Taking the list from 10 to 1, #10 is “Improper operation of flight controls.”
It’s not difficult to imagine how this could happen…complex airspace, technically advanced aircraft, and good old-fashioned everyday distractions all could lead an unsuspecting pilot to an accident which the NTSB would classify as caused by improper operation of flight controls. Let’s look at a few examples. For each, please do click through to the NTSB report. They are very informative and provide a good opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes.
This accident was in a Cessna 172, in 2012, and the NTSB ruled that the probable cause of the accident was “the pilot’s failure to remove the flight control lock before takeoff”. The pilot also admitted to not using the preflight checklist, so this accident could also be classified in the “Inadequate preflight preparation and planning” category, but the end result of this accident was not using the controls properly. Pretty tough to do when the control lock is still firmly planted in the wheel.
The takeaway: use the preflight checklist and don’t skip items!
Taking someone up for their first flight in an airplane is always exciting. It’s also easy to take many things for granted and forget what it is like to enter the aviation world for the first time. There are lots of new sights, sounds, and smells to take in. It can be overwhelming just to be at a small airport for the first time. In this particular case, the pilot took for granted that the passenger would know how to act in the airplane during flight. The checklist item for “passenger brief” (which should be a part of every preflight check), is important, especially when presented with a person who has never been in an airplane before. What is the passenger allowed to touch? Can they press the button on the wheel? Can they pull back on the red lever if they feel nervous? Or…can they use those pedals as a footrest? The NTSB ruled that the probable cause of this accident was “the passenger’s interference with the flight controls during the initial climb, which resulted in a loss of control and impact with terrain”. Both in the airplane are very lucky to have survived this accident, and it could have totally been avoided.
The takeaway: always review proper procedures to anyone entering the aircraft with you.
Distractions can be very costly in flight. A critical time where distractions can be most destructive though occur during the landing phase of flight. In this report, the NTSB rules that the cause of the accident was “the pilot’s improper flare and recovery from a bounced landing” This doesn’t quite paint the whole picture though. If you read the report, you will find that the pilot was distracted by an insect that hit the windshield, followed by a gust of wind, overcompensation on the controls, and a premature touchdown causing a bounce. Remember the old aviation adage: AVIATE – NAVIGATE – COMMUNICATE The first word in that list “AVIATE” conveys the idea that flying the airplane is of utmost importance. The airplane cannot, and must not, be left to its own devices. We are called “Pilot in Command” for a reason. As my grandfather used to drill into my head “FLY THE AIRPLANE”
The takeaway: Fly the airplane
Next time, #9 in the list of top 10 Accident Cause Factors.