The act of writing, even after a few decades of writing this column, still does not come naturally to me.
Sometimes the struggle is finding a topic. Other times it is finding the right words. Sometimes it’s both.
So when I read Discovery flight goes awry, I felt both a kinship with the author and a desire to edify.
In this NASA ASRS report, the author, a CFI, reports why the plane departed the runway upon landing. The passenger had a foot on the left rudder pedal, pressing on the brake, as the aircraft landed.
This, despite the CFI writing they briefed the passenger “before and during the flight” to keep “his feet on the ground during takeoff and landing so as to not touch the brakes.”
When I originally read that line, I pictured Fred Flintstone with his feet sticking out of the bottom of the car, literally “on the ground” as opposed to the floor of the aircraft’s cockpit (and yes I know the FAA wants me to use term flight deck).
That said, it’s not hard to understand what the instructor meant.
Incorrect words aside, I believe this report, like so many, is a good example of why the NASA ASRS system exists. This report represents an opportunity to refine both our aeronautical knowledge and our grammar.
“Before and during the flight, I briefed the person on various safety procedures, including the three-way exchange of controls and keeping his feet on the ground during takeoff and landing so as to not touch the brakes.”
I can’t help but wonder if the passenger truly understood where the brakes were and how they operated.
Commenter Timothy takes the report to heart in the spirit it was written: “The OP’s [original poster] story is good guidance for ANY pilot who ever takes any non-pilot on any flight. You just don’t know what you don’t know…or what your passengers don’t know. The passenger doesn’t know, either. Many of us have seen an unexpected reaction from a passenger or two… usually just amusing, but thanks for the reminder that the next time it could be more serious.”
Maybe the passenger, at the time of the briefing, understood what the rudder pedals do, but in the excitement of the flight, forgot. Or maybe they didn’t understand after all. Of maybe the landing was not as smooth as the passenger would’ve hoped or wanted and reacted by “bracing for impact.”
Commenter Ace takes the learning a step further: “I thank him for reminding me of the importance of reminding passengers in the front seat not to touch the controls, including the pedals on the floor. The passengers could be completely unaware of the pedals on the floor. Many passengers display a heightened anxiety as the plane approaches the runway and the actual speed over the ground becomes very apparent.”
It is also possible the passenger believed their feet were on the floor as their heels were likely touching the floor. Perhaps the instructor should’ve asked the passenger to put their feet flat on the floor.
Commenter Avflyer puts the blame for the incident on the passenger. “I used to give scenic flights and often found the front seat passenger putting his/her feet on the rudder pedals after telling them not to touch anything.”
Again, I understand what Avflyer means. In so many words, don’t touch the flight controls.
Technically, however, it is not possible to be a passenger in an airplane and not “touch anything.” My butt, back, and legs are touching the seat. My hips, shoulder, and torso are touching the seat belt, my arm is likely touching the door or window and, if the cockpit is cozy enough, the pilot. Plenty of touching going on.
Meanwhile, rwyerosk simply states, “NO BREAKS” while in the landing phase of flight. Passengers on rwyerosk’s flights will enjoy their break after they land if they keep their feet off the brakes. Unless the plane has a hand brake.
The English language is tough.
I’m not highlighting these writers to embarrass, but to edify.
Perhaps Matthew Starr has a better explanation. In his column The pilots air traffic controllers love, Matthew also discusses the “pilots we could live without.” First among them is “The Sloppy Pilot.”
“The problem with this pilot is that nine times out of 10 everything works out fine. It’s no big deal. They sound cool and loose on the frequency, like a modern day cowboy: “Hey there Centennial Tower, 4AM coming in hot from the northwest, looking for some touch and goes before I fly back home.””
We’re all prone to sloppiness or mistakes from time to time. My hope is we all learn from wide-ranging and seemingly unrelated events. Possessing that humility is a good way to keep on our feet on the ground.