Defensive Flying

Published by: jeff trike on 12th Aug 2017 | View all blogs by jeff trike

We have all heard of defensive driving, do small things all the time to reduce risk while driving.   This is a stream of conciousness blog of defensive flying techniques I do to minimize risk while flying my trike.   Please add to the list, 

  1. Engine warm up.   It is good for the engine, and if your engine is having problems, them happen now, while you are on the ground instead of the air.  I do something that is frowned on by some, but I not without some thought.  Before flight, I push my trike to the edge of the ramp, where no casual observer should be able to get to the prop.  Turn on the strobes and start the engine sitting outside my trike.  Then I back away and let it run.  I have a clear view of the engine to check for any problems in the carbs, coolant leak, etc.  I in front of the nose on my trike and put on my flight suit so I can keep an eye on things.  Then I do one last check for any engine leaks.
  2. Run through a short checklist one last time before taxing out.  Visor down?  Helmet strap?  Seatbelt.  I still manage to somehow takeoff with my helmet strap or seatbelt unbuckkled about once a year.   Don't be in a rush.
  3. Always do a touch and go before leaving the pattern.  A large fraction of problems happen in the first 5 - 10 minutes.  If they are gonna happen, let them happen in the pattern.
  4. Slowly accelerate on takeoff.   Don't blast off.  If something is going to shake off, let it happen while your wheels are on the ground.
  5. If something is wrong, land and fix it.  Radio adjustments, camera batteries, etc, etc, etc.  Don't screw around with it while flying if landing is an easy option.
  6. Always do a radio check before takeoff.   Usually someone is in the pattern and will gladly oblige, and you give them a radio check too. 
  7. In nice conditions, all your landings should be power off.  The only time I use gas for a stabilized approach is if it is really gusty or cross wind and I want to be able to work the whole length of runway to land.
  8. Aim for the touchdown spot instead of the numbers.  That way you can land short and you'll realize it.   If you always go for the numbers, you will cheat and use gas to hit them, and you will never realize how bad you are as setting up your final glide.  
  9. Don't assume you have radio contact in the pattern.  Fly predictably in case your push-to-talk is broken, the radio 1/2 switch is set on the wrong radio, your antenna cable is loose or one of the dozen ways your radio will fail.  My radio has a red LED that comes on when it transmits.  Seeing that is a good sign.  If the other pilot in the pattern does not respond, chances are your radio is off, but it could be his too.  Fly predictably, always entered on the downwind leg, use the preferred runway if winds allow, no mid-field takeoffs, announce your position and altitude in the pattern.
  10. Flying low is fun and potentially.  If you are down to 100 ft or less, be wary of powerlines.  Almost all dirt or paved roads have powerlines along side them.  
  11. Always top off your gas tank before leaving the hangar.  It will save you time the next time you fly, and you will always have gas.
  12. Rig up a sight gauge for the gas tank on your trike.  You want to be able to trust it with your life.
  13. Have multiple ways to estimate remaining fuel.  I have four:  1) sight gauge, 2) fuel float sensor, 3) fuel flow accumulator, 4) my watch.  
  14. Fly with a friend.  If something goes wrong, he can call for help quickly and save your life.  Your survival odds just increased by a factor of 10000.
  15. Get a SPOT or Delorme Inreach or something like it.  Your family will be able to see if your spot is moving which means you haven't crashed.
  16. Do push your envelope.  Don't always fly in the first hour of daylight.  Someday you find yourself in less than ideal condtions and you want this to be a minor irritaion, not a life or death beyond you capabilities situation.
  17. Install carb heat on your engine.  I have always on carb heat that uses heater blocks after the venturi on the carburators.
  18. Get a radio that can scan, load up all the CTAF frequencies, and let it scan while you fly.   You will pick up other traffic and stay clear.
  19. Get a transponder.  The best safety equipment you can get for your trike.  I think far better than a BRS.  I had 3 sort of scary potential mid-airs at low altitude before I got a transpoder.  None since in the past 10 years.  

  That's all I have for now, Please add your defensive flying techniques to the list






  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 11 months ago
    Jeff, great list but please add one of the most important factors, number it 0. Preflight planning including a comprehensive Weather to Fly evaluation and PAVE (Pilot, Aircraft, enVerment, External pressures) risk analysis
  • Bryan Tuffnell
    by Bryan Tuffnell 11 months ago
    My list would have:
    - You and you alone (not your fellow fliers, SPOTS, beacons and radios) are responsible for your destiny. The buck stops with you, and if you're not happy with that, further instruction is needed.

    - You must have a complete and well-founded confidence that you are always in control of the aircraft, particularly but not limited to banked flight and landings. There should be no situation that can occur that causes you to lose control of your aircraft. This encompasses where and when you fly, but there's no excuse for surprises.

    - You are always staying ahead of the aircraft. You know in advance what to expect: the sounds of the engine and the feedback from the wing as you apply commands, where you'll rotate on takeoff, where you'll turn and the rate/angle/speed, where you'll touch down etc. etc. If something is different, e.g. your takeoff roll is unexpectedly long or drfiting, you'll be fully aware of the fact and know what to do.

    - Learning airmanship - the subtleties of drifting to one side when climbing out from takeoff, selecting an upwind and up-sun course in mountains, flying as high as possible under scud, understanding clouds and weather etc. - is an ongoing pleasure that lasts a lifetime.

    - And most important: IT'S ALL DAMN FINE FUN! We're lucky that we're born in a time when we have this kind of fun available to us, and a search for constant improvement for us as pilots is as much a part of the joy as wheeling about and enjoying the views of the sheep below.
  • John Smith
    by John Smith 11 months ago
    Get a SPOT or Delorme Inreach or something like it. Your family will be able to see if your spot is moving which means you haven't crashed.

    Under the "something like it" category - free smart phone tracking apps that project your real-time image on a moving Google Satellite View background. Free and very enjoyable for chase drivers' vicarious participation.
  • Rizwan Bukhari
    by Rizwan Bukhari 11 months ago

    This is an amazing list. All points are excellent. I have never thought about doing a touch and go before flying to wherever you are. That is an excellent point.

    The other great point you mentioned was flying in a group with friends. Usually when we fly it is three trikes. The other day one of our fellow pilot had an emergency and needed to land. One of the more experienced pilot helped him pick a nice spot to land (an alfalfa field). The experienced pilot actually landed first and the low hour pilot landed after him.

    As far SPOT or Delorme, do you have a personal preference?

    You already covered it that low flying can be fun but dangerous, no matter how much bullet proof you think your engine is, it is after all a machine, so always try to maintain enough altitude to give yourself a good chance in case of an emergency.
  • Ken Highfield
    by Ken Highfield 11 months ago
    If you are just pulling the trike out of the hangar to take up a passenger do a flight in the pattern alone first, this will put the trike threw all the paces before the passenger climbs in. ( it is also better to be alone if something happens than with a passenger freaking in the back seat). Also I use two clips with flags on them for my preflight, one where I start and one where I stop if for some reason I am interrupted or someone tries to distract you by asking lots of questions talking etc. I also try to always do a pattern before leaving the airfield.
  • jeff trike
    by jeff trike 11 months ago
    I agree with your point about Weather 100%. Our trikes are fair weather machines, and although some of us are more tolerant than others, weather can quickly overwhelm a pilot. Especially in mountain conditions. Your flight actually starts with those first checks on weather. I have been using an website/app called the last few months. Absolutely amazing.

    I get you. Trike flying is a basically a solo sport. You and you alone are responsible for your safely, and it can feel very lonely when you are hovering over an airstrip in gusty cross wind conditions. In these cases, remember unless you a running out of gas, you don't have to land. Never commit to a landing unless you are centered up and wings level over the runway. If you can't do that, wait or divert to another airport. An hour later or an hours distance away, conditions could be totally different and safe.
  • jeff trike
    by jeff trike 11 months ago
    A couple more

    - Install tie down ropes behind the zipper panels of your wing. Set them up to be the right length. if you have to tie down in a hurry, away from home base, you don't want to be looking for a tie down rope. Put some stakes and a light weight hammer in a storage compartment. I actually use 3 stakes for each wing, and 2 for the nose in my own version of "The Claw". Bring one or two wheel chocks with you as well, plus some additional webbing or rope to immobilize the control bar with the wings level.

    - Get a clear plastic sheet and cut it so it can wrap around the cockpit to keep the avionics dry in rain when parked on the ground. Pack that in with the hammer and stakes.
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