Are you an “expert”? Does your airline train you as an expert?


Are you an “expert”?  Do you think that the industry, the public and regulatory agencies expect you to be an “expert”?  Are you being provided the tools you need to become an “expert”?  Do you need to be an expert?

I have been a bit busy of late crunching numbers and researching some aspects from some closed accident and incident investigations, but thought it time for a short post regarding flight training.  I have been reading a book by Dr. Robert Hoffman et al (2013) that discusses how to obtain expertise as quickly as possible.  The study’s impetus came from a tasking from the Defense Science and Technology Advisory Group, which was looking for ways to ensure top levels of expertise in various military personnel.  Much of the focus lends itself very well to the job of pilots.

We see automation errors that are a direct result of the pilot not fully understanding the automation, how it interacts with other systems and how to predict what it will do next.  I will save more for a future article, but thought that the following might be of interest.  These are guidelines for effective instruction towards the creation of someone who will be an “expert”.  It would seem to follow that if someone is already an “expert” in the field, that if they are learning a new, but related skill (such as a new aircraft type), that these would be the minimum that should be accomplished (p. 31):

  1. Learning activities must provide multiple representations of content;
  2. Instructional materials should avoid oversimplifying the content domain and support context-dependent knowledge;
  3. Instruction should be case-based and emphasize knowledge construction, and not just the transmission of information;
  4. Knowledge sources should be highly interconnected rather that compartmentalized.

Do you feel your training has met these minimum standards?  Would it make a difference if it did?


Hoffman, R. R., Ward, P., Feltovich, P. J., DiBello, L., Fiore, S. M., & Andrews, D. H. (2013). Accelerated Learning: Training for High Proficiency in a Complex World. Psychology Press.

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What is of interest

For those interested, I often post articles I come across that are pertinent to my Jet Safety Facebook site:

These include items I have written as well as articles I have come across that are of interest to flight safety.

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Video of a Downburst

By Captain Shem Malmquist

In a previous article I discussed the need to tilt the radar higher when in the terminal environment in order to be able to paint the area of the storm where the threat is present.

Today, courtesy of the Memphis ARTCC Center Weather Service Unit, an excellent visual of the situation was presented.  Here is their description of the event:

“This cell was at the end of a long line of thunderstorms that reached all the way to eastern Kentucky. It developed just south of the Mississippi/Tennessee stateline in northern DeSoto County. The resulting outflow boundary caused a wind shift at MEM, forcing the control tower to change the landing and takeoff direction at the airport. This is just one of many ways that CWSU Meteorologists keep aviation customers safe from hazardous weather. (Images courtesy of GR2 Analyst).”


(Click the image above to start the video).

This video starts as the downburst is already in progress, but notice that even though it already has started, the heaviest precipitation is still at almost 20,000 feet!  The bottom of the “red” is at around 10,000 feet still, but heading down fast.  If an aircraft were scanning at the typical 3,000-5,000 foot level, they would see just light rain!  Further, until that downburst gets lower and starts fanning out horizontally, there will not be anything to trigger a windshear alert from ATC or an airborne Windshear Detection System.  If a microburst alert system is installed it will trigger an alert for protected runways within the alert area.

This is why it is vital that pilots adjust the tilt upwards enough to see if there is anything up there that is about to head downhill.  How far up?  If you are within 10 miles, you will need 15 degrees to just get to 15,000 feet at the 10 mile range (note that is STILL below where that heaviest precip is at the moment this video started, and the heavy precip was likely higher a moment before).  Closer in and the radar beam will not even get that high (recall the tilt formula, 1 degree is approximately 1,000 feet at the 10 mile range, so just 500 feet at the 5 mile range).

Have autotilt?  Remember, the engineers that programmed the autotilt had no better information as to where to tilt the radar than you do.  If you depict altitudes, utilize them to view the storm at the higher levels as well.  New system without a tilt control?  It will show you areas of return “outside” of your flight path in some manner (depending on the system), such as a hashed return.  Just remember that a storm that has more water above than below is a bad situation!

Utilize ATC.  Controllers have a lot better picture of the vertical development than you do. Tilt the radar upwards and see what is there.  This is not to say that you should leave it there, but you do need to see what is heading down towards you.  If there is heavy precipitation up high and less below, there are not many scenarios that can lead to that. One is a downburst, another is virga, and the third is hail (if you can think of more, let me know!).  In any event, heavy rain up high and less below is not something that is likely smart to fly underneath!

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Kinematic Effects

kinematic image smaller

Kinematic effects has been published in the International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics and Aerospace.



The control of an aircraft relies on sensory feedback. It follows that any aspect that could create a situation where that feedback is faulty can lead to unintended outcomes. The size of very large jet aircraft can result in kinematic effects that impact the perceptions of the flight crew. Due to the large amount of inertia involved, coupled with aerodynamic factors, when the aircraft pitch (θ) is initially changed, the short term actual motion of the aircraft, as viewed from the center of gravity, remains relatively unchanged. As a consequence of aircraft design, this results in the flight deck changing relative height as a consequence of the vertical rotation while the flight path stays relatively constant. Near to the ground (when external visual cues of height are most needed), a pilot may incorrectly believe that the aircraft flight path has changed when it has not. Furthermore, in large aircraft the eye-height of the pilot when landing is quite high, and thus increases the probability that the pilot will not be aware of relatively small changes in actual aircraft height. The aircraft pitch changes and large height off the ground can result in the pilot becoming unaware of the aircraft height during landing with serious consequences. Once recognized, all of these factors can be mitigated through training and visual aids. Further research should be conducted and pilots should be trained to recognize and mitigate the kinematic issues pertinent to large transport aircraft.

“Kinematic Effects” by Shem Malmquist, Dennis A. Vincenzi Ph.D. et al.

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Can you see the biz jets?

By Captain Shem Malmquist

On Monday, April 11, 2011, an Air France A-380 was taxiing at JFK when it hit a regional jet (RJ) that was waiting for a gate.  There is video footage, and it is pretty clear from the video that the RJ was visible, had had its rotating beacon and position lights on, etc.  Watch it here:


When you are standing on the ground it is pretty easy to see an airplane in front of you. That RJ stands right out, but what is not so obvious watching that video is the perspective from the front seat of a large widebody aircraft.

There are some advantages when sitting in the cockpit of a large widebody aircraft.  The taxiways are a lot easier to discern, and it is not so easy to get lost in the “sea of blue lights” that comprise the taxiways of a major airport at night.  Down low those lights tend to blend together, but from a large widebody, the perspective is much better.  We can look down and see the taxiways from somewhat of a “birds eye view”.  Not like really flying, mind you, but a heck of a lot better than being “down in the weeds” as a pilot is in a smaller aircraft.

However, with that height also comes a disadvantage.  Smaller aircraft literally blend in with the ground lights.  The salience of the aircraft lights, when compared to the taxiway and other associated ground lights, is just not that great.  On a recent flight, I had a great opportunity to take some photographs of a Lear 60 and a Hawker 800, both fairly good sized corporate jets, as they waited in front of us for departure.  Take a look.  The first shot is with with our taxi light off, and just the lighting existing.  Can you make them out?

photo 1

Pretty tough.  You can, barely, see them ahead, but you have to try hard.  The second is with our taxi light on, illuminating the Lear:

photo 2


Finally, because we happen to have a HUD (heads up guidance system) equipped with FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Radar), I took one with that system up and running:

photo 4 with FLIR


While not so obvious from a still shot, there are two glowing areas of coming off the Lear’s engine exhaust.  Those are actually moving around like a flame, which really increases their salience.  It is much easier to see that there is something in front of us.

For those that do fly smaller aircraft, this might all be food for thought.  Do not assume that the big widebody headed your way can see you.  The situation that Air France encountered is quite common.  It is very unlikely that the Air France crew had much chance of seeing that RJ buried in all the surrounding lighting.



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Asiana in SFO

Ten seconds. When this crew was at 500 feet they were exactly on glideslope and exactly on their target speed. Ten seconds later they had too low energy to recover. Think that would never happen to you? How many times have YOU crossed the Pacific to arrive in an extremely busy environment?  Watch the video by clicking on the image.

asiana 214

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A short discussion of Malaysia airlines missing flight on NBC’s “The Mix” with Janet Reilly.

Shem Malmquist on NBC’s “The Mix” with Janet Reilly.the mix with janet reilly

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