I’d been eyeing The Killing Zone by Paul Craig at Borders for months before I found a search engine that would let me check out all the libraries in the state. I finally got it in my hands a few weeks ago, and took even longer to start reading it. That seems par for the course since I became a dad, but I’m not complaining, just enjoying my son while he still enjoys my company. The premise is based on a huge amount of data from both NTSB and NASA ASRS (more on these in a moment) reports, and clearly indicates that pilots with less than 350 hours of experience and out from under the guidance of an instructor are most likely to be involved in a fatal accident. Of course these numbers are relative, there are not an alarming number of accidents in general aviation, but the best philosophy is that any avoidable accident is one too many. Craig splits the book in to the following categories of accidents, incidentally these are also names of ten of the eighteen chapters. Anything in parenthesis is my addition to his chapter name, either to provide clarity for non-pilots or commentary. This order also coincides with the percentage pilots dying in each condition. VFR flight in the clouds kills far more low time pilots than midair collisions, etc.
- Continued VFR in to IFR Conditions (flying in to the clouds when you have no business being there)
- Maneuvering Flight (aerobatics, procedures, turns, etc)
- Takeoff and Climb
- Approach and Landing
- Runway Incursion
- Midair Collision
- Fuel (mis)Management
- Pilot Health, Alcohol and Drugs
- Night Flying
Each chapter includes excerpts from National Transportation Safety Board reports, and almost all of the accidents are due to poor decision making on the part of the pilot in command. These excerpts are analyzed and every single situation involves stuff we’ve learned in ground school and primary training. In most cases, Craig also includes survivor stories from the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System. These are reports pilots can make to NASA after they feel they’ve made a mistake. These reports are not actionable by the FAA, and until recently some have considered them a free pass to cover them if they screw up. This has proven pretty true over the years, but there have been cases of extreme negligence that FAA has acted on. Though, in all of those cases that I’ve read so far the FAA was involved at the time of an incident, and not from one of these reports. I like reading the ASRS reports, as there’s always something to learn from them. No matter how many times we practice a procedure or read about a situation, it helps to read about real world occurrences and I feel better prepared for what flying may throw at me.
Craig usually includes lots of the basics about maneuvering, getting in to and avoiding a lot of the situations in the book. I think his chosen audience includes the general public as well as student and low air time pilots. Personally I didn’t mind re-reading some of the basics about procedures or aerodynamics, but I find I’m not always a typical student pilot. Some that I’ve met seem to be in a rush to finish training, and one was even annoyed with having to learn the E6B whiz wheel, since he “only rents planes with GPS”. It won’t earn a permanent place on my already crowded bookshelf, but I’ll definitely grab it from the library again after I get my ticket, and I’d highly recommend it for any low air time (<500 hours) or safety minded pilot.