Should We Teach Pilot Judgment?

By Robert Mark on June 12th, 2013

CirrusI was just watching the animation of an Cirrus SR-22 accident caused by poor pilot judgment near Boynton Beach, Fla. in November 2011. The crash claimed the lives of two pilots. “More money than sense,” was all I could think to say after watching, although the “blind leading the blind” might have also fit.

The NTSB report blamed the accident on, “The right seat pilot’s decision to attempt a low-altitude aerobatic maneuver in a non-aerobatic airplane.”

The more experienced right seat pilot seemed to have been showing the lesser-time left seat aviator how to roll the SR-22 over an open field at a GPS-derived altitude of 29 feet above the ground. The right-seater apparently never actually took any aerobatic training however.

The NTSB report says, “The accident airplane … began a roll to the left, and, as the airplane rolled toward an inverted attitude, the pitch quickly began decreasing below the horizon. The airplane then began a rapid descent and impacted the marsh below in a 68-degree nose-down pitch attitude. Postaccident examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airframe or engine that would preclude normal operation.”

So was it training, or a lack of it that caused the commercially-rated right seat pilot to try this stunt? Was it the fact that the adrenalin was flowing steadily in both of these guys because the two of them were on the way back from a local air show and were flying in formation with a couple of actually-certified aerobatic airplanes?

Somehow, calling the pilot stupid here seems a bit too simplistic.

To me, the real question is whether anyone ever told this guy that he could actually kill himself in an airplane by trying stupid stunts like this. But then, do we really need to say that? Considering the number of fatalities in general aviation airplanes the past years, maybe we do. But I wondered whether trying to tell this pilot anything would have avoided this accident.

In case you’re wondering, the pilot didn’t pull the Cirrus’ chute. At that low of an altitude, it wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.

Watch an animation of the flight created by Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association’s Rick Beach from the SR-22’s data stream. Note: The Cirrus incorporates a mini-black box of sorts in the MFD that records each flight’s date, time, altitude, attitude and power setting.


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22 Responses to “Should We Teach Pilot Judgment?”

  1. Wayne Conrad Says:

    Whatever else this problem is, it isn’t new. “Stick and Rudder” (1944) devotes quite a bit of ink to the dangers of low-level hot-dogging.

  2. Bill Palmer Says:

    I thought the “29 feet” must be a typo, missing a couple of zeros. Astonishingly no.

    The right seat pilot had previously surrendered his license to avoid enforcement action. (what for, we don’t know). That and other interseting info on this fligth and that pilot at

    Apparently no matter what you may strive to Teach, some will never Learn.

  3. @williamAirways Says:

    This isn’t the first time a pilot did something stupid. And it won’t be the last. And I have to say, sometimes, it is just this simple.

    Can you teach judgment? Sure. Was the student paying attention when the lesson was given? Maybe, maybe not.

    Clearly, this pilot harbored the hazardous attitudes of anti-authority, invulnerability, impulsivity, and macho. Some people just can’t be taught the right things.

    Darwinism at work.

  4. David Says:

    Actually, if you read the report carefully, 29 feet was the pressure altitude. The actual physical altitude was 129 feet, still far too low for an untrained pilot to attempt a roll in a non-aerobatic airplane!

  5. Cary Alburn Says:

    I don’t think judgment can be taught. I think the factors that go into accidents can be taught, but some folks just can’t put 2 & 2 together. Like in the subject case, you can teach the pilot that low level aerobatics should be done only by pilots who have received a lot of training by competent aerobatic instructors, in airplanes which are designed and built for aerobatics, and that if a pilot who doesn’t have the training attempts low level aerobatics in a standard airplane, he’s likely to kill himself. You can teach him why. But you can’t teach him not to try it himself, because he somehow thinks that what you taught him doesn’t apply to him. He lacks the judgment to understand that it really does apply to him. I wonder how many times I’ve heard pilots on the flightline at airshows say, “I’ll bet I could do that!” They may be right, but good judgment will tell them not to try it. Those who lack judgment will try it, anyway.


  6. Jim Lanahan Says:

    Pardon me, but does anyone here think that additional ‘judgement’ training would have changed the outcome of the pilot’s actions? OR, would a 4000+ hour pilot change his bad habits as a result of a class? Stupid is as stupid does….my condolences to the families.

  7. Rod Says:

    We would be remiss if we didn’t try to teach good judgement. However, some people will just never get it. Some people are just an accident looking for a place to happen. And they keep happening to the same people until the last one.

  8. Craig Bixby Says:

    Sorry to say but we have allot of people in the pilots ranks that shouldn’t be driving cars to say nothing of flying an aircraft

    There are always those who just don’t figure rules are meant for them and they fly their airplanes with the same attitudes as they drive there cars.

    So, I do not think judgement training would do anything for these type of people. Legislating more rules would only be practiced by those of us that are already following the rules.

    The only way to keep these kinds people with these attitudes and tendancies from flaunting the rules and killing themselves and there passengers is to keep them out of the sky in the first place.

    Maybe the CFI’s should have a better means to determine someones character and attitiudes and not sign them off for their checkride, no matter how much money the individual has to pay for his flight lessons.

  9. Larry McClure Says:

    I didn’t get this old by being stupid is the best comment I can offer. As a Naval Aviator and airline pilot, one of the most important things a pilot should learn early on is, never get yourself and your aircraft in a position that you have no options if things go south. Aerobatic maneuvers at low altitudes are dangerous even with substantial training and this pair of morons paid with their lives and the grief of those they so carelessly left behind. “Life is tough, even tougher if you are stupid” . Idiots can’t be trained to be safe. Don’t let them fly with you or near you!

  10. Dave McClurkin Says:

    According to an AOPA writeup on this accident the right seat pilot had previously had his certificate revoked by the FAA. They didn’t say the reason, but revocation is usually for willful gross violation of an FAR – recklessness. Prior to getting his certificate back I would assume the pilot had numerous opportunity to be educated on the error of his ways. The fact that he engaged in this recklass activity after revocation and regaining his certificate is an indication that no amount of training would have instilled “good judgment” in this individual.

  11. Robert Mark Says:

    I went back to look at the link Bill Palmer above aded here and apparently the two guys in this accident were related.

    I’ve been trying to figure out why the guy in the left seat let the other fellow roll the airplane at that altitude. Jeez … relative or not, wouldn’t you think the left-seat guy would have stopped him at some point?

  12. John King Says:

    You bring up a very important question Rob, but I suspect trying to talk to this individual about “judgment” would not be successful.

    The words we choose are very important and that is a word that I believe would not get the results we want. It appears the accident stems from not properly assessing the risks of the activity. I believe that teaching this individual how to identify, assess, and mitigate risks would be more likely to get the desired results.


  13. Robert Mark Says:

    Your point is well taken John.

    I should have used the phrase “risk assessment.”

    I guess I’m wondering though if this guy’s hi-risk behavior is something that could have been identified early on in his training.

    But then too, if you were the licensed guy in the left seat — lower time or not — wouldn’t you think he’d have had enough smarts to stop the guy from rollin the airplane under 100 feet AGL?

  14. Greg Johnson Says:

    Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.

  15. Bob Barnes Says:

    The answer is obviously yes.

    The real question then becomes how best to do this? It certainly isn’t going to be solved with FITS scenarios.

    Bob Barnes, President
    International Association of Flight Training Providers

  16. Ron Klutts Says:

    Totally idiotic.

    I suppose he saw the video of Bob Hoover rolling the Shrike, or Tex Johnson rolling the 707 and figured how hard can it be? Hey dude, hold my beer and watch this! We can do it too

    I’ll be showing this to my students as an example of what NOT to do.

    There are true accidents that are caused by mechanical failures and simple common errors, however it appears this falls outside that realm. These are the totally preventable types of accidents that we have the power to prevent and that we need to learn from and say “I will never do that”

  17. Craig Says:

    You can’t teach common sense.

  18. John Mahany Says:

    Yes, we should focus more on judgment. This is stupid, careless and reckless.

    But judgment can be hard to teach. You know that. Some just dont get it, or they dont think it will happen to them, until it does.

    And what is more automation doing to basic piloting skills including judgment?

  19. Don, ATP CFII AIGI Says:

    As Forrest Gump’s Mom said:
    “Stupid is as Stupid Does !”
    And as Ron White says”
    “You can’t fix Stupid !”
    Self explanitory, no further discussion or wasted brain power of the living is necessary.
    Next topic please ….

  20. Max Trescott Says:

    The accident pilot sounds like a thrill seeker, and would have eventually killed himself seeking thrills in a car or a motorcycle if he hadn’t died in the plane. I suspect that he previously demonstrated risky behavior in other areas of his life. Otherwise, why would he dive over powerlines and then fly at very low level over the ground for so long before attempting his fatal maneuver. I find it interesting that “flying low over the ground” is not a maneuver that is taught (at least to Private pilots) and yet many people feel they are perfectly qualified to do it. I think we’ll always have a number of these low altitude, hotdogging crashes every year.

  21. Dale Rust Says:

    When one uses the word, “judgment”, that implies that one calls up all previous learnings, skills, knowledge, training, etc. and melds it all together to form the next move … this individual obviously was lacking in most of the previously mentioned. The NTSB is misapplying the use of the word, “judgment”. but that doesn’t surprise me.

  22. Greg W Says:

    The NTSB report states that the onboard recorder indicated aerobatics, rolls, prior in the day. The indication is simply a thrill seeker in a high performance machine, over 4000 hrs. flight time how many times had he gotten away with things like this? Judgment can’t be taught this does however point out the flawed logic of the now mandated 1500 hrs. and ATP, it won’t mean a thing with an attitude like this.

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