You might have noticed that this year I started closing my columns with the phrase “FLY SMART, FLY SAFE”. The reason for this is just to remind everyone that we need to be thinking about safety, all of the time. Safety is an attitude or mind-set. Safety is several other things; Safety is common sense; Safety is attention to detail; Safety is paying attention to what you are doing.

It seemed like 2007 was the year of SAFETY. The club elevated the position of Safety Officer to the same level as that of the other club officers, like Secretary or Vice-President. We also spent a lot of meeting time discussing safety topics. We discussed SPAD’s. We discussed hand launching. We talked about changing contest rules, all in the name of safety. We looked at new rules. We looked at new guidelines. We looked at printing up cards. We looked at posting new rules, new guidelines and new information on the impound stand, all in an effort to reinforce safety.

Now notice that I said “in an effort to reinforce safety“. I didn’t say, “Resolve safety issues”. That’s because I don’t believe that we have any real safety issues, or at least safety issues that we can do anything about. I can only think of two safety issues. First, no matter what we do we cannot control who flies at our field. If we get a “BAD” flyer at the field; we can talk to him, we can point out the field rules, and we can even call the forest preserve police. But that’s about the extent to which we can go. We can’t throw him out or even ask him to leave. To a certain extent we cannot even control what flies at our field. After all it’s a public field. Second, things break, Period. It doesn’t matter what we do, our models are complex machines and occasionally complex machines just break. We can minimize these failures by doing due diligence and checking our equipment but we cannot eliminate the possibility of failures one hundred percent. It’s like when people ask me how long I’ve been flying. I tell them and then they usually say, “With that much experience, I guess you don’t crash anymore.” I always answer, “No, I just crash less often”.

Like I said, safety is a mindset. We must walk onto the field determined to fly safe. We must concentrate on what we are doing while we are doing it. We cannot afford to get distracted or to get into the habit of doing things by rote without thinking. If you want to have a conversation, don’t do it while you’re doing a safety check or adjusting the mixture or doing a range check. Keep focused on the task at hand. Complete the task then converse. The same is true of flying. If you need to concentrate while flying, tell the person trying to talk to you that you need to concentrate. They’ll understand.

We cannot have the attitude of, “I know I shouldn’t do this or that, but I can get away with it just this once.” I know I should adjust the mixture from behind the prop, but it’s just a quick adjustment….” I know everything’s OK, it worked fine at home, no need to recheck it here. I know doing this is not safe, but it will be OK this one time. Yes, I know you adjusted your engine many times before by just reaching around the prop. We’ve all done it, and got away with it but that doesn’t make it safe. Think about the consequences. What if the prop catches your sleeve or fingers or hand? Sometimes we get lucky. I once flew a whole Fun-Fly with my card in the wrong frequency slot. I didn’t realize my mistake until I was packing up and someone else wanted to use the channel. Only then did I realize I had my card in the wrong channel slot and that I flew the entire morning that way. I was lucky. But we cannot and should not depend on luck.

When we set out to start our engines, hand launch an aircraft, taxi out to the runway or whatever, we need to ask ourselves “Am I doing it in a safe way?” “Is the model restrained, tied down or being held by some one?” “Is the flight line clear to taxi after the pilot stations?” “Is the runway open?” “Anyone else landing or trying to takeoff?” All of these things must be checked before we takeoff. This should become our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). We need to make it a habit to check these things but not just “get into a habit”. We must REALLY THINK while doing these things. No amount of new rules, postings, by-laws changes or discussions is going to make anyone safer. Safety only comes through a conscience effort to be safe. We need to become “Safety Smart”. We all need to Fly Smart to Fly Safe. Enough said.

Fly Smart, Fly Safe, Larry Dudkowski