This is so sad, another accident is just reported with 2 casualties, the captain and copilot were both killed while the passengers survived.
This is just 2 days after a fatal accident where all the 23 people onboard were killed. There are many why´s which needs to be answered.
Again there has been a fatal accident in my beloved Nepal. It is way too early to speculate in what has happened. It is however fair to say that there has been too many accidents in Nepal over the years. Again it is time to ask if some of these accidents could have been avoided. I believe the answer is yes. However it does not help to point a one solution finger at anyone. What is needed is a thorough analysis of the accidents to find if there are some common grounds between them or some of them. One could of course point at the physical environment, the terrain and weather shifts, but that is well known and can be handled safe with proper adherence to obvious limitations. I know as I flew there for more than 3 years in the mid eighties.
There is a reason why the domestic airliners in Nepal are blacklisted in Europe. The question is why isn´t anybody do something about it? I have told my children not to fly with the domestic airlines as the statistics indicates it is dangerous. As the wise man says: “A man who know how will most often succeed. A man who know why will always succeed. It is time to ask why, get the answers and then to do something about it. It´s that simple and that difficult!
To master the “basic” skill of Stick and Rudder Control is the foundation of learning to operate the aircraft. Learning these physical skills is done through the following 3 stages:
- Raw coordination
- Fine coordination
- Automation (acting sub conscientious).
This is well known as it is the same stages as we are going through when learning to drive a bike or a car. With practice and experience, we just act right in a situation without thinking about it.
The above is academically known as psychomotor learning which is the relationship between cognitive functions and physical movement. Psychomotor learning is demonstrated by physical skills such as movement, coordination, manipulation, dexterity, grace, strength, speed; actions which demonstrate the fine motor skills such as use of precision instruments or tools.
Behavioral examples include driving a car, throwing a ball, and playing a musical instrument. In psychomotor learning research, attention is given to the learning of coordinated activity involving the arms, hands, fingers, and feet, while verbal processes are not emphasized.
Stages of psychomotor development:
When learning psychomotor skills, individuals progress through the cognitive stages, the associative stage, and the autonomic stage. The cognitive stage is marked by awkward slow and choppy movements that the learner tries to control. The learner has to think about each movement before attempting it. In the associative stage, the learner spends less time thinking about every detail, however, the movements are still not a permanent part of the brain. In the autonomic stage, the learner can refine the skill through practice, but no longer needs to think about the movement.
When learning it is of vital importance that it is done right from the beginning. It is hence of vital importance that one don´t rush and accept wrong behavior in the learning process. For instance, when one learns straight and level flight one must look for proper understanding and behavior, i.e. how deviations from height or heading is corrected, rather than emphasize on the desired limitations.
Remember the definition of straight and level flight: “Straight and level flight is a continuous series of corrections of deviations from desired level and heading.”
Insisting on the desired limitations of heading and altitude deviations, rather than proper technique to correct the deviations might lead to wrong behavior. The well known “”Chinese Flying”, also know as “Wun Wing Lo(w)” might be the result. It is to use a light rudder pressure to maintain the heading, which leads to a low wing and hence the aircraft are not straight. If that is accepted, you have to de-learn and re-learn the proper behavior from the start. Remember that “The Shortcut is Longer!”
What is of vital importance when learning the basic maneuvering skills is to feel the aircraft and the controls. One should emphasize that the stick and rudders are controlled with light pressures rather than movements of hands and feet. The student is might be “stiffening” using the muscles to such an extent that there is no feeling only movements of the controls.
Airmanship is the Ability to Fulfill the Objectives of the Flight. This definition came to my mind after the previous blog.
In Commercial aviation the objectives are prioritized as mentioned: 1. Safety, 2. On time, 3. Onboard Service. As mentioned this is the priority of most commercial airlines. Other civil transport might change the priority order of 2 and 3.
In military aviation in a war the priority might be as above or it might be as follows: To Succeed in the Mission (1), In the safest way possible (2).
The various flying activities and their purposes are different and hence the priorities are different. For instance, civil public transport of persons, versus a military mission in a war. In civil public transport safety is the first priority, thereafter other priorities like being on time and customers comfort. This priority ranking is written in most airline manuals. In a war the mission objective might be more important than the pilot´s safety. The Japanese Kamikaze missions during World War 2 is a grotesque sample of that. But it is fair to say that many military deployments are base on the “Mission first” priority. This is as it is, and hence acceptable.
But is this acceptable and necessary in sport or leisure aviation? I have seen deliberate risk taking of Kamikaze proportions. People have died before they were properly airborne or they have fallen from the sky separated from the aircraft or still in it when it was no longer airworthy. This has of course not been deliberate but rather a consequence of ignorance, mostly due too lack of understanding the risk involved or simply a mistake is done. This also happens due to deliberately ignoring the operational limitations, flying an un-airworthy aircraft, lack of emergency equipment or lack of skill and/or will. I have discussed this in 2 previous blogs:
The Safety Goals: “Zero” or “As Low as Reasonable Practicable”?
Taking a Risk, is that a human right?
Airmanship in the above context could be defined as follows: Airmanship is the ability to fulfill the objectives of the flight. If these objectives are clear, in prioritized order and promulgated we have a good foundation on how Good Airmanship is to be advocated and performed in the various Aviation segments.
As mentioned in Civil Commercial Aviation it would be:
1. Safety, 2. On Time, 3. Other customer services (comfort, food, drinks, etc.).
Note in a private or executive flight comfort could be number 2 and On Time number 3. In sport aviation there are risk takers who justify their dangerous behavior by claiming they are focusing on the experience and not so much on the risk. They would advocate that it is their life at stage and hence nobody´s business but their own. Is it so? I don´t think so as discussed in the previous blog article “Taking a Risk, is that a human right?”