The Birth of CRM?

I’ve just finished reading “The Wright Brothers”, a definitive study of the aviation pioneers by David McCullough. Very appropriate too, with man’s first self sustained flight on 17th December 1903 being remembered soon.

Its a great read with vast reference material, illuminating the brothers’ relationships with their siblings and parents, taking you from their childhood through to Orville’s death in 1948.

One aspect, which fascinated me, was their intense attention to detail. Nothing was left to chance and every aspect of their work was carefully studied, crafted, tested and rebuilt. At an early stage they realised that the figures and formulas they’ve used from the Smithsonian and revered aeronautical fundis of the time like Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute were pure speculation and simply wrong, so they worked out their own. In fact they built their own wind tunnel to test and verify their wing designs.

This research took years – trekking between their home in Dayton, Ohio to the windswept Outer Banks of North Carolina, first with gliders and finally with the engine built to their specs by Charlie Taylor.

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Crumpled glider, wrecked by the wind, 10th October 1900.

The brothers had a number of close shaves – one could hardly expect every new attempt at achieving what many believed was the delusional dream of a few madmen to go off without any problems.

But throughout their persistent experimenting, they remained patient and constantly erred on the conservative side.

In fact – it struck me that, although unbeknownst to them, they were adhering to the basic tenets of CRM:
1. Plan and Operate (Prevent and Avoid).
2. Detect and Correct (Monitor and Challenge).
3. React and Recover (Mitigate the Consequences).

While Wilbur was in France to demonstrate the “Flyer” (with great success), he received a letter from his father, the Bishop Milton Wright, urging him to “avoid all unnecessary personal risk”. At the same time Wilbur wrote to Orville, who was then about to demonstrate the “Flyer” to the US military at Fort Myer, Virginia:

“I tell them plainly that I intend for the present to experiment only under the most favorable conditions…I advise you most earnestly to stick to calms, till after you are sure of yourself. Don’t go out even for all the officers of the government unless you would go equally if they were absent. Do not let yourself be forced into doing anything before you are ready. Be very cautious and proceed slowly in attempting flights in the middle of the day when wind gusts are frequent…Do not let people talk to you all day and all night. It will wear you out, before you are ready for real business. Courtesy has limits. If necessary appoint some hour in the daytime and refuse absolutely to receive visitors even for a minute at other times. Do not receive anyone after 8 o’clock at night”.

He then discussed some technical details about the rudder, concluding with:

“I can only say be extraordinarily cautious”.

Here was an aviator who understood the danger of weather conditions, the threat of external pressure and distraction, as well as the disabling power of fatigue.

Apparently Orville heeded his brother’s advice and the first two weeks of the demonstration flights went off well. But on the 17th September 1908 a blade of the right hand prop cracked and broke off, vibrating enough to break a stay wire which had supported the rear rudder system. This rendered the aircraft uncontrollable and Orville crashed. He was severely injured and his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge became the first fatality of powered flight.

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The wreck of Orville’s crashed aircraft at Fort Myer.

Wilbur was at his shed at Camp d’Auvoirs, Le Mans on the 18th September when he received the news of Orville’s crash. This led to another profound CRM statement:

“Now you understand why I always felt that I should be in America with Orville. Two heads are better than one to examine the machine”.

Erring on the side of caution was one of the Wright Brothers’ enduring qualities. They understood that risk was inevitable once one decided to become airborne – but they believed in well calculated risks.

With 2016 about to become history, perhaps it is time to once again reflect on how far we’ve come since the dawn of powered flight at Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk. I certainly do when I cruise in air conditioned comfort at high altitudes and Mach numbers.

Perhaps it is also time to realise that we disregard many of the lessons learnt by those pioneers of flight at our own peril. Rather let us take a leaf out of the Wright’s book and “be extraordinarily cautious”.

Here’s wishing everyone bon voyage and safe flights in 2017!

 

 

 

 

 

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“Captain”

“It’s a heavy professional burden on the Captain to know he may be called upon to tap into the depths of his experience, the breadth of his knowledge and his ability to think quickly; weighing everything he knows, while accounting for what he cannot know”. – Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

My work as a Human Factors instructor consists mostly of presenting CRM Initial and Refresher Courses, fitting these in-between flying a full roster as a line pilot. Every now and again however, there is an opportunity to run a Command Upgrade CRM Course for First Officers.

Such was the case again last week, when I did the introductory day for a group of young Kenyan F/O’s and it once again reminded me of the major mindset change required when moving from the right seat to the left seat.

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Six KQ FO’s discovering their behaviour profiles in the Command Upgrade CRM class.

Distance wise it may be a move of less than a metre, but it represents a major change in responsibility.

As Captain Richard Phillips put it: “The Captain is responsible for the crew, the ship and everything on it. Period.” (Richard Phillips was the Captain of the Maersk Alabama, when it was hi-jacked by Somali pirates).

In simple terms, ICAO defines the PIC (Pilot in Command) as “The pilot responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time”. That responsibility covers vast areas of legal authority, essentially ensuring that the Captain’s authority overrides almost any other while the aircraft is in motion.

The applicable law may differ slightly from country to country, but in essence it states that the PIC is responsible for:

The operation and safety of the aircraft while he or she is in command;
The conduct and safety of flight crew members and passengers carried, and
The maintenance of discipline by all persons on board.

The PIC furthermore has the authority:

To give such commands he or she deems necessary in the interest of the safety of the aircraft, persons or property, and
To disembark any person or cargo, which in his or her opinion represents a potential hazard to the safety of the aircraft, persons or property.

In short, the buck stops here.

Captain Al Haynes, the hero of United 232 said that as a pilot you can never be ready, but you can be prepared (for any eventuality). And every flight is different, despite the general perception that routine flights become boring and, well, routine.

Flying is like playing the piano: Sometimes you get to sight read a simple Three Blind Mice, other times you have to find your way through sight reading a Bach Toccata and Fugue.

Or as a wise old Captain once said, it’s like playing bridge – you always play with the same 52 cards, but you are dealt a different hand every time.

Then you also fly different aircraft on different routes with different crews – and as any pianist will tell you, different pianos are different to play, requiring some adapting.

But there is a limit to how far you can and should adapt as PIC. You may experience intense pressure from line engineers, management, fellow crews and passengers to accept an aircraft, avoid a delay or push out at all costs. Yet at all times you have to balance that pressure with those imperatives of the law, which gives you the authority as Captain.

Sully Sullenberger put it sagely – as Captain you have the power of the park brake – that aircraft goes nowhere until you decide to release the brake.

As an interesting aside, the term “Captain” for the PIC is attributed to Juan Trippe, founder of Pan Am – he apparently decided that his flying boats deserved “Captains” as on ships. (The flying boats were also where the Pan Am call-sign “Clipper” had originated). Thus the First Pilot became the Captain and the co-pilot became the First Officer. To compete with ocean liners of the day, Pan Am offered first-class seats on their flights, and flight crews’ style became more formal. Instead of being leather-jacketed, silk-scarved airmail pilots, the crews of the “Clippers” wore naval-style uniforms and adopted a set procession when boarding the aircraft – hence our still wearing blue pants and white shirts on the flight deck today.

But in the final analysis, the title of Captain would mean absolutely nothing if the pilot wearing those four bars is not willing, capable and able to accept the authority and massive responsibility that comes with the territory.