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Airwork February 2007
By Tom Benensen
January 2007

Earning a Good Conduct Medal

airwork_02_07.jpg I recently signed up for Social Security and had to dig out my DD214, the military service record that summed up my two years in uniform. Reading through the form, I was reminded that I’d actually earned the Good Conduct Medal. No big deal, really, it just meant that I’d toed the line and curbed my rebellious streak.

But I got to thinking about what “good conduct” really means. At a time when civility seems to be a lost personality trait I’m frequently reminded that good conduct is simply a matter of being considerate of others.

While I was mulling over the idea of good conduct, I got an e-mail from John King of King Schools about the Aviators’ Model Code of Conduct and an attached article he titled, “Moving From Aviation Klutzhood to Citizenship.”

The Aviators’ Model Code of Conduct (, developed by Michael Baum, recommends voluntary practices for pilots to advance flight safety, airmanship and the general aviation community. There are “sample recommended practices” that do provide some guidance, and they provide valuable suggestions, but they’re aimed more at risk management than ways for pilots to demonstrate good conduct in day to day operations. Talking to John about his effort to “convert” from an aviation klutz to a responsible aviation citizen provided some real-world suggestions about how we can demonstrate good manners.

“It is a terrible admission to have to make,” he admitted, “but I have to tell you that I have been an aviation klutz from time to time. I’ve inadvertently flown with my prop howling at high rpm over neighborhoods near the airport, directed my prop blast into a hangar, and copied ATIS and my clearance with the engine running loudly while parked next to the outdoor seating area of the airport coffee shop.”

Although he admitted being thoughtless, like most pilots, he said he didn’t think he was mean spirited. “What’s worse, even though I’ve resolved to be a good aviation citizen,” he said, “it’s possible I’ll still descend to thoughtless klutzhood every now and then.”

But, John argued, making the move from aviation klutz to citizen is a very simple way for a pilot to greatly increase his enjoyment of flying and, at the same time, markedly reduce his risk of having an accident.

According to John, not being a good aviation citizen clearly has its risks. “Pilots who finally do themselves in often had a long history of not following the rules, and of self-centered and cavalier behavior,” he said. “The folks who run aviation insurance companies will tell you that there is one very identifiable group of pilots with a significantly higher than average accident rate. It’s those pilots who don’t pay their premiums on time and argue heatedly about training and currency requirements.”

Unfortunately, demonstrating good conduct—being a good aviation citizen—as a pilot isn’t as easy as it was for me to earn the medal as a GI in Uncle Sam’s army. “When you’re in an airplane you’re busy,” John explained. “Your attention is focused on what you’re doing, so unless you make a special effort to think about how you’re affecting others, it won’t come to mind.”

Another impediment to good citizenship is that it’s not normally included in the training we get when we’re learning to fly. “In fact,” John argued, “occasionally we’ve even been trained to do something that has an unnecessarily negative impact on others.” For example, he said, instead of being trained to fly quietly on approach, we’re often told to increase propeller rpm on a constant-speed prop early in the approach to be ready for a go-around.

“I had never thought much about how my flying was affecting folks on the ground,” John admitted, “until I attended a series of neighborhood meetings about a proposed runway extension at our local airport.” Some of the meetings had over a thousand attendees—and most had showed up to let everyone know how much the noise from airplanes bothered them, John said. “The number and intensity of these folks was a great surprise to me. For the first time I realized that if we wanted to keep our airport, we were going to have to be more considerate of our neighbors.”

Fortunately, it turns out there are a few little things we can do that will make a big difference. For instance, climbing at best angle-of-climb speed right after takeoff not only multiplies our alternatives in the event of an engine failure, but it geometrically reduces our noise impact on the neighborhood as we gain altitude.

As John pointed out, since much of the noise made by airplanes is caused by the speed of the propeller blade tips, keeping prop rpm low anytime you’re over a populated area makes a huge difference. “Most manufacturers approve rpms as low as 1,800,” John said, “but many pilots with constant-speed props are afraid of operating their engines at that low an rpm, because we were erroneously taught never to operate over-square (with manifold pressure in inches greater than rpm in hundreds). So consequently, we needlessly fly over neighborhoods with our props screaming away.”

Another way to reduce neighborhood noise is by keeping your pattern tight and delaying your descent in the pattern until you’re on a normal descent path to the runway. “A lot of pilots start their descent abeam the landing point regardless of how extended the traffic pattern has become, and they wind up flying an extended pattern at low altitude over neighborhood homes,” he said.

According to John, if the pattern becomes extended simply hold your altitude, slow down, keep the airplane you’re following in sight and turn base when it passes abeam of you on final. This keeps your noise footprint closer to the airport and has the safety advantage of making it easier for everybody to keep traffic in the pattern in sight.

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