Great, John, I told you! Geez! The difference between a duck and a co-pilot

6 Jan 17 4 Comments

This is apparently a classic but new to me: a training video recreating the issues in the cockpit from a runway overrun in 1976.

The question was whether to land downwind on a foggy runway in icing conditions or whether to circle to land. The circle to land could have meant that the crew would not have time to have a meal. The captain and the flight engineer make their priorities clear and when the co-pilot expresses concern about the approach, the flight engineer puts him in his place. “What’s the difference between a duck and a co-pilot? The duck can fly.”

First Officer Want me to fly today?
Captain No Response
First Officer What’s the glide slope there John?
Captain Well, we know where we are … we’ll be alright
Flight Engineer Don’t you worry, the fox is gonna have it wired.
First Officer I hope so.
Captain No problem.
First Officer This a little faster than you normally fly this, John?
Captain Oh yeah, but it’s nice and smooth. We’re gonna get in right on time, maybe a little ahead of time. We got it made.
First Officer Sure hope so.
Flight Engineer You know John, what’s the difference between a duck and a co-pilot?
Captain What is that?
Flight Engineer A duck can fly.
Captain Well said.
First Officer Seems like there’s a bit of tail wind up here, John.
Captain Yeah, we’re savin gas …help us get in a couple of minutes early too.
First Officer John, you’re just a little below the MDA (maximum descent altitude) here.
Captain Yeah, we’ll take care of it here.
First Officer This is a little too high.
Captain Yeah, gear down.
First Officer You really look awfully high.
Captain 15 degree flaps … 25 on the flaps.
First Officer John, you’re really high …you’re gonna need 40 on the flaps here to get this thing down. I don’t think you’re gonna make it John, if you don’t get this sucker on the ground.
Flight Engineer Get it down, John.
First Officer I don’t think you’re gonna make it. I don’t think you’re gonna make it.
Captain We’re going around. Oh darn.
Flight Engineer 130, 140 knots.
First Officer It isn’t gonna stop John. We’re not gonna make it John. Great John. I told you. …Geez…

Then there is the sound of impact on voice recorder.

The unprofessional “banter” in the cockpit and the utter disregard with which the captain treats his first officer’s concerns really show the importance of good Cockpit Resource Management (CRM). This is something we know a lot more about now but in 1976, the focus on CRM was just beginning.

The following is directly from the December 1976 NTSB accident report

The Safety Board believes that all flight crew members, and most particularly the second-in-command, should be more outspoken in advising the pilot-in-command when they believe that the flight is being conducted in a non-standard, careless or dangerous manner. Such constructive advice could prompt the pilot-in-command to reassess his procedures. Similarly, pilots-in-command should foster an atmosphere in the cockpit which permits constructive advice and positive recommendations for change where safety may be involved.

The safety board has previously recognized the need for improved guidelines regarding the circumstances and manner in which a flight crew member should take affirmative action and has urged that copilots strengthen their sense of responsibility in adhering to prescribed procedures and safe practicies. The Board again urges airline management and pilots’ organizations to reexamine the relationship between the captain and the flight crew members with a view towards formulating an effective enunciation of responsibilities in circumstances where the aircraft is being operated unsafely.

The reenactment shows how terrible CRM was forty years ago, with the Captain cutting the first officer off and then the flight engineer putting him down. The first officer clearly recognised that the approach wasn’t stabilised and said so repeatedly but the captain was not interested in his help. I have to say, from a modern perspective, I’m a bit miffed that the investigation report complains that the second-in-command (the first officer) should be more outspoken.

These days, of course, he’d be fully correct in taking control from the captain, nevermind “constructive advice”!

The captain’s faulty judgement in initiating a go-around after he was committed to a full stop landing following an excessively long and fast touchdown from an unstabilized approach.
Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s unprofessional decision to abandon the precision approach.


  • Happy New Year to yez all and may you not do such a stupi, reckless, feckless, unprofessional thing as John. Who killed himself and everyone else on board with him.
    This B727 accident is a “classic”. A tragic end. It is played to nearly all crews doing CRM training to be discussed. And of course, as an example of an extremely unprofessional captain and flight engineer. The first officer, even when he clearly and very correctly voiced his objections, was not only ignored but actively humiliated. The actual flight, at least the final segment, for this video is played out in a simulator with the actual voice recorder sounds. Sobering !
    The CRM sessions usually balance this one with another incident, coincidentally also concerning a B272. But the way the captain handles the situation, and the outcome, are very different. On the opposite ends of the CRM scale.
    Here, a 272 suffers a massive electrical failure just after take-off and on a dark night.
    In the movies, the captain – usually played by Charlton Heston – will be at the wheel, square-jawed and steely-eyed. He will do the flying, the navigation, change frequencies, talk to ATC and calmly in the public address, putting cabin crew and passengers at ease. The first officer in the right-hand seat looks alternatively out of the window or adoringly at his captain who, in the end, against all odds, will save them all.
    The captain in the scene used for the CRM training did not conform to the hero from the movie. Having assessed the situation and found that there is nothing in the emergency checklist to solve the problem, he handed the flight controls to the first officer who did a great job keeping the aircraft under basic control, using the standby instruments.
    This vote of confidence made the F/O perform very well and it freed the captain to MANAGE the situation. Together with the flight engineer, he went through every possible scenario. Here again, bringing out the best in the cockpit crew, he decided to use a procedure suggested by the F/E. They discussed it. It was not in any of the manuals but the captain allowed the F/E to try it.
    It worked, and later this procedure became part of the official B727 syllabus for emergencies.
    A superb example of CRM that rightfully also found it’s place in the ground school of many flight training establishments.

  • Happy New Year to yez all and may you not do such a stupid, […]

    This B727 accident is a “classic”. A tragic end. It is played to nearly all crews doing CRM training to be discussed. And of course, as an […] coincidentally also concerning a B727 * […].
    Here, a 727* suffers a massive electrical failure just after take-off and on a dark night.

    * Yes guys, I know, In both examples the aircraft were Boeing 727’s in case you wonder “what the heck is a B272?”

  • Rudy: is there another accident with this scenario? The NTSB report linked says there was only one fatality — which is incredibly lucky considering how fast they were going and that there’s a steep drop into water on the left beyond the runway. Turning right after several contradictory actions appears to have been the one thing “John” did right; the report makes clear that he did several things wrong (being consistently under the glide slope, late gear extension, late checklist execution) but the worst condemnation is his testimony that he “established a glide slope of my own” and that his eyes were “the most reliable thing I have.” I’ve read of the eccentricities and arrogance of airline pilots in the 1950’s; seems like it carried over later than I’d heard.

    And thanks for the description of the updated CRM; it makes getting onto a plane today feel less chancy. The question that goes with this is whether a pilot with symptoms of diabetes would be able keep his ATP license, and if so whether he’d be instructed on how to keep his blood sugar in balance?

  • I also note wonder whether the ALPA had a hand in the muted and abstract discussion of the cockpit atmosphere; in other professions I would hope the comments would be less circumspect about the captain’s conduct, instead of (as Sylvia notes) claiming the co-pilot should be more assertive in the face of abuse they don’t acknowledge. That’s not bad CRM; that’s bad management, period.

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