Monday, June 30, 2014

June 30th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Today the year is roughly at its mid-point. It reminds me of the question 'Is your glass half-empty or half-full?'. Traditionally, we propose that those who say 'half-empty' are the pessimists, and that those who say 'half-full' are the optimists. It is all about how we see 'our lot'.

Imagine you are in an aircraft with half-full, or half-empty, tanks of fuel. How would you see it? Would it be 'time to turn back'? or would it be 'time to plan how much further you can go'?

I often tell people 'I will go in any direction, as long it is forwards'. I have also been heard to say 'Don't look back, because that is not where we are going'. It is always good to have a balanced outlook, with an awareness of where we have come from, and an ambition to reach our destination. Sadly, most of us lack the means to get where we want to go in the shortest possible time. That does not mean 'give up', it means 'change your outlook'.

Let us return to the glass. This is how I see it.

Whether my glass is half-full, quarter-full, or just got a few drops in it, I am thankful for what I have, rather than what is lacking.

When I only have a glass, without any contents, I am thrilled to own a glass - for it is a start.

When I have a broken glass, I am able to collect the shards and melt them to make some wonderful glass beads (I live in Krobo-land, after all!).

When I do not have a glass, I am fortunate not to have wash it. (but I look forward to getting one if I can!)

You see, it is all about perception. You determine your state of mind. You determine your positive outlook, and that makes you a pleasant person to be around - or a negative one, if you want to self-destruct and wallow in self-pity...

Eleanor Roosevelt, a First Lady of the USA, stated that 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent'. In other words, YOU determine your state of mind, not what others say about you. You determine your mental position, and you are able to ignore what others say, it is your choice.

Our future really is our choice. Not what we own, not what we do, but who we are, how we feel, and our personal happiness, and success, is simply a state of mind away.

Being a pilot, such a state of mind is essential. We all have moments when things 'go wrong' or at least look that way! It is normal, we fly machines! On a recent flight with a young person on their first flying lesson, the oil pressure gauge suddenly deflected well past normal - into the red zone. There are four possible reasons for this to happen.

1. Oil pressure has gone crazy-high. Something is seriously wrong with the engine, and it could stop any moment.

2. The gauge is faulty and misreading.

3. The sensor has failed and is mis-sending.

4. A wiring problem has occurred (a broken wire or a connector issue).

We were at two thousand feet, and could not simply pop outside to take a look at the wiring and sensor. We did tap the gauge - but to no avail. So, we had no idea about the exact reason. The most probable reasons were 'a broken wire' or the sensor connector had come loose, or corrosion had stopped the signal coming along. Oil temperature was stable, so it was probably NOT an engine problem, but all the same action had to be taken. So, it comes to a decision point 'continue and ignore the signs', or 'land at the earliest possibility'. With either choice, caution has to be maintained, in case the issue is related to engine function, and if it is, the propeller could stop spinning at any time, so a route to enable an emergency landing, if needed, must be maintained.

Since 'there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots', it was time to cut the lesson short and head back to the airfield. The student and I had a discussion, and although we both felt that it was 'nothing to worry about', it was prudent to land and find the cause of the problem.

At that point, one's state of mind can enter into 'panic' or, by choice, 'remain calm'. Panic would only create a problem. Panic or over-worry only detracts from your performance. Being aware of the risks, and remaining calm, flying with every bit of your training at your fingertips, is the key to getting back on the ground safely.

I explained that we would take a 'steeper angle of approach than usual', going on to give the reason 'just in case the engine does decide to quit, which I doubt, but we have a warning signal on the panel'.

As I pulled the power back the gauge flicked to normal, and then went back to a full-deflection into the 'red zone'. We were less than five hundred feet off of the ground, and my ears were fully tuned to the engine noises, but from now on, I would not look at the gauge. If the engine were to quit, I would need to do nothing more than I have done on every flight, 'fly the plane'. With or without the engine, I must simply remain in control, making the right decision every second.

The engine continued to purr, and we landed without incident. Post flight inspection found that the connection to the sensor had corroded, and broken down, just behind the spade, within the heat-shrink. Ten minutes later a new connection was made, the log-book entries made, and the aircraft ready for flight. The 'issue' was one of 'communication'. The sensor was unable to get its signal to the gauge because of a broken wire. The little 'flick' of the sensor on approach was probably due to vibrations, on engine power change, that made a momentary connection.

The successful landing could have turned into a drama, if we had not remained calm and looked on the positive side of our situation, being ready to deal with an emergency if it happened, but remaining focused, and in control, flying with what we had. Yes, it brought its moments of added 'concern', but at no point did we let the concern get in the way of our moving forward and taking the right decisions. Focusing on the 'gauge' would have meant not looking out of the cockpit... which would have led to a disaster!

Life really is just like flying a plane. You must learn to read the signs, and to accept that sometimes, generally through lack of communication, the wrong signals - or no signals - get sent, and you must not become focused on those issues, but you must always 'look ahead', 'fly your plane', 'move forwards', and be ready to make every landing a smooth one.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

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