Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Last we talked about ‘speed = security’ and ‘altitude = life insurance’, so this week, a little foray into ‘slow flight’ seems appropriate!

When learning to fly you are ‘obliged under the syllabus’ to ‘experience slow flight’ – normally we look to do at least three, ten minute slots of slow flight before the student is allowed to solo. Extra time is spent in this phase, usually ‘hidden away’ in another exercise, if the student needs it, until the student gains understanding and is suitably safe. Slow flight is the place you DO NOT want to be. The controls get ‘soft’ and ‘unresponsive’; the aircraft feels ‘lethargic’ and you are dangerously close to the stall. The stall is when the wing stops flying (because the speed of the air over the wing no longer generates lift as the air breaks away instead of flowing smoothly)… and you start descending – pretty fast if you do not do something about it! The idea of gaining some ‘flight experience’ in the ‘slow flight envelope’ is to make the student aware of the dangers, and to ensure that they really do not want to ‘go-slow’ in the air ever again! Most importantly, is that they learn to sense the warning signs, the change of feel and response that precedes a potential incident that can range from ‘mildly uncomfortable’ to ‘deadly’. Stalls are a major component of the accident statistics every year.

Slow flight is, of course, key to the ‘landing phase’ of flying. It is carried out remarkably close to the ground and in such a way that, when the wing stops flying the wheels touch the ground! I am recorded as saying ‘I never teach people to land a plane, only to fly a plane – the plane will land itself if you fly it well…’. The basis of this, is that, if you approach at a safe speed and bleed off the speed close to the ground, the aircraft will simply touch at the slowest possible speed – and it feels good! Although slow flight ‘away from the ground carries dangers, on displays, I can be seen to climb the CH701 at the edge of the slow flight envelope, often giving the impression of ‘ascendance’ rather than climbing – it is a deliberate and conscious moment, not taken lightly! Flight operation below the normal operations ‘safety speed’ is dangerous – but must be understood, and respected! Display pilots operate at the edges of the flight envelope, to show that it can be done, but normal operations should not even be near the seams of the designated limits of operations.

Sadly, in the bureaucratic world, around the world, there is little understanding of the damage done by ‘administrative slow flight’. Delayed responses – or often ‘non-responses’ to letters leads to frustration, and in many cases abandonment of projects. Perhaps every pen-pusher who sits too comfortably behind their desks should be ‘encouraged’ to try a lesson or two in a small plane, and to witness first-hand the dangers of slow or non-response, especially in the slow flight corner!

Just imagine, that the consequences of delays, ‘shelving’ and ‘filing in the round filing cabinet that sits under the desk’ could be made to create some warning signals? How about a stall warning buzzer on the desk? Or a stick-shaker attached to the desk leg – creating the effect of a mini-earthquake should unnecessary delays abound upon the horizontal working surface!?

Imagine, just for a moment, that, if all the ‘below safety speed of working’ folks got into the elevator, that the machine stalled and plummeted towards the ground floor unless they quickly responded and addressed all their ‘delays’ and ‘slowness’!

Imagine that. Now, stop laughing – because I am sure that you have been guilty of ‘slow flying’ a response or project… so you too could find yourself with a buzzing, shaking desk with a desire to descend to the ground floor post-haste!

I am left wondering whether the ‘slow-pen’ operators are just like display pilots, they are ‘demonstrating their ability to operate at the bottom end of the performance envelope’, just because they can? If, as I suspect it is, the ‘go-slow-bureaucracy’ is a demonstration of ‘strength’ and ‘skill’, then we need to look at the other end of the flight envelope demonstrated at air shows around the world.

After the ‘slow-pass’, hanging the plane off the stall, the aircraft returns to normal speed, climbs, turns and then does a ‘high-speed-pass’ - the one that feels as if it is pulling the hair off the heads of the spectators as it zooms past them and climbs towards the stratosphere! Wouldn’t it be nice to see some more of that from the ‘desks of lethargy’!

There are some excellent cases of change, one of which is the DVLA. The difference today to years gone by is as impressive as the high speed pass. I remember renewing my driving licence; less than 20minutes. Done. Easy. Amazing and confidence building.

Sadly, I know of other organisations that take months to handle a renewal, even after taking substantial renewal fees. This is not just limited to government institutions – so beware – your organisation may be languishing in the ‘slow-flight’ corner!

My own experience of ‘slow flight’ outside of bureaucratic zones is in construction. Those who follow my Twitter feed or the Medicine on the Move blogs will know that, since the second of January this year, I have been ‘cajoling’ masons into action.

Masons, the world over, appear to be genetically enabled to drag a project on and on and on. Slow flight that puts in jeopardy the lives of those who plan to use the building! The new building at Kpong Air Field is a combination building, accommodation, training and a mini-clinic. It is a key part in our outreach to the lake-dwellers in 2012. Consequently, I am ‘anxious’ to remain in the ‘cruise or faster’, and to stay well clear of the usual ‘slow-approach’ that cement-eaters are capable of!

I must say, that I am impressed and amused at the same time. When the construction team hit a target of production they are happier, more good natured and appear to have more energy. When they arrive late, linger and delay (flying slow) they have more complaints and sullen faces. Proof positive that ‘flying in the slow zone makes you grumpy’ and that ‘speed is equal to security of employment!’

Check your ‘air speed indicator’ and ensure that all of your projects are operating in the ‘green arc’ of operations! If not, remember, slow flight kills… it really does.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

1 comment:

  1. I love your analogies - essentially comparing the kinetic and potential energy that is in an aircraft with that which is in an organization. :)