What is “The Killing Zone” After Flight Training?

Guest blog by Rod Rakic

You might be surprised that a pilot’s first time alone without a flight instructor on board is not statistically their most dangerous flight.

Sometimes a pilot’s most dangerous flying comes later, in what some call “The Killing Zone.” The good news is, today, most pilots already have tools in their flight bag that can help them fly safer and avoid becoming yet another statistic.

For many, the concept of The Killing Zone seems counterintuitive. It’s simpler to imagine that the first time we solo an airplane would naturally be the most dangerous. Then, most would guess, safety records would simply get better as we log more flight time.

Still, many pilots may have heard the old saying that a pilot’s risk of a mishap rises after a couple hundred hours in the cockpit. To some extent, that’s borne out by the statistics. Yet many pilots who hear this bit of lore secondhand can’t quite pinpoint where they even heard of the idea. When does the risk tend to increase? How can they better manage the increased risks? It turns out that the data demonstrates that low-time pilots are relatively safe while in the training environment, but then often initially begin to exhibit habits that lead to airplane accidents after building a bit of experience. Fortunately, the data also shows us that logging additional flight experience over the long term does increase safety.

The Killing Zone: How & Why Pilots Dieby Paul A. Craig was initially published in 1999 and then updated with a second edition in 2013. Craig explains, “…the greatest number of accidents took place when a private or student pilot had between 50 and 350 total flight hours—that span the Killing Zone.” Craig was the first to highlight why the statistics pointed out this trend, but more importantly, he offered specific advice on reducing the risks led by the accident data. Each chapter unpacks a different topic, such as continuing VFR into IFR conditions, maneuvering flight, takeoff and climb, etc.

chart of total fatal accidents vs. flight hours of pilot

(Craig, The Killing Zone: How & Why Pilots Die, 2013)

Other researchers have looked closely at the idea of The Killing Zone, and even rigorous statistical examination of data by the FAA validated the phenomenon. For example, William R. Knecht, at the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, took a close look at the numbers in his 2015 paper, “Predicting Accident Rates From General Aviation Pilot Total Flight Hours.” He summarized, “Consistent with our intuition and the frequency count studies, these models suggest that a “killing zone” indeed exists. Accident rates seem to increase for GA pilots early in their post-certification careers, reaching a peak, and then declining with greater flight experience.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, as John Zimmerman at Air Facts Journal points out in “GA safety trends: what should we worry about?” (2020). Zimmerman highlights, “The good news is that general aviation flying is getting safer. Accidents through 2018 are essentially flat over the preceding four years: about 1200 accidents per year and 200 fatal accidents per year. However, the rate of accidents, which adjusts for hours flown, was down 13% over the last five years.”

 

Pilot-related Accident Type Chart

(Zimmerman, Air Facts, 2020)

Zimmerman clarifies where we should be looking for risk and where bad habits are most likely to strike: “Looking at 2018 statistics, the first thing that stands out is landing accidents: 47% of pilot-related accidents are in this phase. Fortunately, 99% of these are not fatal, but they destroy airplanes, shatter confidence, and increase insurance premiums for the rest of us.”

Zimmerman continues, “By contrast, takeoff accidents are three times less common than landing accidents but over 20 times more likely to be fatal. This is statistically the most dangerous phase of flight (according to 2018 data) because there’s simply no margin for error and no chance to try again.”

Justifiably much of our effort, practice, and attention is focused on landings. But, let’s again follow the data and keep Zimmerman’s reminder top of mind: “Takeoff accidents deserve far more attention than the dreaded base-to-final turn, at least according to the NTSB reports.” 

So how can we put statistics and analysis from Craig, Knecht, and Zimmerman to work in the cockpit? How can pilots escape The Killing Zone? Today, we often have a wealth of data streaming into our aircraft via GPS, ADS-B, cellular data connections, or cockpit WiFi. Yet let’s not ignore the fantastic amount of data that can stream out of the cockpit too. Pilots can put that data to work, whether from integrated flight decks like the G1000 or even their Electronic Flight Bag running on an iPad. Using services like CloudAhoy offers visibility into poor habits and performance that can lead to accidents. Some of the risks pilots face in The Killing Zone can be identified by measuring and reviewing pilot performance.

Here’s an example of how a CloudAhoy debrief can support flight safety. This TBM 900 pilot did a fine job maintaining a consistent airspeed on this visual approach to runway 20R at KSNA. Unfortunately, that speed was consistently slow. The red shaded area in this CloudAhoy debrief on the right highlights that the pilot flew this approach well below the recommended vREF speed (vREF speed is noted by the dashed blue line), decreasing the pilot’s expected safety margins. The CloudAhoy debrief also highlights how getting low on the glide path allowed the sink rate to get away from him, building to over 1,000 feet per minute. It’s an unstable approach, and we know that’s the sort of habit that leads to bending metal.Pilots have a steep learning curve to climb from that first adrenaline-filled solo flight to becoming competent and experienced aviators. The adoption and use of the right tools, like CloudAhoy’s post-flight debrief, can help pilots consistently review performance and uncover and address bad habits before they affect flight safety.

Using 50-AGL-Point to Score Visual Approach

The latest CloudAhoy Pro release included significant improvements to scoring of visual approaches, especially those to a short or long landing.

For scoring a visual approach, we now focus on the 50’ AGL point rather than the runway’s threshold. We check the airspeed at that point, and its distance to the touchdown. The impact of this improvement is that most visual approaches will now get a higher score, because we no longer penalize for landing short or long.

 

Example: Short Landing

This is an example of a visual approach. The 50 AGL point is annotated on the graph.  

To score this approach we consider the airspeed at that point, as well as the touchdown distance from that point.

Short Landing, the 50 AGL point is before the runway

 

By clicking the Info button, you can get information about the touchdown point:

Click or tap the Info button to see Touchdown Info

 

This is a short landing:  the 50 AGL point is before the runway, touchdown is at 522’ from threshold.  

Note that this runway has a displaced threshold so the pilot felt comfortable landing short.

Timeline at 50 AGL – aircraft is before the threshold

 

To get details about the scoring criteria, we can open the score table by clicking or tapping the arrow.  The 50 AGL point is used to evaluate the speed and touchdown.

The detailed scoring, showing all the graders

 

Example: Long landing

This is a landing on the Green Dot at Oshkosh during AirVenture 2021. 

Touchdown on the green dot in KOSH during AirVenture – the 50 AGL point is passed the threshold, as directed by ATC

 

Scoring is based on the 50 AGL point: Touchdown is 1252’ from the 50 AGL point, which is 2715’ from the threshold (see screenshot below), and the scoring has a grade 100 for the “touchdown distance” criteria.

Scoring is based on the 50 AGL point which is well past the threshold.
Runway Info showing touchdown at 2715’ – a long landing

 

* Reminder that for all graders, the goals are customizable and can be adjusted using the Envelope Editor, to fit your SOP

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To summarize:
This adjustment in scoring for visual approaches focuses on the 50 AGL point – taking into account that when flying visually, pilots may choose to land at a point that is not necessarily 1000 ft from the threshold.  This improved scoring applies retroactively –  when you debrief any past flight in your account, it will automatically be re-analyzed and the score will reflect the revised and improved grading.


This is a step in the continuous improvement of the analyzer which makes the scoring increasingly more accurate.

New – Moving Map in 3D View

We released a new feature: moving map in 3D Track view. When on, the aircraft is kept centered while the map or scenery moves during the animation.
(Note that this feature has been available for a long time in 2D Track view)

How to use

To set on: click or tap the Moving Map icon on the top right.

The view will be automatically adjusted so that the aircraft symbol is  positioned at the center of the view.

When you animate (click or tap the Play button), the aircraft symbol will be kept in the center of the view as the background moves around it.

While the moving map is on you can zoom in, zoom out, and change camera positions to move around the aircraft for different viewing angles. You rotate the camera position by dragging the mouse (or finger) right/left and up/down.

Below are a few examples showing how you can use this feature during a debrief.

 

Example – Crosswind Landing
The moving map helps to see clearly the crabbing, while landing with a crosswind.

 

Example – Instrument Approach
Using the moving map display to debrief this instrument approach, we can follow along the approach path and rotate the view to look at it from different angles. By rotating the camera around the aircraft, and by zooming in and out, you can see how the pilot intercepted the glide slope from below, and the accuracy of flying the glide slope and the localizer.

 

Example – Sim flight in a canyon (best in full-screen)
In this simulator flight debrief, we unchecked all the flight segments in the Segment Manager, so only the aircraft symbol is shown.

 

Example – Sightseeing in Alaska
This sightseeing flight was debriefed on an iPad, with the 3D Track View and Moving Map in the left pane.

 

 

CloudAhoy App V6.0 for iOS Released

The CloudAhoy App provides a convenient way to log flight data, with a single click, the data is automatically uploaded into CloudAhoy.  In addition, it provides a way to import flight data from ForeFlightGarmin Pilot, and other EFBs.  And – you can debrief your flight directly in the CloudAhoy App on your device, within minutes after landing. 

CloudAhoy App V6.0 is now available on the App Store. This new version has been rebuilt from the ground up using state-of-the-art technology. It has a new look, and a few enhancements.  More enhancements will follow soon.

To log your flight, just click the red button. The logging will stop automatically, and the flight data will be uploaded to CloudAhoy server. 

Immediately after landing, the flight is ready for debrief – just tap on the D icon which take you to the Post-Flight tab for debrief

 

 

During the flight, you can use the In-Flight tab (previously called “CFI tab” in V5), to create markers during the flight – which will be displayed during the debrief.  The In-Flight tab is available in both the iPhone and the iPad. 

 

 

 

Enhancements in V6.0

CloudAhoy App V6.0 has a few enhancements: 

  • Multitasking:

CloudAhoy App V6  supports multitasking – running CloudAhoy side by side with other apps.

Multitasking is useful for using the In-Flight tab to create markers and custom segments during a flight, while using  an EFB such as ForeFlight.

 

  • Straight to debrief:

For those of you who use the app mostly for debrief and not for logging, you can set the “Post-Flight” tab to be the default when you open the app.  To do so, tap on the Setting icon.

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This is useful if you have a configuration in which flight data is uploaded automatically (e.g. using AirSync), thus – you are using CloudAhoy app for debriefing and not for logging.

  • Location Services: 

You can use the “While Using App” setting in iOS. 

If you are not using the app for Logging – e.g. you are configured to automatically upload with AirSync, or you import flights using SD card – you can use “Never”. 

  • Organization branding:

 

 

Users who belong to an organization will see their organization’s logo alongside the CloudAhoy logo.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Note about Debrief Tab

Debriefing inside the V6 app is exactly the same as in V5.


 


Feedback?  Questions?  Suggestions? 

 

 

All feedback is welcome!

Click the Feedback icon or send email to Team@Cloudahoy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fun Fact

When Chuck Shavit started to write code for what would later become CloudAhoy, the first thing he wrote was the app.  At the time it was on an iPhone 3 🙂

With the release of V6 of the app, the very first lines of code ever written for CloudAhoy are now retiring!

Throwback image:

CloudAhoy in 2013


Debriefing a Nicely Performed Crosswind Landing

Crosswind landings can be very stressful to pilots of any level. They take skill and practice to perform. And whether you are of the “crab method” or the “wing-low method” on the final approach, both are something pilots have to practice regularly to feel comfortable performing, especially when flying near the top of your personal wind limits. 

Pilot Gary Bond shared a recent flight with us where he executed a very nice crosswind landing. Gary landed on RWY 18L at Huntsville International Airport (HSV) in his Grumman Tiger. Throughout the approach, winds were from the west at approximately 15 knots.

Looking at the green Flight Path Vector, we can see how well the pilot executed a crab angle into the wind to maintain his ground track with the runway centerline. His heading is 194, but the ground track is 185. 

2 mile final:

1 mile final (and additional views):

Reviewing Gary’s score and knowing that there was a 13 kt crosswind on landing, he did well to fly within or close to the goal ranges set by CloudAhoy. There is no doubt that overall he did a very nice job. What is really impressive, and something many pilots struggle with even in light winds (myself included), is the precision with which he landed on the centerline in this crosswind. Even with the safety net of a 150 ft wide runway, CloudAhoy data shows that he landed only ONE foot off center – wow, impressive!! 

For fun, on the right side, we’ve zoomed in to “watch” the landing. We see Gary hold his crab angle nicely over the centerline and then just a few feet above the runway he adds that left rudder to align the nose and the longitudinal axis of the plane with the centerline, touching down straight and center. Nice flying Gary! 

 

Gary is a GA pilot who loves airplanes and flying, ever since childhood. His first solo was in a glider back in 1991; he earned his private pilot (SEL) certificate in 2000. In 2002, Gary took a 17-year hiatus from flying to help raise his family and has returned to flight by purchasing a 1978 Grumman AA-5B Tiger in 2019. His next goal is an instrument rating. You can watch Gary’s 360-degree flying videos at the Grumman Tiger YouTube Channel

The CloudAhoy Team likes to highlight fun flights and learning moments. If you want to share your flight debrief with us, and possibly have it featured, send us the debrief link and any notes to team@cloudahoy.com.

Cruise Checklists: What If, Why, and When

By Markus Rex

All of us who do frequent long cross-country flying sit in the airplane, comfortably, being carried to our destination, with the engine humming along nicely, and lots of complex machinery doing its part in getting us there. If you are like me, you occasionally think “it would be good to think about what-if”. We all should, but hundreds of hours of safe flying are doing their part and add to our complacency. If we are instrument rated, we even have ATC watching out for us – great!

Yet sometimes the small voice becomes loud enough to do something about the “what if” question. For me it happened during a long solo cross-country flight in night IMC, when each flicker of a needle is analyzed, the engines are watched constantly and every ever-so-slightly changed sound gets the adrenaline going. After that flight, I thought it would be good if I kept similar vigil during flights under more relaxed conditions (Day VFR on an IFR flight plan comes to mind). After some pondering I adapted the airlines’ idea of regular structured instrument checks during cruise for my GA flying. My “Cruise Checklist” was born. 

My wife Heidi is also a pilot, and we do most of our flying together. So on the next few flights we experimented with the concept, and came up with a good flow (all our checklists are flow-based) that works for us. Below are the variants for a Cessna 172S with a G1000, and a fully equipped Diamond DA42 twin:

 

Cessna:

Diamond:

Initially we had more specific tasks outlined, but quickly settled on generics, to combat the complacency and force mental agility. The pilot still needs to have the full picture in his or her head – for example how much fuel is expected in the tanks, taking the time since the last check and the fuel flow into account. Or understand which are safe engine operation parameters. That big picture might just be enough to help you out of a bind when an emergency happens.

Another part of our experimenting was the frequency for the cruise checklist. As it is intended as a back-stop to prevent any aspect from being overlooked during the regular PIC watch duty, it makes no sense to run it every 5 minutes. And once an hour might be great on a transoceanic flight, but not really helpful in a Cessna 172… we settled on every 15 minutes as our optimal timing. 

[In this picture, we are cruising along at night, high above a thick layer of clouds, with the next waypoint being over 90 min away. GREAT time to lose vigilance without a constant reminder like the cruise checklist.]

During the optimization phase we discovered that running the cruise checklist every 15 minutes after reaching cruise altitude adds a lot of distraction and unreliability. We now run it at XX:00, XX:15, XX:30 and XX:45, starting with reaching cruise altitude. So if we reach our cruising altitude at 09:37, we run the cruise checklist the first time at 09:45, the second time at 10:00 and so on.

Running the cruise checklist regularly does not make the small voice at the back of my mind go away, alone in the dark and the clouds, but it gives me a framework and a reassuring back-stop of tasks completed, and ensures that we do not lose the big picture, while still listening to every faint engine noise change.

 

Markus and his wife, Heidi, split their time between Germany and Boston. They own and fly a DA42.