Safety Corner

Crew Resource Management (CRM), aka Cockpit Resource Management (please stifle your yawns!), has been around aviation training circles since the 1970s.  The goal of CRM training is to enhance communication and teamwork in order to make flying a more safer endeavor.  As with most things in aviation, the concept and the need for training grew out of the lessons learned of several fatal accidents.
 
As Mooney Formaters, we don't have "crews" per se, but we do have resources that can be put to good use to minimize the chance of accidents or incidents. Use of resources beyond those of just the pilot in command can enhance situational awareness, reduce the stress of both pilot and passengers, help the pilot to avoid becoming saturated during intense moments, and of course, enhance safety for all involved.
 
The main principles of CRM involve using all resources available to you as the pilot. Additional resources for Mooney Caravan pilots include passengers, formation partners, and ATC.  While the pilot in command is the final authority, he should welcome safety inputs from others both inside and outside the airplane. However, passengers during formation flight should be carefully briefed as experience and comfort levels with formation flight will vary greatly. Depending on their competency and familiarity with formation and flying in general, the passenger should feel comfortable telling the pilot when he observes something that just doesn't feel right. The pilot might explain when and how feedback ought to be relayed to the pilot -- the formation mantra "only call lead if he's on fire" might not be appropriate guidance for the passenger in your airplane.  On the other hand, the passenger must understand the intense concentration required during formation flight and know that idle conversation at inappropriate moments (that would include the entire formation flight!) could lead to disastrous results.  It's definitely a fine balance and one that you, as the pilot will have to broach with your passenger(s).  Many an accident has resulted from 'copilots' too afraid to speak up with observed safety concerns and pilots too pigheaded to hear and consider the implications of "crew" inputs.  While Mooney pilots are certainly not pigheaded, the concentration required during formation flight might lead one to ignore inputs unless they've thought about it beforehand.
 
And then there are the other types of passengers…ones that can be more of a hindrance than a help and these types generally include those under four feet tall.  In my aircraft, these creatures sit in the back and I can isolate their headsets so that I don't have to listen to their constant chatter.  But their presence can still be useful.  They can watch for other airplanes, check the progress of rejoining wingmen and depending upon their experience levels, alert the pilot or front passenger via a simple tap on the shoulder when something doesn't seem right.
 
Other formation aircraft certainly qualify as valuable resources.  When you pull onto the runway, or are flying in close fingertip, observe and then really observe lead's aircraft.  If something doesn't look right, speak up….this might include checking other aircraft before takeoff for open doors or hanging items (seatbelt out the door?).  And it might include the incorrect position of gear or flaps.  In any case, wingmen are in a great position to back up lead simply because they are constantly observing him.  We like to keep radio chatter to an absolute minimum, but if you observe a safety concern, its best to speak up.
 
Finally, ATC can serve as a resource for formation flyers.  Lead is generally the only aircraft talking to ATC, but your own situational awareness is greatly improved if you can follow along with ATC instructions.  And if you do not understand a vital communication from ATC (such as cleared to land, for example), it might be worth a quick query to lead.  All this being said, constant chatter on the radio detracts from formation safety and so, strive to become experienced enough to handle formation position as well as monitoring of the outside world.  
 
Best wishes and happy CRM on your next flight!
 
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