First ADM Lesson: 1*

Way back, I took an Emergency Medical Technician course. On the first day they put up the star of life and Primum non nocere (First, do no harm). Right there I though WTF, I’m taking this to save lives and “do no harm” is the industry motto??? But this simple message lays the foundation for many EMS concepts that accomplishes the greater goal. The obvious medical application comes from the days when ambulance drivers would just scoop up patients, throw them in a station wagon, and race off to the hospital (often making spinal injuries worse or getting into an accident along the way). The not so obvious one is that making more patients by rushing into an unsafe scene, or blowing through a red light and wrecking an ambulance, doesn’t serve the patient well. That simple motto comes back again and again throughout EMS training and in practice, and it becomes cemented in your head.

ADM should be the same way, and I’m a proponent of introducing it early in helicopter pilot training. Set the precedent in every prospective pilot’s head that safety is their first consideration. I also recognize the practical limitation to doing this. A private pilot student is overwhelmed with “important information”, and isn’t mentally prepared to accept a  full-blown ADM lesson when they 1) are still just excited about being in a helicopter and 2) might not be in the mindset of undertaking professional training. Instead, what happens is that ADM/safety get pushed off until some undefined later point in time.

Take the SFAR. We all should have gotten the SFAR training before our very first demo ride. At that time, how many of us understood anything about energy management, low-G maneuvers, or mast bumping? I remember standing there in front of the helicopter, the instructor said “We have this training that we have to do for Robinsons.” He then took a deep breath and gave a well-rehearsed summary of the required training. Looking back, I remember it being thorough and accurate; at the time though, only bits of it even registered (wait, what was that about separation of the main rotor??!). But he ended with “Don’t worry about it, I’ll be monitoring all these things to make sure we don’t get into any trouble.” In terms of the principles of primacy and readiness, the lesson here is that the safe operation of the helicopter was not my responsibility. That’s not what was intended, but it’s what was received because the SFAR training isn’t really at a level that is appropriate for somebody who doesn’t know the first thing about flying a helicopter. This is the precedent that the typical demo flight establishes.

In this month’s safety article by J Heffernan in Rotor, he essentially validates this problem.

Even ab initio programs do not produce pilots right out of their cribs; just the fact that you have to wait until their feet can work the pedals really puts a delay in the learning process, and training delays are where bad habits can be learned…Before you can teach, you have to unteach.

One way of taking this statement is that Mr Heffernan is saying, if you want safety to be a core value in your organization, you have to undo the bad habits acquired (in part) during initial training…the fact that you have to wait until their feet can work the pedals… To me, he’s talking about this grace period student pilots get where safety, ADM, situational awareness, and all that is somebody else’s responsibility. Thus, the powerful effect of primacy has to be overcome somewhere down the line. I disagree that it has to be that way, in part because Mr Heffernan provides a solution which could easily be applied to flight training.

This is where 1* comes in. I’m not going to tell you what it means now because I want you to be bothered and a bit annoyed that I didn’t tell you right off what 1* has to do with safety. Then you can read the lesson plan or Mr Heffernan’s article and his personal story (it’s in the Spring 2010 issue, which isn’t online yet).

The simple symbol/mnemonic 1* is appropriate for a brand new student’s level of experience, and like “First, do no harm” it’s something you as an instructor can build on throughout a student’s training. Start off on that demo ride by giving them the required SFAR73 Awareness Training, then make a point of writing “1*” on that endorsement and telling them This is all you need to remember for now. If they ask what it means, tell them it’ll become clear later–you’ve done your part in associating 1* with their first flight, and unconsciously set them up for thinking safety before flying without overwhelming or scaring them. Later, as you progress through the ADM lessons, you just need to associate that mnemonic/symbol with the pre-flight preparations that will enhance their safety consciousness, risk management, and situational awareness. From 1*, you can associate lesson plans on weather (Is 1* worth making a flight with forecast low ceilings at night?). Want to make sure your student is doing a good pre-flight? Get your school to slap a 1* sticker on the door leading out to the hangar.

The payback–hopefully–is that down the road, this little mnemonic will pop up whenever there’s a critical safety decision confronting your student, and it’ll trigger all those other ADM lessons.

One thought on “First ADM Lesson: 1*”

  1. 1* + “I consider my decision to be the safest course of action” considered and thought out for every plan, operation, movement and flight!

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