The dangers of multi crew to inexperienced pilots

You might not think it, but there is an inherent risk in having more than one pilot in a single pilot capable aircraft. The ‘crew’ can become in danger of group think, as well as a false sense of confidence due to the presence of the other pilot; this is especially so if there is a cockpit gradient or assumed capability, skill or endorsement on behalf of the other pilot.

pilot

You fly it! – Wait, what? 

Rob and I had flown together quite a few times, mostly during aerobatics and formation, and we both had a lot of fun.  We had respect for each other’s experience, limitations and attitudes. So I was a little unsure why he had invited me to fly with him to Sydney the following week – he had his fair share of cross country flying experience, so I pressed him for more information.  Rob said that “I really have to get to Sydney for business reasons, and I thought that if we hit bad weather then you can just take over and fly IFR into there.”  Of course, I should help out my friends, and I love to keep them safe, so I refused.  

Why did I refuse to help him out? 

First of all, I wasn’t terribly current at flying IFR. Secondly, I wasn’t very familiar with Sydney airspace. Thirdly, I had never flown his aircraft before – nor anything remotely like it. In fact I knew nothing about it’s performance nor instrument fit out.  Lastly, Rob REALLY needed to get there – which even by itself, was a huge PRESS-ON-ITUS ingredient. 

“Rob, if you are pressured to get there, then jump on an airliner. You should never feel that an Instrument Rating is guaranteed to get you to your destination.”  I also went on to explain that he should never invite experience into his cockpit, and then press into areas of flight that he wasn’t confident in, nor expect the other guy to get you out of trouble.  It was a recipe for disaster. 

Thankfully he saw my point, and he agreed. 

Let’s go flying… 

Fast forward two months later, and Rob arrived at my local airfield so that we could set off to a fly in event just over the border. The weather wasn’t terrific, but we safely executed a few dog legs enroute to remain VFR, until 20 miles before our destination it was obvious that we couldn’t make it.  We agreed to divert and we turned around and headed to land at a nearby airfield for the night as we started running out of daylight.  The aircraft was tied down, we headed into town, and organised two rooms for the night. The next day was going to be perfect weather, so we settled down for Dinner. 

“You know Mike, said Rob, “If you didn’t come with me today, then I wouldn’t have even set off on this flight.” 

I almost spat my first sip of beer across the room, as I asked “What?” 

He repeated his comment, and he added that the weather was outside of his comfort zone, and that he only continued because I was in the right hand seat, and that he felt safe with me there. 

“Don’t you remember me telling you that you should never let the other pilot influence you?” 

Rob shook his head and insisted “Yeah, I do – and you didn’t say anything!” 

But Rob was influenced by my presence and my experience, and he allowed himself to push himself into continuing a flight that he wasn’t happy to do alone. 

Be the Captain – even without the fancy epaulettes… 

young pilot

Even if you are just a student, then you must be ‘The Captain’.  Fly within your limits, assess the flight and conditions, and make your own decisions once you have evaluated your options.  If your instructor disagrees, then of course do what she says, and learn about her reasons in the post-flight debrief.  But your instructor wants you to make decisions, so that they can assess your Captaincy, and prepare you for your next lesson or test. 

If you are an experienced pilot, then by all means do include your fellow pilot to help you inflight. Ask them to keep a good lookout, select radio frequencies, help your Situational Awareness, scan the engine instruments, serve you coffee or remind you about fuel states. Collect the information as required, make decisions, and be the Captain.  But do not automatically feel safer just because they are strapped into the seat next to you – even if they are an instructor or a crusty old international airline pilot. They may in fact be in awe of your aircraft and handling skills – so keep professional and be all that you can be…

Summary

Just because you can fly with someone more experienced with you, does not mean you should rely on them. Always fly within your comfort zone, use the appropriate tools and protective equipment, and base your decision making as if you were flying alone or would suddenly have to fly alone (i.e. if the other pilot became incapacitated). This is one of the hallmarks of good captaincy and sound airmanship. This is also one of the biggest lessons many young pilots learn on their first couple of low hour flying jobs.

My bottom line – If you do not have an IFR rating and commensurate experience, do not go flying in IFR conditions unless you are specifically conducting IFR training with a certified flying instructor

Pro Aviation Tips

Jorgo

Michael Jorgensen is a specialist formation instructor and Australia's premier air to air formation action photographer, based in Sydney, Australia. Jorgo has a wealth of experience, stemming from his career as a military fast jet pilot, and heavy air-to-air refuelling tanker pilot flying for both the New Zealand and British Air Forces. Find out more

Jorgo has 10 posts and counting. See all posts by Jorgo

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2 thoughts on “The dangers of multi crew to inexperienced pilots

  1. After reading this article, I get impression that only Certified instructors should fly aeroplanes… and probably grade 1 only because g2 and 3’s are not good enough 🙂

    1. haha, said with tongue-in-cheek I hope. I guess most of us start out with a bag of luck and a bag of experience, and we try to fill our bag of experience before the luck runs out. Personally, I have been caught afoul of being swayed by other pilots when I was inexperienced, even leading to an almost fuel exhaustion event. That’s not to say instructors are immune – complacency and even over confidence can affect us all and is especially true for instructors

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