I’m Down Wit’ P. I. C. — Yeah, you know me!!!

October 19, 2013 — Leave a comment


There are two things I throw in during conversations once in a while. Not often but sometimes. Usually when the topic under discussion involves blame or fault, whining, and cowardice. And the person’s annoying me.

Pilot in Command (PIC) and Cockpit Management (CM or CRM: Cockpit Resource Management).

For me, the two go hand in hand. I both celebrate and curse the first time I learned and was held responsible for knowing and executing these terms. They’ll save your life, my instructor (CFI), Paul, an ex-navy carrier pilot, drilled in me.

Only once have I had to exercise my right as PIC when I was in the air. I was a student pilot, on a solo flight over Santa Susana Pass, requesting landing at Van Nuys airport. The air traffic controller had me in a holding pattern over the Los Angeles Aqueduct since there was an airshow going on and traffic was particularly heavy–the most I’ve ever experienced.

Eventually, I was cleared to land on Runway 16R but realized soon that the traffic wasn’t as clear as I wanted it to be–given my skill level. There was a Piper Arrow too close for comfort and several old fancy acrobatic planes nearby. I communicated that I was a student pilot to ATC and he seemed to ignore me and repeated that I was clear to land. I stayed in my holding pattern and asked to be vectored in. He grunted and sighed and after maybe 10 minutes, the airspace was clear and he vectored me in.

The FAA‘s FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations), Part 91.3, on Responsibility and authority of pilot in command, states that:

(a) The pilot in command is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft;

(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency;

(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

When I landed, Paul was having a nasty conversation with someone who I quickly realized was an administrator from the Tower. Apparently the air show was delayed 20 minutes because of me. Paul was cursing at the guy telling him he was an idiot and that I had every right to be vectored in whether the airshow had to wait 20 minutes or the entire day. Paul spoke over the guy and kept repeating the same question: Dead bodies or pretty formations? Dead bodies or pretty formations?




On the ground, PIC and Cockpit Management have become sort of shorthand for the approach I take to pretty much everything I do. Not that I explicitly call out these terms every time I’m choosing perfume or making my bed in the morning. Though, when I think about it now, even the small things I do (which seem to make the most significant impact in my world) still lead back to PIC and Cockpit Management. Especially in situations where I’ve found myself waffling, or rationalizing some mistake I’ve made or continue to make.

Lesson in Cockpit Management

  • Good CM starts with having and utilizing the appropriate checklist
  • Make sure all charts and materials are organized and placed in the order of use
  • GPS & Nav/Comm wires are routed neatly
  • All loose items are properly secured

Proper and orderly maintenance of records that reflect the progress of the flight

  • Flight plan form and pen/pencil

Proper use and/or adjustment of such cockpit items such as safety belts, shoulder harnesses, rudder pedals, and seats

  • Seat belts should be snug but not so tight they are restrictive
  • Seat should be adjusted and locked in place prior to engine start
  • Adjustable rudder pedals or other controls that are adjustable should also be set prior to engine start

Occupant briefing on emergency procedures and use of safety belts

  • How to fasten and unfasten seatbelts and shoulder harness if equipped, and must notify them to do so before you taxi, takeoff, or land
  • Procedures in case of an off airport landing, how to open the doors and where the exits are located
  • Determine how or if they can assist in the event of an emergency

Cockpit Management common problems

Failure to place and secure essential materials and equipment for easy access in-flight

  • Do not get in the habit of using the dashboard as a storage area
  • Fumbling through charts can cause a dangerous distraction
  • Loose items can fly through the cockpit and cause distractions or injury if turbulence is encountered

Failure to maintain accurate records essential to the progress of the flight

  • Causes disorientation and results in lack of situational awareness
  • Makes handling emergencies more difficult

Improper adjustment of equipment and controls

  • Seat can move back during rotation and make aircraft control difficult or impossible
  • Full or even adequate control movement may be difficult or impossible

CM is more than just an organized cockpit

  • Communication. Good speaking and listening skills
  • Decision making and problem solving. Approach problems in a logical and definitive manner. Do it right and do it now
  • Situational awareness. Knowledge of where and what the airplane is doing
  • Standardization. Checklists and flow procedures
  • Leader/Follower. A leader will manage the resources that contribute to safe flight, and a follower won’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Psychological Factors. Attitude, Personality, and Motivation
  • Planning Ahead. Anticipation and preparation for emergencies
  • Stress Management. Life is full of stress, don’t bring it into the cockpit

Takeaway? Be aware and prepare, own your actions, break the rules when you need to. You down wit’ PIC? Yeah you know ME! I’m down wit’ PIC…


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