Callback Challenge: Keeping Your Head in the ADM Game

By Scott Spangler on September 19th, 2022

ADM—Aeronautical Decision Making—is a system of thinking that benefits all aspects of life on the ground as well as in the air because it is a reflective way of processing situations composed of often uncertain variables. These situations prepare us to deal with those like them in the future, and these lessons need not be learned firsthand.

Callback, the monthly newsletter from NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, should be required reading by any aviator interested in safety, and the issues I most look forward are headlined “What Would You Have Done?” It presents the salient setup situation reported by pilots flying general aviation, commercial, and business aircraft, and each of them gives the opportunity to decide how you would have addressed them.

After thinking about the action you would have taken, clicking on “The Rest of the Story” you learn how the reporting pilot dealt with it. “Bear in mind that their decisions may not necessarily represent the best course of action, and there may not be a “right” answer,” the newsletter warns, noting that its “intent is to stimulate thought, training, and discussion related to these reported incidents.”

Some of the first-half stories are concise and intriguing, like this one from a Boeing 737-700 pilot, with the cryptic headline of “Communication Once Again,” which said: “[We were] midway down the runway on takeoff. A regional aircraft…stated, “Using the afterburners, huh?” The first thing that popped into my mind was some sort of flaming engine problem, and my ADM mindset says check the engine gauges for a problem, see where we were relative to the V1 decision speed, and consider aborting the takeoff, and do in less time than it took my to type this sentence.

It seems my decision wasn’t far off, given The Rest of the Story: “Since we were empty with no passengers and not much fuel, we were accelerating quickly, and thus, his comment made sense. Upon rotation, the Tower asked the regional aircraft, “What was that you said?” He responded, “Looks like [Company] is using afterburners; a six-foot flame was coming out of the back of the #2 engine.” Upon reaching cleanup altitude, we ran all the appropriate checklists and returned back to ZZZ. The fire trucks were called by ATC, and they performed an inspection upon taxiing clear of the runway. We were cleared to taxi to the gate.… The event was entered in the logbook, and Maintenance, Dispatch, and the Chief Pilots were notified. The regional aircraft could have been more clear in his comments, and we could have aborted the takeoff at low speed.”

But the more important lesson, as a GA pilot who will never fly a real live 737, is to not be cute or humorous when observing a long finger of flame shooting from a civilian airliner not known to be equipped with afterburners. Something along the lines of, “737, your right engine is puking fire,” would have been more attention getting and helpful to the pilot making the takeoff.

The other situations in this month’s ADM challenges are equally interesting, but I won’t spoil the learning experiences for you. Check them out for yourself, and if you haven’t already, subscribe to Callback. It’s free. –Scott Spangler, Editor


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