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Aerobatic Safety

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I am going to start this letter by stating that I am completely in favor of air shows and the presentation of aerobatic performances. Although I might make statements which have negative impact, please understand I am doing so as devil’s advocate.

Although I only met Scott Manning once, he was the type of person you hoped you would meet up with again. Scott, Eric, Jim, Bobby, Tom, Miles and others who have passed away suddenly in this industry, I offer you my fullest respect.

An article in the Calgary Sun several months ago stated that Transport Canada had concluded that the Masters of Disaster accident took place in large part because the ‘team’ did not have a safety program in place. My purpose in writing is to offer pilots a method of implementing a safety program much like what TC is speaking of. Having extensive experience in Occupational Health and Safety, I am submitting this information from that perspective. Initially, the project was filed away and forgotten, but the recent death of another acquaintance has strengthened my resolve to push this forward. Much has been done to promote emergency preparedness among air show organizers; however I have found very little to promote the same among performers or general aviation pilots.

As a pilot/performer, our first priority is to accept that the cockpit of our aircraft is a workplace, and that our performance, although some regard it as an art form, is in fact a job. Like any other job, or any other workplace, we are required to understand our equipment, understand our standard operating procedures (our performance among other things), and understand our personal protective equipment.

I am fairly certain that all of us who fly have the areas of understanding listed above. Accidents over the past few years however have shown that this alone isn’t enough. Once you have accepted that the cockpit as your workplace, the principles of workplace safety can be applied.

One segment of this is the JSA (Job Safety Analysis) which I would like to focus on with this document. Although I don’t question the safety of aerobatics, The JSA initiative will do all that is practicable to address any concerns you might come across. I have attached my own JSA format for the Hammerhead as a JPG file.

Please read on…..

Section 1 – Identify Job Steps

Remember that an aerobatic routine is actually a sequence of specific jobs or tasks. Each maneuver flown is a job in itself. One of these jobs – the Hammerhead has been attached as a jpg file.

For the most part each performer has partially completed step one. As performers we are all required to have a copy of our routines completed each year. This is our sequence made up of the individual ‘jobs’ we will perform.

Each job (maneuver) within our routine is completed through a series of steps. This segment will assist in identifying those individual steps. For example… a loop can be divided into a number of steps… pull… relax … float… increase… pull… resume level. Each has its own specific hazard (s).

Section 2 – Identify Hazards unique to each step of the job

The second part of the Job Safety Analysis is to identify the hazards that may be associated with each of the steps described. When we look at a maneuver as a whole, it is too easy to generalize. Breaking the maneuver (or job) into a sequence of steps however will force the pilot to recognize the hazards specific to each segment of the job at hand.

Section 3 – Identify controls to prevent (or negate) the hazard Identified

Having identified hazards in section two, we can now prepare responses with which to address them. In doing so, we are not looking at the maneuver overall, but instead, are identifying hazards which may occur in all phases or steps of the maneuver.

Section 4 – List Items required to safely perform the job

This section will list the items, or personal protective equipment required to perform the job safely. You’ll notice that I have included items that many would consider a given. License/medical, ace card, airworthiness certificate and in the event that I am performing an air show… the event waiver. One other obvious entry in this section would be my parachute.

Section – 5 Job Risk Analysis

The job risk analysis will allow the pilot to evaluate the risk associated with each maneuver (job) and develop practice scenarios accordingly.

  • Frequency of task will be unique to each performer based on the maneuvers performed and the number of times they may be inserted into an aerobatic sequence. A value of 1 to 5 is assigned. 1 = never performed, 2 = occasionally performed, 3 = Performed monthly, 4 = performed weekly, and 5 = performed daily. The higher the number, the higher the associated risk in performing the job. Basically, the more often we put ourselves into a situation, the more often we will be faced with its associated risks.
  • To place a numerical value on possibility of harm, I have used the spreadsheet published in Airshows Magazine last summer. Reading through the spreadsheet I can determine… 1 that there has never been an injury during the job or maneuver at hand, 2 that historically there has been an injury resulting from the job or maneuver within the industry, 3 that injury has occurred within the industry on a yearly basis, 4 that I myself have been injured in the past performing this maneuver or job, and 5 that injury while performing this maneuver has occurred more than once in the preceding year.
  • Severity addresses the consequences. 1 = a first aid incident which the pilot addressed in the possibility of harm section was addressed by a Band-Aid (First Aid), 2 = a consequence in which the injured party received medical treatment and was released (Medical Treatment Only), 3 would address a situation where the injured party was released with restrictions on his/her activity (Restricted Work Incident), 4 would address a situation in which the injury was severe enough to cause a loss of capacity (long or short term) (Lost Time Injury) and finally 5 would be a fatality.

Multiplying all of these, I am left with a value between 1 and 125. Obviously, a maneuver with a value of 1 is one that I never perform and therefore will not address in my practice scenarios; while a value of 125 demonstrates a high risk maneuver which requires more attention. Perhaps climbing to sufficient practice altitude would negate the hazard.

Section 6 - Review

The last section leaves us an area to record our reviews. The JSA is a living document, no practice or performance should be completed without a review of your collection of Job Safety Analyses. We all walk through our flight prior to flying it, but to fully understand the maneuvers package, we need to evaluate it on a continuing basis. The JSA format will help to do that.

Further consideration…

At the bottom of the JSA form we see an area titled ‘Weak Links’. In this area we need to give consideration to structural failure, engine power loss, and any other hazard not identified in the job steps above. Each area of consideration identified has to be applied to each job step.

1) What will I do if I lose engine power during the pull up in a loop?

2) What will I do if I lose engine power during the float over the top?

Although both are much the same scenario… each will have different steps to prevent hazard or injury.

When I taught Aerobatics, ground school was quite extensive. The reason being, that students were required to completely understand the maneuver they were to perform, and to completely understand corrective measures for each segment of a maneuver. It’s not enough to know how to do a loop… more-so; we need to understand what our aircraft is doing during ever segment.

I can only hope that this document will be taken to heart. It won’t remove injuries from the industry, but it will certainly offer a better understanding of the job we are doing, and for those temporary lapses of concentration we all experience… a way ‘Out’.

If there are any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me for assistance. I can be reached by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.?subject=Aerobatic%20JSA%20questions">e-mail or by telephone at 403 877-3250. I’d be happy to offer assistance.


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