Are You ready To Fly?

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An A-10 recently crashed while performing a Night Vision Goggle (NVG) upgrade training mission. The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) concluded that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation and wasn't able to recover the aircraft. That night, the USAF lost one of its most valuable assets: a combat proven pilot who lived and breathed A-10 tactics. How can a pilot with so much flying and NVG experience succumb to a threat as well known as spatial disorientation? After carefully reading the report, it's clear the mishap pilot was not "on his game" and allowed self-imposed threats to negatively affect his flying abilities. 

Prior to each flight, you check the aircraft maintenance records, talk to the crew chief, complete your walk-around and run preflight checks. By engine startup, you are confident the aircraft is ready to perform its mission. But who accomplished the preflight on you? The aviator has always been the most critical piece of the flying puzzle. It is imperative that aviators accomplish good preflights on themselves and take stock of their ability to perform. This is where the IMSAFE checklist can save lives and prevent mishaps. 

I--Illness is inevitable and we have the routine down pat; visit the flight doc, medicate and go home. When we feel better (notice I didn't say 100 percent), you swing by the flight doc to Return To Flying status (RTF). Hypoglycemia, dehydration, fatigue and disruption in routine are all residual effects of illness that can affect human performance and jeopardize flight safety. When you RTF, the residual effects are still present and it could take days before you feel 100 percent. This is not a good time to fly an especially demanding sortie. 

M--Though AFI 48-123 prohibits self-medication, we have all, at some point in our flying careers, chosen to self-medicate. For example, it's Friday night and you get a cold. It's not urgent, so the ER is out of the question. Moreover, who wants to sit for hours in a room full of sick people? By no means am I advocating self-medication ... but if for some reason you do, ensure you visit the flight doc before you fly because the residual effects of medication are the same as those of an illness. 

S--As crewmembers, we sometimes avoid talking about stress. We all have it and deal with it in different
ways. Aircrew are usually very good at compartmentalizing
their lives. Most can leave personal troubles in the flight locker while they perform the mission. But what happens when you can't set the issue aside? Consider this a knock-it-off red flag. If the mission dictates pressing on, be aware of internal distractions and their affects on your performance. 

A--We get briefed to death about alcohol. We all know the 12-hour bottle-to-throttle rule, but the "or its after effects" clause is much less adhered to. Friday night seems to be the night everyone "pushes it up" because they have all day Saturday and Sunday to recover. Depending on how pickled you got, you may have some residual effects come Monday morning. 

F--I believe fatigue is a factor in the majority of motor vehicle and aircraft accidents. We live in a 24-hour society that gives us many opportunities to short-change ourselves on sleep. There is no substitute for proper sleep. Caffeine will help you feel alert but your cognitive function is still degraded. (SEFL Editorial note: Caffeine may actually improve cognitive function, but the effects are mediated by dose, tolerance, and hydration.) The aviation world is demanding and highly intolerant of simple mistakes. In a fatigued state, you are much more prone to these simple errors. Keep sleep sacred; if it's time to hit the sack, turn off the TV and stay away from eBay. 

E--I know of an incident where nutrition (or lack thereof) was a factor. Due to the pilot's poor nutritional habit patterns, all he ate or drank in the previous 19 hours was a granola bar, four large cups of coffee and a diet soda. Due to mission demands and flying schedules, skipping meals almost becomes a part of the mission. However, the brain needs a steady dose of fuel and even though it can steal from its stores, there is no substitute for a steady influx of high-quality nutrients. 

With the GWOT, high ops tempo and erratic flying schedules, we rarely feel 100 percent mission capable. However, before your next step, ask yourself this question: "Am I mentally and physically prepared for the worst emergency procedure imaginable?" Flying is demanding, unforgiving and most missions require you to operate near your personal limits. So the next time you're mission planning, don't forget to preflight yourself with the IMSAFE checklist.

(Sidebar) The "after effects" of alcohol on the cognitive
processes can last for 18-36 hours depending on the dose.