Behind the Prop

E029 - Paul Craig, Author of "The Killing Zone"

Episode Summary

We are unbelievably thrilled to be joined this week by Paul Craig, author of "The Killing Zone". Paul's survival guide for new pilots identifies the pitfalls waiting inside The Killing Zone, the period from 50 to 350 flight hours when they leave their instructors behind and fly as pilot in command for the first time. Although they're privately certified, many of these unseasoned aviators are unaware of the potential accidents that lie ahead while trying to build decision-making skills on their own - many times falling victim to inexperience. Paul joins the show this week with some great educational points, but also some fascinating stories!

Episode Notes

"The Killing Zone" is an absolute must-read for all new pilots.  Grab the book right here --> The Killing Zone, Second Edition: How & Why Pilots Die: Craig, Paul: 9780071798402: Books

Episode Transcription

Clear prop! Number two following twin traffic on 3 mile final. JB using runway 25 on a 4-mile final. 

This is Behind the Prop with United Flight Systems owner and licensed pilot, Bobby Doss. and it's co-host: major airline captain Designated Pilot Examiner, Wally Mulhearn. Now let's go behind the prop!

What's up, Wally? Hey bobby, how are you? I'm good this week. We have a what I'll call a powerhouse guest with us. We've talked about The Killing Zone many times on the show this week. We have Paul Craig joining us. He is currently a professor of aeronautics and has written many more books than The Killing Zone. Welcome to the show, Craig. 

Well great to have you. Thanks thanks for having me, Bobby. 

And Paul is sitting in his home in I believe Nashville, Tennessee. He's covered in Behind the Prop gear which we love and appreciate that. We’ll post a picture that. Paul you've been in this business for a long time and have tons of experiences. We can't wait to have a conversation but give the listeners a little bit of background on really what you're doing today and kind of how you got to writing books and really when you became a CFI. 

I well first of all. I'm I’m a big fan of the of the podcast. I listened to it almost every week. I always get something out of it always learn something new. I mean This this job of being in aviation as flight instructor pilots a lifelong learning experience. And this is part of that. So I really appreciate what you guys have been doing. You're doing aviation a really great service and so just I keep doing what you're doing because it's so important. But the and I really appreciate you know mentioning one of the books you know. I I kind of got into writing aviation books sort of by accident. I can promise you that all of my past English teachers are flabbergasted that I could write anything that would be published writes When I was a young flight instructor became applying for the first time in nineteen eighty-three and went to work as a freelance right away and I was riding a few articles that got published in some of the magazines back then. I had this idea that means like pieced them all together. It can be like a book manuscript. And so I did that and a senate off to all of the publishers that had books on my own bookshelf right all the publishers. And for everyone that. I said I got a rejection letter pretty quickly. You know pretty quick. What one day. I was in my office and a guy called me and said hey this is. This is jeff or singer from McGraw hill in new York and I wanted to talk to you about the book minutes. Give you center said. I'm just thinking you know who is. This really is probably one of my buddies right. Who's just pulling my leg. And so he started telling me that they had read it and they they really liked it on and on after a while he said. But we're not going to publish it. And I’m going to send me a rejection letter like everybody else is it well. We're a real conservative company. We don't do anything off the street. We have these marketing guys. Tell us what pilots need need to read. And then we get somebody who can write and see if they'll do a project so would you be interested in doing one. And so I said yes and he said so we really liked your style and that was important. Because I don't even know how to style right. I'm just I it's been it's been said that it's more conversational. It's doesn't read like a textbook and really it's pretty. It's pretty simple guys. I just sit down and have a conversation with my keyboard. Just like I was having a conversation with you on a Saturday afternoon at the hanger and this is how I go about doing it and that's really how it came about and And so I started writing few for them. And after a while started. Saying well wait a minute. I'm a flight instructor out here working every day. I'm I’m the one that should be telling them what we need. So after that. I started pitching my own ideas. And then you know eventually got to the point where we got to the book that Wally As mentioned before And you bobby about The Killing Zone. The Killing Zone wasn't actually my title. I was trying to go with danger zone which you might remember. There's a song in the movie top gun it was taken and maybe the maybe the publishing something a little bit more sensational but but it was. The idea is that you know as a flying instructor Wally as an examiner and and Bobby using aviation professional. Our job is to is to try to protect our fellow pilots and help them have the decision-making Qualities that will keep them safe and so. That's really the whole idea of the book. I started examining in. When do these people have accidents and when are they at most risk and it turns out that student pilots are extremely safe. They’re the safest groups of pilots. Going when we'd like to think we know why it's the flight instructor who is intervene and providing the necessary veto.

I guess from from from flying on days when they should in those things but as soon as the get in the hundred-hour range and up to about three fifty the the accidents go way up and is that a combination of lack of experience lack decision making. I don't know but we try to attack the killing zone with trying to look at the various things that are people into trouble in. Can we get them to think twice. Can we get them to you know make make the best decisions not to press forward not to not to listen to others but the but to say no sometimes when they need to and As as any instructor will tell you you never exactly know what good you do. And I’d like to think that someone's facing a difficult decision. They make the right decision and remained safe. Because of something. I might have said or some examples. I might have said But you never know because you can't count the accident. That never happens so so we don't we don't know exactly what what what good we do but you know that's that's our mission the second edition of the book. The first edition of The Killing Zone started was data from nineteen eighty-three through nineteen. Ninety-nine and I picked nineteen eighty. Three's the start. Because as I’ve mentioned that's when I first became a flight instructor so I figured that anything that has happened since I’ve made three is taking place on my watch and I take this personally. And so we try to look at the issues and then the second edition Took up about about two thousand. And I think the data on that and goes to about twenty twelve. I guess someday we'll need to write a third edition. Maybe bobby you need to write that one though. We'll well I don't know I I’m impressed with the way you put the data together and I I listened to honestly I listened to via audible book I think it's a you don't sound like the guy reading it so voice over how about that. I was really upset the But the way the books read. I think it's it's really good information and it does open up. The pilots eyes to where trouble begins. You already answered a couple of our questions. We wanted to ask. Though where did the title come from expand on that a little bit more. You said you were going to call the danger zone. I had made the guess. The publisher changed the name. Yeah that's what happened. And I’m not I’m not Upset with it it's fine It probably isn't the kind of title someone might give us a Christmas gift. But but but I mean I still the same concept that there. There's a range where pilots are most susceptible to having an accident. So that's where we have to. We have to attack. That's where we have seminars. That's where we have have follow followed. That's where we have to. Have you know flight reviews to try to You know take him under arm and her under are wing in this case and And ushered in through that that zone where they're at the highest level of probability it you know there's just it is just numbers. I mean you're not an unsafe pilot with three hundred and fifty hours in all of a sudden safe pilot. Three fifty-one not how it works but but that's where people need to be aware most keenly aware of of the The ability the title of the book. It's been translated into many languages and One of them is in Portuguese. And when you translated to Portuguese and then translate it. Back to to English the tidal there is the zone of death so I never wrote a book called zone of death. But that's what it is in Argentina. I guess well and we bought a bunch of copies. We're going to have them in the pilot supply shop here at the school if he wants to get a copy but it honestly as well as things that I just can't put on the counter and have a brand-new mom and dad with a kid that comes into discovery flight. See that something that we're promoting and it's not the book its title. And I love the title now as a as a grownup pilot or a little bit more time than the most but I almost think a third edition. Should this be a a title change. Says like you know how to be the best pilot in the world. Because that's really a lot of stories you tell. Just make someone think again well. The first book ever wrote the title was be a better pilot. Pretty simple title but I think probably McGraw hill wants a little bit more bite and the other question we were going to ask really was their third edition. Come in so we'll take that up on maybe a future episode but Don't don't stop doing what you're doing. Likewise may think about it in the last ten years. Electronic flight bags for flight eight. ADSB in and out. There's a lotta stuff that's happened since this last edition that we're going to need to see you know.

When I wrote the second edition. I was very curious to see if this danger zone still existed was all the work we were doing was attacking zone was was it Leveling the zone. We'll turns out in the second edition that those years between two thousand twenty twelve There were fewer accidents. Good news but the zone was still there. They're still they're still this bump in accidents that that from about one hundred to three fifty is the zone where pilots from the numbers doesn't mean anyone individual pilots more dangerous because there in that place but they should be aware that this is that other pilots have been caught in or susceptible to problems in that in that In that zone the books have done all. I got a letter from an inmate at the Texas state penitentiary in Huntsville and somehow or another one of the books gotten into the penitentiary library and he wrote me a letter and asked me a bunch of questions and handwritten letter so I wrote him back and and then in about a month and a half another letter came and there were two others so I was teaching ground school behind the penitentiary law. There would have never thought that would happen with. They're probably looking for you to teach them way to fly out. There's no I’m I’m sure. Everything got censored on the way in. How short does the runway really have to be to create Lift that that's interesting call because Huntsville is what twenty-five miles from here. Something like that. Yeah well I mean. People ride all the time as I mentioned before I have a friend. Now wasn't befriend before bed when the books. He's he's a cupcake baker in Toronto I had one of my one of my pen pals because the book is the first violin of san Francisco. Philharmonic's it just unusual. The cross section. Well I guess The bug of aviation got you at an earlier age where does. Where's your history for maybe come from. How did you get started in aviation. What were your goals when you first started. And they are they still the same. Well nobody in. My family was a pilot. Nobody flew I was in high school and My high school offered an aviation course. I guess I needed a science credit to graduate. And so I took that class literally not having any clue what was turns out. An English teacher was a teacher at the high. School is also a private pilot. And I guess he'd gotten permission from the or someone to teach this one afternoon of seventh period of imagine having seven periods education class. That's where I got my whole start and the in the second semester. After Christmas he came out with a list of eight projects and we had to select projects off the list of eight and That was going to be our semester. You know assignment. And so three of the eight On the list were introductory flights at local airports and other five like book reports. Well nobody wanted to do book reports and back then. An introductory flight was get this, five dollars and that included the law. And and you but you can only do that at one time so he sentenced to three different airports. So I flew Cornelia. Fort Dixon in Nashville. Which now international airport for my three flights. And that's how I got started. And I I went ahead and continue my flight lessons Through my senior in high school and And then you know once once certificate after another one ever. I could afford it after that In at some point you know all my all. All the guys I went to school with are now senior airline captains now. But I didn't want. I never felt like that was my path I wanted. I wanted to teach. I wanted to fly and teach people to fly. And so that's that's just been the direction I’ve taken and and never regretted it for one minute. That's awesome. I guess reading through more about you preparing for this podcast definitely seems like you've had an impact on scenario-based training. Wally and I talk on the podcast. A lot about maneuvers and or individual tasks that young pilots are trying to accomplish successfully obviously check ride maneuvers etc. How far from you starting The Killing Zone book writing and doing some things you've done to change regular training to more scenario-based training. Do you think we've really come. Do you think we're there yet. Do you think we have a long way to go as it relates as a flight school owner. I want to be the best. We can be sure how far we've today from where we need to be well in the early in the early going of what I guess.

You'd call scenario-based trainings initiative There was a kind of a misconception. I believe it's a misconception that if you were in favor of scenario somehow you were against maneuvers and we never were. I mean you still to be able to land cross wind. You still got to be able to fly the airplane with with you know with mastery but we also have to be able to use decisions in the real world and a not my very first student at ever signed offer her private pilot check ride he passed and he was a really good student and I was really excited that he passed. Because you know. I was batting two thousand and also only one and I asked him what he was going to do with this certificate now he earned it and he said that the next week he was going to fly his family to Disneyworld. I live in the Nashville area. Disney world Orlando and it hit me. I never taught him to fly that far of a distance. I never taught him to fly. Go across several weather patterns. And by the way Atlanta’s stands in the way between the national Orlando’s I never talked to fly through Atlanta’s airspace and so it hit me like a ton of bricks. We had done everything we were supposed to do. But I was not confident that he was ready for that even though it was legal for him to do that and so from that very early card I always tried to sink. Well how how can we make this more realistic How can we make the the the training more realistic. You know in most all flights syllabuses. There's a there's a lesson where the instructor has you plan into airport x. And somewhere along the way the instructors. Oh well the weather is turned bad. We're going to have to do something else in the in the in the students as well. We'll go here to airport z. Well they already knew. This was the diversion flight right. This is not big mystery that we weren't really go to that first airport and that we were going to go sort of the way and then and then divert like everybody's like winking like this now when when you do that in that training environment. There's really no consequence right. We weren't really going to air that first airport destination anyway so the fact that we diverted somewhere else there was. No there was no problem. But what if you were going to family reunion. What if you were going to a wedding but if you were going to go to national championship basketball game and what if you're going to Disneyworld and you had a week of prepaid nonrefundable hotel tickets now if you don't go now there's real consequence now there's real problems that's what causes people to press on. When they know better story in the book does a real good job of telling a new pilot really how those external pressures were really impact their flying again. Like you said all the stories are stories. That's a real. When I think Wally and I talked about one if what if you were going to propose to your future bride at a certain destination you're going to want to get there. Yeah I mean if you don't make it to the family reunion and you're bringing your ninety-year-old grandmother you're going to be a family out cast the rest of your life. So does that mean. I go a little bit farther to see if the weather's a little bit better a little bit farther ahead. Well that's the temptation and when you when you've never been in a situation like that in any part of your training your face this for the first time so it's it's difficult to say no but if the training had always involved consequences if it always had put you in those situations you know we get better with practice with humans and if we practice making these decisions when when the time comes when the when the real Safety danger lines can be crossed. We'll make a better to stage for sure so your book has a lot of sections that read you know similar to stages of learning how to fly. I guess my question. And I know you've seen a lot but where do you think people are making the biggest mistakes. Is it just decision. Making is it. We all talk about the via foreign IMC what's your gut tell you the biggest whereas the biggest problem lies if you could put your finger on. I think that's what. I think what we just discussed as part of it as it is the ability. The airplanes are fantastic. We get there faster than we can by driving. Of course there you go straight line course. It's a lot more fun but there are times when we shouldn't fly and there are times when we have to say no and we at and sometimes the seasons are unpopular in-flight training. Like I said there's really no consequences if you if you divert someplace because that's what sort of your expected to do but if you have someone waiting on you if it's a business deal and you you have you have to balance you know. Do I press on a little farther. Because I really need to make this flight. Or why do. I upset a lot of people and say no.

And that's a difficult decision. I so I think that's probably the the crux of the matter for many pilots especially newer pilots. Don't mean young you can be a new pilot and not be young and I think that being able to practice it. I I was able to work for NASA. The national aeronautics space administration on scenario-based training work. And he'll say how can you be working for NASA. Men aren't they like rockets and said yeah but the first day in NASA aeronautics and And so we. Didn't we a lot of work where we took students and put them in scenarios like this where we were really had consequences that the head to deal with and and now when Wally gives a check ride it's riding it's written in there that They'll be a scenario placed in some way and so so the student can be We can witness a student under pressure making good decisions and and that Change to the testing was really a result of the of the research. Faa doesn't do anything there date they're very data driven. They don't do anything without numbers so we had to give it to them. Well you mentioned something in your book. I want to talk about but at a flight school a lot of these. Cfi's are spending a little time in jets here and they're they're flying. Maybe second seat in a king air. They're getting that first real pressure from a customer to get to the destination. You talk about flying for the university. But what's your rule as you fly for the university. Well I have flown in the past for our unit with our university president. And I’m a faculty member. Some like twelve runs down below the president right. But I remember the first time I I got on board Our university president. I said you know. I understand that that you are the president and there's really no power on a university campus except for the president but once we close this airplane door the decisions that have nothing to do you being present there is no meeting that is so important that we're going to endanger our lives for. There's no there's no trip home so that you can be there for another meeting tomorrow morning. That is that is so important that we will risk are our live with. He was to his credit. He was always very like look once the door closes. I'm just the passenger any we. Don't we know pilot in command. What it is. I mean But sometimes passengers don't understand that but So I believe. I believe I’ve been able to confront those pressures up front ahead of time and I would do the same thing with relatives and friends and business associates says. Look I mean we want to do this trip. But but we're going to we're going to balance this against what is wise safe. Yeah I think the the young men and women around here that may have that corporate experience for the first time should heed that warning that they really are pilot in command and they need to be holding their passengers of that. Same level of respect and safety corporate president our university president. They paid a lot of money for that airplane and that airplane was is was paid for so they could get home at night or they could be home or they could be at a at a meeting or at a ballgame. That's what they bought the plane for so when you tell them that they can't do it. You see there's a conflict already built in that if you haven't built some kind of understanding ahead of time there could be issues. One thing I find on check rides though is that the the applicant is just so spring loaded to be extremely can conservative. I'll I’ll give a weight and balance scenario where maybe we're five pounds overweight and I will. I will ask them said well. You know what what can we do. And and usually the the the stock answered again as well. We can't go. We're landing at our destination with maybe three and a half hours’ worth of fuel. Maybe thirty-five gallons and say well is there. Is there any way that we can go is is well. We can take bags off. You can take that twenty-pound bag off so well okay. I suppose. I really need to take the bag with me. Is there anything else we can do. And you know usually way down the list of priorities as well. I guess we could take off one gallon of fuel and we'll leave land there with three hours twenty-four minutes’ worth of fuel rather than three hours and thirty minutes worth of fuel. That's an idea yeah. Well that's that's one of those many scenarios that maybe the removing a fuel doesn't feel like a flying thing but it's very much an aviator thing. It's a pilot thing that we have to put in our toolbox to to use for sure so you you said you might have a story towards the end. I got a million more questions. We're kind of coming close on time here. But I want to be respectful of your time. Paul what what. What was the solo store you want to share with us and maybe we can do a part two in the future. Well goodness there's so many but listen to this.

When I thought this was pretty unique. I signed off dad for solo standard situation. Everything was normal. I had him with sent him out with the instruction of going out to do three touching goes and after all the paper work was done and door close engine started. I snuck over to the control. Tower was a class d airport. And the I knew all the controllers in fact the controller on duty was one of my instruments students so they buzzed me in. I went to the top of the control tower. cause I’m wanting to watch this solo from from there and so by the time I get up. The tower was given my student his first ever solo takeoff clearance and away. You went and so he takes off left for downwind he calls in. I think one three one. Four kilo left downwind runway. Two-three touching go. He gets cleared for the touching go. Pick up the binoculars. So I’m going to watch this guy's first landing it's perfect Thought it was perfect. And he makes his touching go. He turns around free. Second down win calls down about that time on the radio here. Yes in towers Sam twenty-nine thousand inbound for landing. Okay Sam twenty. Nine thousand is air force one when the president is not on board. Okay so we all look to the right and we see a seven forty-seven seven and we all say. Oh my goodness only. We didn't say oh. My goodness cautioned wake turbulence so my students turning base and Sam twenty-nine thousand enters and reports downwind runway. Two Three touch and go and the tower says a sample nine-thousand-year clear for touch and go number two behind the behind a Cessna on base and be advised student pilot on his very first solo flight. So the Cessna and time stood still guys as the Cessna turn. Final didn't look like every to the runway. Meanwhile the seven forty-seven is is turning base now Wally. How fast is the seven. Forty-seven going about their. What do you say prob guessing. About one hundred and seventy knots hundred and sixty knots something like that so this is doing what fifty fifty-five. Not so you can see. The situation is not looking good. So I tell the tower to tell my student to make this a full stop landing so they tell him that and the students. There's no no instructor wants me to make a touching go any controllers. Your instructors actually up here in the tower and he's asking you making us full. Stop this time. So finally he gets down on the runway. The forty-seven is bearing down on him. He doesn't make the first taxi way. He kind of creeps to the second taxi gets off clears the runway. Seven forty-seven roars past behind it. Okay then the seven forty-seven captain breaks a little radio protocol at towered. Airports speaks directly to my student. He says “good job Cessna pilot and welcome to the club” awesome. How cool is that. That would be very intimidating. Will I don't know how fast the seven four how much it would cost for seven forty-seven. Go around but I’m sure it's your tax dollars Wally in it wouldn't have had that big of a deal to be fair that that airport was about an hour south of joint base Andrews. We had seen Air force one there before doing practice but never had happened while it had a student on his first solo in that same traffic pattern we have quite a bit of jet traffic around here in every once in a while we'll get a few fighter pilots etc. Come have lunch at the airport and wasn't too long ago. I was watching a student and three marine jets came and did a low pass and he was in the pattern. I'm like that's got to be so intimidating to have these white and orange marine jets circling. You while you're trying to land for the first time All that definitely can be overwhelming. Paul thank you so much for the books I think The aviation communities better. Because of it. I appreciate The Killing Zone. It's definitely made me think about the way we train. And and how are instructors talk and teach students and for whatever impact. He made on scenario-based training. Thank you for that as well. Hopefully you'll take time and come back whether it's after you right third edition or not. We'd love to have you on the show again. Well I’d love to come back and let me just say again to you. Bobby and Wally what tremendous service. You're doing for aviation and I hope. Many people are able to benefit from from the work. You're doing and you're doing it for for all the right reasons for you. Know all the right causes. And I applaud you. We're all we're all in this together. No question thanks you for joining us today. Thank you Paul, and as always stay behind the prop.

Thanks for checking out the Behind The Prop podcast. be sure to click subscribe and check us out online at behind the prop is recorded in Houston, Texas. Show creator and host is Bobby Doss. Co-host is Wally Mulhearn. This shoe is for entertainment purposes Only. and not meant to replace actual flight instruction. Thanks for listening and remember: fly safe!

Thanks for listening and remember: fly safe!