The Bad News: According to the 27th Nall Report, at least 74% of FATAL airplane crashes are pilot error. The Good News: Participation in that statistic is optional.
Where are your eyes?
Pilots don’t always seem to know where to look when something has gone awry. When an engine begins to vibrate we should quickly determine if it is a major vibration and, if so, shut that engine down quickly: you wouldn't want it shaking itself off it's mounts, or anything that comes after. If it’s not that bad may we should look at the engine’s power indicators (i.e. Manifold Pressure, RPM and Fuel Flow) for a piston powered engine. Then we can look at the condition indicators (EGTs and/or TITs, CHTs, oil pressure, oil temperature, etc).
Look at the cowling for oil streaming back. It doesn’t take a large loss of oil to make a big mess. If the oil pressure hasn’t started to drop you may be able to reduce power and continue flying to a good landing at an acceptable site – preferably an airport. However, what about the flight instruments, what do we look at first? In almost all cases the airspeed is the first indicator to look at. If you haven’t changed power settings and the airspeed is less than before, possibly the pitot tube is icing over, there is induction icing, the airplane has begun a climb, or you’re in a downdraft and the autopilot (in order to maintain altitude) is pitching the nose of the aircraft up. You could have even bumped the power lever aft unintentionally. If the aircraft’s heading is not what you’ve selected, or the aircraft is climb/descending when it shouldn’t be, it is possible the autopilot has failed, or that you could have accidentally disengaged it.
The main point is: I see pilots not looking at the right thing when things go the wrong way. They ask the wrong questions and look at the wrong things for answers so they don't get the answers they need, and end up making the wrong decisions.
Also, to solve the age old question: In order for a pilot to climb/descend at a specific airspeed and specific rate, should he use power for airspeed and pitch for rate? Sure. How about power for rate and pitch for airspeed? He can do that too. However, I would personally use pitch for whatever is most critical (or whichever you’re already closest to) since the airplane responds quicker to pitch inputs as opposed to power inputs.
We've learned that pilots can look the wrong way because they ask the wrong questions, so then, what are the right questions?
When things are going wrong
We need to ask the right questions so that we get useful answers and are able to correct the situation quickly. What are the right questions, you say?
What is our:
2) Altitude or pitch
3) Heading or bank and
4) Trend (for each of the above)
Say it out loud and memorize it: Airspeed, Altitude, Heading, Trends
Now, let's practice together.
Example Scenario: You are temporarily knocked unconscious due to turbulence slamming your ahead against the side window. Accordingly, the aforemention turbulence also disconnected the autopilot, and when you regain consciousness, you find the aircraft is out of control. What do we do? Take a deep breath and ask yourself: Airspeed, Altitude, Heading, Trends
1) Situation: The airspeed is below 100 knots
Trend – airspeed decreasing rapidly.
Pilot Response - Add power
2) Situation: large pitch up
Trend – altitude increasing
Pilot Response- Pitch down to maintain level altitude.
3) Situation: Very steep bank
Trend – steep bank is being maintained
Pilot Response – Once aircraft pitch returns aircraft to level altitude – roll wings level.
This sounds a lot like an unusual attitude the instructor might put the aircraft in when an IPC is requested. These responses are what the instructor should be looking for.