Right-Hand Seat Flying with no Training

Report Text: Towards the start of February, a newly qualified friend and I decided to take our C150 to a shortish grass strip.

My friend who had only received his licence a few weeks prior was Captain/PIC and wanted to practise some short field landings and we chose the best location for it -a 700m well-kept strip with hedges at either end of the runway.

The flight to the airfield was uneventful, the weather was perfect VFR and visibility must have been in excess of 50nm. We briefed before leaving that upon entering the downwind leg at our destination, if there was little or no traffic in the circuit, I would take over and conduct a touch and go to show what a short field was like. Being more experienced in short field ops on that particular aircraft, I saw no issues with this during the briefing and we departed.

The 700m strip was no problem as in the past, I had visited airfields with half that length runway without issue. In the downwind control was handed to me in the right-hand seat and I began my pre-landing checks, we turned for a base and then final and all remained uneventful and the approach was stable. There was an Air-to-Ground controller on duty who gave us the wind/QFE and there was nobody else in the circuit. I brought it in over the hedge as per the standard approach and touched down smoothly just past the numbers. I proceeded to tap the brakes, bring the flaps up and apply full power.

As I advanced the throttle to full I applied some back pressure to get the nose wheel out of the grass and decrease the amount of friction to gain more airspeed -at this point I realised we’d used more runway than planned and were not yet at our rotation speed of 55kts. At 45kts I chose to continue the take-off instead of abandon and come to a full stop. We rotated and our rate of climb was minimal, at that point the Captain/PIC pointed out that we were not climbing and that the carb-heat was still set to ‘Hot’ reducing the RPM. He then set the carb-heat ‘Cold’ for me and we began to see a better rate of climb immediately.

We cleared the hedge by 20-30ft and proceeded to fly the rest of the circuit as per the airfield AIP and control was handed back to the PIC. It is worth noting that the hedge was cleared and no damage was sustained to the aircraft, crew, or local surroundings/environment.

Lessons Learned: I think there are 4 things to learn from this event.

1) Flying from the right-hand [ie non-standard] seat should be discouraged at all times unless specific training has been conducted by a qualified Flying Instructor.

2) This leads into the second point which is when a pilot has little to no experience flying from the P2/right hand seat all normal memory items and workflows are disturbed significantly. For instance, the pre-landing checks (BUM-FFF-ICHHL or similar). For me, the error came on a short final where I was concentrating on performing the landing/T&G from a position with which I was unfamiliar; at this point I would usually conduct a CRAP check (carb-heat set cold, runway checked, approach stable?, permission granted?).

This would have prevented the carb-heat being left set to ‘Hot’ and the engine would have had greater power to conduct the touch and go successfully. Especially on a somewhat already underpowered Cessna 150. Muscle memory is also a contributing factor in that when all of the pilot’s experience is from the left hand/P1 seat moving across and changing position means that items normally conducted with the right hand (which would be on the throttle) such as turning the carb-heat to Off.

3) The third lesson comes down to the individual but I believe had an effect on the occurrence, nonetheless. I believe that having 100 hours on type and having flown only that aircraft recently, my confidence was higher than it should have been, meaning that I believed I was able to fly from the right seat without issue which was not the case.

4) Tunnel vision also came into effect and instead of aborting the take-off I decided to continue which was, I believe in hindsight, the wrong decision. When you’re in a situation that isn’t going the way you want it to, it’s important to take a step back and think about what is happening. I was too focused on keeping the aircraft flying and maintaining airspeed after taking off slower than normal yet trying to attain a rate of climb substantial enough to clear the hedge.

CHIRPComment: The reporter is to be commended for an honest report and for correctly identifying the main lessons. No matter how experienced a pilot may be, flying from a seat not normally used without proper training is demanding and it may not be possible to foresee all the potential issues beforehand.

In this case, operating from the right-hand seat would use up extra mental capacity and leave the pilot more prone to making slips and errors, particularly as the skill being practised was a demanding one and there would have been at least some pressure to produce a good demonstration for his friend.

The left-seat pilot, who was responsible throughout for the safety of the flight, would have been better advised seeking an instructor or joining a coaching scheme if he wished to learn and practise a new skill. His friendship with the more experienced right-seat pilot had the potential to impose a pressure to go along with the plan.

It is also worth noting that there may be implications for the aircraft’s insurance if a pilot is flying it without for formal training in the seat he is occupying. As mentioned in the Editorial, we would also like to remind pilots to refresh themselves periodically on relevant operational issues from the CAA’s Safety Sense series of publications. Leaflet No 12 deals with operating into Strips.


Author: Rob Hall

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