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"Captain, reach for your hat.” This is a saying, I always tell our pilots to think about when an emergency occurs. I didn’t coin this phrase; my brother-in-law, Andy, passed it along to me several years ago while sharing a beer at his home in Hythe, England. Andy is a simulator instructor and flight examiner in the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A320 for Air 2000.


May 3, 2011
By Randy Mains

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"Captain, reach for your hat.” This is a saying, I always tell our pilots to think about when an emergency occurs. I didn’t coin this phrase; my brother-in-law, Andy, passed it along to me several years ago while sharing a beer at his home in Hythe, England. Andy is a simulator instructor and flight examiner in the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A320 for Air 2000.

Why is this saying so critical? Using the analogy of taking the time to reach behind you for your hat in an emergency slows you down to deal with whatever has occurred, without rushing into an action that could possibly make matters worse; an action like switching off the wrong fuel valve on the good engine (something my brother-in-law and I have witnessed in the sim more times than we care to remember).

Andy and I often compare notes, as I too, am a sim instructor and flight examiner in the Bell 412 simulator for Abu Dhabi Aviation in Dubai. From our joint experiences as sim instructors, we have witnessed more harm done by pilots getting in a rush by any other factor. We also concur there are very few emergencies where you have to do something immediately. Flying a single-engine helicopter when the engine quits is one exception, of course, but in a twin, you only need to “check down collective” a little to ensure you don’t exceed the limitations of the good engine. There are no prizes for how fast you can deal with an emergency, only the booby prize if you get it wrong!

The “I’m Going to Kill Myself” Switch
I have seen many instances in the simulator where a pilot gets into trouble by acting hastily. For example, a pilot is flying on instruments in cloud with the autopilot (we call it “Fred”) engaged, doing the flying for him; when given an engine fire scenario, the captain grabs the controls, punches Fred in the nose, knocking him out, just when Fred is needed most. I have seen more pilots get into trouble by disabling the autopilot in IMC conditions than any other non-emergency. Don’t do it! Disabling Fred is more of a helicopter pilot’s reaction, I think, than a fixed-wing pilot’s reaction.

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There are usually two instances when I see a pilot disengage the autopilot. One: he perceives the autopilot is doing something he isn’t expecting so he disengages it and takes over manually. This is normally because the pilot doesn’t fully understand the autopilot and he’s done something to make it happen. I see it more often after one engine has been shut down.

The second incidence is when there is an emergency. The captain somehow feels “I need to take control.” Once he’s done that, the crew has two emergencies on its hands. It’s like having three crewmembers in the cockpit, and just when you need all three, the pilot relieves “Fred” of his command, leaving the remaining crew to fly the helicopter and deal with the emergency. Leave Fred alone; let him fly while you and the copilot deal with the emergency.

Robbie Pilots, Take Heart
Abu Dhabi Aviation recently landed a contract that required it to hire 56 new pilots. The pilots were given 10 hours in the sim as copilot, then 10 hours acting as captain. After passing a checkride, they were given a type rating on the Bell 412.

Thinking toward the future, my company elected to hire several young, relatively low-time Robbie instructors (instructors on Robinson 22s and 44s) who had either just recently received their ATP or were a year away from attaining one. Taking on the Bell 412 was, of course, a huge leap for them as well as a terrific opportunity. I couldn’t help but wonder how they would make the transition. Turns out I needn’t have worried – I was very impressed with their performance.

I am pointing this out to “new” pilots out there because in the beginning of our careers, we all have self doubts, wondering whether we will be able to make the leap to a new machine. Take heart. When the time comes, you’ll do just fine. That is, if you always remember to reach for your hat – and stay in control.


Randy Mains works for Abu Dhabi Aviation as a type rating instructor and flight examiner in the Bell 212 and Bell 412. He is also a flight simulator instructor and flight examiner in the Bell 412 flight simulator in Dubai training his company’s pilots. When not in Dubai he resides in Victoria on B.C.’s Vancouver Island. He was the keynote speaker at this year’s HAC conference.


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