Bullying on TPN

Between the election, COVID, the truly shameful storming of our National Capitol, and a few other controversial posts, there’s been quite a bit of drama within our Network lately, let alone the US at large. While I’m all about some constructive discussion, I feel like things are going too far.

Thankfully, Matt & Adam have updated our existing ROEs to include a 7-day ban for any political rants. I don’t care what side you’re on, this is not the place for that.

Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a prevalence of bullying lately. I’m writing this as a plea:

Please don’t be a bully…especially not here on TPN.

The straw that broke this camel’s back on the subject was our discussion attached to this post about the E-11A crash in Afghanistan. (This is far from the only instance of bullying I’ve seen lately. I focus on this specific situation because it’s useful in making my point.)

In the comments on that post, one of our members made an ill-advised attempt at gallows humor and several people responded with breathtaking harshness.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m frustrated by the attitude, and the fact that the individual didn’t immediately apologize upon seeing the fury his comment evoked. I flew that exact aircraft on several combat missions and captained/commanded it on a trip from Wichita to Kandahar. I was also acquainted with Ryan Phaneuf at Laughlin AFB. This accident hits home for me. And yet, the emotionally-driven nature of the bullies’ replies seems particularly ironic to me in light of the accident being discussed.

Yours truly flying an E-11A on a combat mission over Afghanistan. Losing that aircraft and that crew truly hurts.

I’m going to address that accident in some detail now. Please understand that I do this with utmost humility and respect for our fallen heroes. Although the conclusion from the AIB is unavoidably what all pilots dread hearing (pilot error) it’s important for us to learn from it. Given my experience in that specific jet, I think I have some unique insight that may help everyone operate more safely. I hope it also helps demonstrate the point I’m trying to make about bullying. Please be respectful in your comments.

My thoughts are also going to poke a finger in the chest of some of the people guilty of being bullies. For those from the military, please take this as constructive criticism under the assumption of a “no rank in the debrief” atmosphere. Also know that if I’m being harsh in any of my feedback, part of the reason is that I see the same bad behavior in some of the comments that I myself have posted (irrevocably) on the internet. I’m disappointed with myself, and recognize that I need to do better just as much as anyone else I’m calling out. I apologize for my conduct and pledge to improve.


If you read the final report from the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) you’ll see that the mishap aircraft lost a single fan blade, leading the electronic engine computer to automatically shut down the affected engine. Available data shows that the crew attempted to troubleshoot and identify the affected engine, but ultimately shut down the wrong one.

They were out of glide range for a suitable runway and any restart attempts appear to have failed. The aircraft impacted some berms after landing, the wings separated, and both pilots were killed…either through the impacts or the post-crash fire.

The saddest part about this mishap is that it’s maddeningly simple to identify the critical error that exacerbated their situation, and the way to fix it, from our cosy overstuffed Monday morning quarterback brand armchairs.

The mishap crew didn’t take enough time to troubleshoot the problem.

If they’d just waited longer, it would have become more obvious which engine had failed. It should have been a relatively routine emergency return to a single engine ILS approach and landing.

So, how does this highlight the hypocrisy of bullying on TPN, Emet? We’re almost there.

This aircraft crashed and this crew died because they didn’t wait long enough and gather enough data before taking action. If we pause to think about it, we can probably understand why.

I experienced engine damage and shut down the motor in my C-170A many years ago. I’d owned it for less than a year and proudly flew it to teach at a CAP glider encampment in Minnesota before continuing to EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh where all my friends congratulated me on my excellent purchase.

On the way home, my engine started putting out less power than it should have. Eventually, it started running roughly. At first, it was just a noticeable vibration. However, the violence of those vibrations increased until they became what I can only describe as bucking. The bucking got so bad that I was actually worried about the motor tearing itself off the mount…a situation that would instantly leave me with a fatally aft center of gravity. Finally, I saw a big puff of white smoke and clicked off both the master and mags.

Between some luck and habit patterns that stem from being a glider pilot, I was already on profile for a good runway. I landed safely and pushed my airplane to the FBO. However, I would have shut my engine down when I did, whether I was on profile for a runway or not. I was more concerned about the failing engine damaging the rest of the aircraft and impacting my ability to maintain aircraft control.

Could our late E-11A crew have acted based on similar concerns?

Putting the term “uncontained” in front of “engine failure” invokes a sense of dread from any turbine pilot. It can mean anything from a little cowling damage, to thousands of pieces of hot shrapnel tearing through aircraft structure, plumbing, and even passengers.

The engines on the E-11A (aka, the Bombardier Global Express) are mounted high and aft on the fuselage. They’re near hydraulic and fuel lines, electrical wiring, the APU, the back of the pressure vessel that operates at a differential pressure of 10 PSI, the rudder, and the horizontal stabilizer. Unlike military aircraft that are designed to survive battle damage, the Global is designed as a limo for billionaires who can afford the best maintenance money can buy. Not only could an uncontained engine failure wreak havoc on several of the jet’s major aircraft systems, it could potentially damage aircraft structure and flight controls in a way that would make the aircraft uncontrollable.

There’s a lot going on near the E-11’s engines. An uncontained engine failure is absolutely a cause for worry. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Anna-Marie Wyant)

So, there you are: cruising around FL420 when all hell breaks loose. The EICAS (aircraft alert system) starts screaming about all kinds of problems…including an engine failure. You hear at least one loud bang and some engine vibrations.

Of course you’re going to try to troubleshoot, just like this crew did. How effective can your troubleshooting be with the information you have available?

The E-11A has fantastic systems displays (called SYNOPTIC displays) that most airline pilots should be used to. Every time you actuate a switch, the displays show the valve turning or relay closing. They show exactly the temperature, pressure, voltage, etc. of individual sections of each system.

You can see at least two SYNOPTIC pages here on Display Unit 2. Those pages are wonderful and provide unbelievable amounts of SA. Apparently though, even these magnificent displays aren’t always enough. Sometimes you have to take your time and dig deeper. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Anna-Marie Wyant)

One of the things that I have not yet heard discussed about this mishap is the fact that this crew shut down the wrong engine despite having a wealth of systems information on their SYNOPTIC displays. They didn’t skip troubleshooting…the data clearly shows their process, and it makes at least some sense. The fact that they attempted troubleshooting and still shut down the wrong motor either means they failed to use their SYNOPTIC displays due to a perceived time pressure, or, far worse, the displays were incapable of providing the information they needed by the time they felt driven to take action.

I can picture myself on that flight deck.

<BOOM!>

“Oh F*#&!”

“Yep. Let’s take a look and see what we have.”

“It looks like we lost an engine.”

“I agree, but they’re both still showing N1, N2, etc. No telling how long it’ll take the bad motor to spool down. We need to do some analysis to figure out which one it is.”

“I agree. Let’s try this throttle.”

“Nothing obvious there. How about the other one?”

As a pilot, I fully expect that procedure to give me some kind of clear indication as to which engine had failed. Although I’ve been trained my entire career to take my time when troubleshooting issues in the air, once I get positive indications explaining the problem my next inclination is to “take the proper action.”

It’s easy for us sitting here at Groundspeed Zero to realize that if they’d waited longer the SYNOPTIC displays would have eventually made it more obvious which engine had failed. If they’d left each throttle at idle for longer while troubleshooting they would have seen a greater airspeed and/or altitude decrease with the good engine pulled back. If both engines appeared to be producing thrust, there’s no immediate need to shut one down, right? This is all very easy for us to say when it isn’t our seats rumbling and our adrenaline spiking.

If only they’d taken the time to get all the context they’d needed before taking action. Right?

And now let’s talk about our bullying issues.

For those that responded to a post made in clearly poor taste with the kind of name-calling that my 9- and 11-year old children use on a regular basis, how many minutes elapsed between you reading that comment and righteously throwing your spear? Or was it only a matter of seconds?

For those who immediately took screenshots and fired them off to the hiring department at their major airline, did you ever consider expanding your analysis long enough to make sure the SYNOPTIC pages were giving you useful data? Did you ever consider the possibility of educating or rehabilitating the offender before doing everything in your power to tank his career?

Who knows what this particular pilot’s background was? He obviously doesn’t understand the reverence military pilots have for our accident investigation process. It seems likely that he’s never flown in combat or lost someone to a frustratingly preventable accident.

With these questions in mind I ask you:

What is the purpose of The Pilot Network?

  • Is it for pilots like me to show how universally smart we are and prove our aviation righteousness each and every day?
  • Is it for winning arguments?
  • Is it for using force to stomp the unlearned or inexperienced into submission from day one?

I sure hope not.

For me, the purpose of The Pilot Network is to help each and every person here to enjoy aviation…and when applicable to help each other to achieve our aviation career goals.

For me, this means sharing information in a constructive way. I daresay that even means it’s incumbent upon those of us with experience to mentor those who lack that experience.

I hope you share at least part of that purpose with me.

Having acknowledged this, how does calling names or rushing to destroy another person’s career count as mentoring?

If you were guilty of some unplanned buffoonery is that how you’d want people to respond to you? What if the buffoon were your best friend? Or your kid?

Could you have chosen some other ways to address the comment that triggered you? Did you try responding with constructive criticism? Did you consider a PM to the author? Did you consider including your phone number in that PM and asking for a phone conversation? Did you offer a FaceTime call? Could you have waited 20 minutes, or an hour, or a day before trying any of those?

Wouldn’t any of those provide you the opportunity to do some actual mentoring? Wouldn’t any of those allow you to get more information from the individual? Someone stalked him and discovered he’s probably a regional FO. Is there any circumstance under which it would have been worthwhile to try educating your enemy before attacking?

Would you feel equally justified in your fury if the offender had lost his or her own father or mother to a combat mission…who had found gallows humor as the only effective means for dealing with the lifetime without that parent? (I’m not saying that’s the case with this individual, but did any of you bother to ask?)

Now, there’s a chance your mentoring may have been rejected. Who among us hasn’t rejected the input of some greybeard as being pompous or out of touch? Still, maybe your enemy just made a simple mistake and his or her further conduct would have been acceptable in your eyes. Should one mistake justify ruining his or her career?

It’s possible that your enemy might have responded to your earnest efforts with a lot more really bad attitude. If he or she stayed obstinate and disrespectful, then I can certainly see a case for making sure you don’t ever have to fly with that individual at your airline. However, how hard did you try to get to know the individual, mentor him or her, and constructively adjust the ill-advised behavior before you dropped your nuke?

I assert that most people who have fired off an angry comment, called names, or launched screenshots to your airline hiring department lately are guilty of taking the wrong action without taking the time to sufficiently analyze the situation. Just like those whose sacrifice and memory you’re trying to defend, you’ve shut down the wrong engine by not waiting long enough to figure out which engine had failed.

I know and respect some of the bullies I’ve seen on TPN lately. I know you’re capable of better. I sure hope I am.

Will you please join me in being those better versions of ourselves?

Here are some guidelines:

  1. When you see a post or comment you find objectionable, the first step is to do nothing. If you’re still fired up about it in 15 minutes, then make it an hour. If you’re still fired up about it after that, then take another hour. In the meantime, go for a walk, eat a snack, or go fly an airplane. If you haven’t forgotten about it by the time your emotions are in check, try leaving a civil comment that can only be classified as constructive criticism.
  2. If that doesn’t produce the desired effect, PM the individual. Invite a conversation there, on the phone, on FaceTime, or whatever other platform will allow you to have an open, 2-way conversation.
  3. During this conversation, you are a mentor. (If you need a refresher on what that means, please read this post from BogiDope.) Start by asking lots of questions. Try to figure out who this person is, what level of experience and understanding he or she has, and how you might be able to use that context to convey your advice.
  4. Only after you’ve taken the time to figure out who you’re dealing with should you offer some advice. If they’ve disrespected the fallen and/or the accident investigation process, explain why military pilots take such strong exception. If you think they’ve given bad advice or published false information, back your assertion up with source documentation. You may wish to suggest the other party remove their comment or post. You may wish to suggest they publicly apologize. Remember: as a mentor your overall goal is the long-term welfare of the person you’re mentoring.
  5. If and only if you get nothing but unrepentant bad attitude, then you may choose to leave a public rebuke on the comment thread. Note that you’ve offered advice offline with the other’s best interest at heart, that it was refused, and that you hope he or she learns in the future. Don’t publicly shame or belittle the other person. It only makes you look bad. I won’t fault you for firing off your screenshots at this point, but please complete your due diligence before you clear yourself hot.
  6. A better solution may be to just click “Report Post” or “Report Comment” and let the TPN admins take care of it. We can (and do) delete inappropriate material when we can keep up with it. We can also sanction bad actors with or without requiring them to permanently leave the Network. (We would always prefer rehab over exile.) If you’d like to help with this responsibility, let us know. We could use a few good Moderators to help keep an unruly group of 25,000+ pilots in check.

I know TPN can be a fantastic resource for every member. It helped me get my dream job at Delta and find other opportunities above and beyond that. I know I’ve been able to help others through TPN and I have every intention of continuing that tradition. I hope you’ll join me in that mission. I know many of us have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with others. Let’s do that without being bullies about it.

Jason “Emet” Depew
Editor In Chief
The Pilot Network

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