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Sat, Jun 17, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (06.17.06): Personal Minimums Epiphany

Aero-Tips!

A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of "there are no old, bold pilots.") It's part of what makes aviation so exciting for all of us... just when you think you've seen it all, along comes a scenario you've never imagined.

Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner, master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us -- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators, and as representatives of the flying community. Some of them, you may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we might never have considered before, or something that didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for the practical test.

It is our unabashed goal that "Aero-Tips" will help our readers become better, safer pilots -- as well as introducing our ground-bound readers to the concepts and principles that keep those strange aluminum-and-composite contraptions in the air... and allow them to soar magnificently through it.

Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you through the Aero-News Network. Suggestions for future Aero-Tips are always welcome, as are additions or discussion of each day's tips. Remember... when it comes to being better pilots, we're all in this together.

Aero-Tips 06.17.06

I was instructing an instrument student in a high performance, single-engine airplane. His primary attitude indicator was covered to simulate partial-panel flight; he was "under the hood" sweating out a partial-panel, hand-flown Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach.

My student is very demanding of himself (a good trait in a pilot), and probably felt he was doing much worse than he actually was, bobbing and weaving left and right, up and down on the approach -- but still well within IFR standards. It was then that I had a "personal minimums epiphany"... looking at a common risk management tool in an entirely different light.

Personal minimums

Instrument pilots are frequently told to establish personal minimums, self-imposed limits (above the lowest legal IFR weather and operations) they should adhere to, to compensate for less frequent flight, unfamiliarity with the aircraft or location, and other factors. This is great advice—but pilots (and instructors) provide little guidance as to how to establish personal minimums.

Linguistics note: Although I actually prefer the more correct term "minima", use of the colloquial "minimums" is so common in this context that I use it here.

Watching my student fly a good partial panel approach (but not nearly as precise as his full-panel flying) it occurred to me that we should base personal minimums not on our ability to fly with everything working, but instead we ought to base personal minimums on our current ability to fly a partial-panel instrument approach.

Ask yourself honestly: what are the lowest weather conditions can you safely and comfortably hand-fly with an electrical failure, a failure of the airplane's vacuum/instrument air system (if the airplane is so equipped) or a failure of the primary attitude instrument itself? My epiphany was that likely failure modes, not everything's-working flight, should determine personal minimums.

Aero-tip of the day: When establishing personal minimums, consider your ability to fly partial panel in any given environmental conditions.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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