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The F/O's dilemma...

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Senior Member
Nov 26, 2001
I have some ideas on this subject, but would also like some ideas from other pilots who fly multi-crew aircraft. As a captain, you are always responsible for the flight, and in command, no question. However, every FO has had to deal with strange captains, perhaps even dangerous ones, and perhaps has thought of a situation when he might need to take over command. I'm sure the guy on Egypt Air's flight that went into the ocean might have thought about this. I've not been in the military, so some who have can probably help, but doesn't the military have rules for a lower officer taking command of a ship? I saw the movie "Crimson Tide," and even though it's fiction, I'm sure it's based on a possible situation. I have also heard of soldier disobeying a superior officer's commands because they were illegal, just as the Nazi's should have. They tried at Nuremburg to say that they had to do what they were told, and that arguement didn't keep them out of prison. I'm sure it wouldn't keep me from being violated just the same.

Anyway, if anyone has any insight on this, and also for handling captains who try to get you to fly differently than your flight standards manual states, or perhaps are just difficult to work with, this would be appreciated. It's especially difficult for pilots on probation, so when I get a difficult captain, I tend to stay with him because if I called in sick, some poor guy on probation will have to deal with him. I just don't see this as fair. So, what do you guys think?
Plane and simple. If you have the FOM and FSM to back you up (company policy...not sure what your airline calls your manuals), you are right.
The only time I've considered taking the controls away scared me quite badly. I was flying with a known problem captain. Just less than a year before we had a near fatal incident due to a full stall in moderate icing on a coupled ILS. The FO took control from the captain. Long story short, they tried to hide it and the story came out. Fast forward 1 year later. Flying into ORD...I'm a low time FO <1000TT with an extremely senior captain with 10k+ hours. Very degrading person which caused me to be quite unsure of myself. The ice protection on that aircraft was operated exclusively by the NFP. I was looking outside at the boot cycle upon level off. We had a full boat and the autopilot was on. The captain never advanced the power levers upon level off and the airspeed was bleeding off very rapidly. When I looked back inside, we were passing through Vref for our weight (we were still at 4000 being vectored for 22R) when I announced our predicament. The FP only slightly advanced the power levers which resulted in us stabilizing 10kts below Vref. I then stated we needed more power. I placed my hands behind the power levers and verbalized the captain's name while stating our problem (lack of speed for the flight conditions). Full power was applied and a standard approach ensued.
Since that incident I have come up with my 3 strike plan. Many others use a similar method.
Strike 1- Announce the problem
Strike 2- Announce the problem with the solution
Strike 3- State their name...if no response, consider them unresponsive and take control.

I got to strike 3 and a response finally came from the FP.

That's my experience. I'm not totally happy with the way I handled it but I did learn a lot about myself.
skydiverdriver said:
Anyway, if anyone has any insight on this, and also for handling captains who try to get you to fly differently than your flight standards manual states, or perhaps are just difficult to work with, this would be appreciated.

Ahh....Conflict Resolution. What to do? Consider the below:

Techniques on how to solve a conflict in the cockpit:
-Define the issue(s)
-Focus on "What" is wrong, not "Who"
-State the problem
-Express concern
-Propose a solution
-Achieve Agreement

Here's a good one.

I used to fly with a captain who was a real pain in the A$$! Even if he was the Pilot Not Flying (PNF), he would constantly ramble on about every little thing. One day I was flying into Kahului and I was on final. He goes "it's really gusty, I want you to fly your approach faster than normal". So, I added some power and flew my approach 5 knots faster than normal. When I was about 150 feet off the ground he shoved the throttles up and shouted "pick the speed up!" I asked him if he wanted to take the plane, and he said no. Then I told him sternly "O.K., if I'm flying the aircraft, please DO NOT touch the controls!". I was really pissed off, and I didn't want to argue with him 100 feet above the ground. So, I removed the excess power and proceeded to land the plane.

After we landed and the passengers got off the plane, I told him that I wanted to talk to him about what happened. I told him that according to our Ops Manual, the PNF must get a positive exchange of control prior to manipulating the controls. I told him that I offered to give up the plane, but he didn't want to take control. I then told him that not only was it very dangerous for the PNF to be changing power settings 150 feet off the ground, but it was clearly against out procedures. "I'm the captain of this ship, I can do whatever I want to do!" he yelled. I responded by agreeing with the fact that he was the ultimate authority, but that he also had a responsiblility to adhere to the company's procedures. I then suggested that the next time he felt uncomfortable with a situation, ask for control of the plane. I apologized about raising my voice at him, and explained that I was just very concerned about the safety of the flight. He forgave me, and agreed not to do that sort of thing again. After that we never had a problem flying with each other. However, we didn't fly together too many times before he was fired (they guy was really dangerous, and the chief pilot had enough).

Well, hope this helps.

In a safety of flight situation where time is critical, announce the problem. If no corrective action is taken, announce it again. If no correction is taken or no response is received, assume incapacitation, and take control. Announce taking control, and take the corrective action. The times when this will occur are rare, but almost every advanced training worldwide teaches this practice; it's SOP for many training systems.

There are many levels of interaction; the above is the final level when nothing else has happened. If you see a critical situation developing and no action is being taken, then it's time to do something about it. Short of that time, it's best to strike a happy medium by working with the other pilot in an effort to resolve the situation. Most of the time, verbal notification will take care of it, sometimes a physical action such as pointing to a control or lever, or even physically blocking movement of a control.

As an example, I was acting as PNF during a takeoff in a large four engine airplane. Shortly after we came off the ground, we had a problem on the #3 engine which required a shutdown. The PF attepted to shut down the #2 engine. I blocked him. He became agitated, and tried harder. I pointed to the gage showing the problem, and then the appropriate power lever. The PF nodded his agreement, and we proceeded with verification and a shutdown. Not a big deal; simply a mistake in selecting the approriate engine. Easily solved; and that's about the level of most interaction in such a case. On the ground he said thanks for catching it, and the matter was forgotten.

For problem captains of PF's, remember that a little sugar goes a long way. Don't bruise ego, and if you can preserve dignity while supporting the PF, then you're a lot closer to nirvana in the cockpit. Good luck!!
In my opinion, AWACoff's plan is among the best. It is also the method taught at CRM at my company; taught by FlightSafety. I have used it and it works (I too flew with the captain he mentions in a previous life).
The Captain is the Captain. Period. He has the ultimate aithority, backed by law for the safety of the flight. This is the same on an aircraft as it is on a ship. However, this does not give the Captain the right to act illegally or irresponsibly. And this is where the dilemma starts for an FO on an aircraft, an XO on a naval vessel or the Chief Mate on a merchant ship. If a Captain wants to fly approaches at Vref +30, then I suppose it is his perogitive. Is it against a company FSM? Probably. Is it illegal? Debatable. Now that same Captain wants to go below minimums on an approach. Is it against comapny policy? Yes. Is it illegal? Absolutely. Does the FO have a duty to take the flight controls and have a complete breakdown of the flight deck command structure and potentially create a more dangorous sitiuation? That FO had better be right. If he isn't, he will probably find himself fired faster than the individual who acted illegally. Are there recourses to take after the flight. Absolutely, positively and it must be done. Now for the more marginal cases, ie technigues or style against the FSM. ALPA represented carriers have something called "professional standards" that is there to deal with these situations. In fact my company supports it 100%. Even if you are not sure you are in the right, they are there for your own guidance. If you are correct, they have a system set up for counseling. This is a non- disciplinary function and gives the offending individual the oppurtunity to correct the error of their ways. It may still end up in the Chief Pilots office, especially if the offending action is blatently illegal. The prostans people deal with these situatuions and have guidance on how to resolve conflicts as they arise and are there to take an unobjective view. I have personnaly never used them but FO's and Captain's who I've spoken to that have used them say nothing but good things about the system.
I just read a book called 'MUTINY; a history of naval mutiny's'

it basically says there are "gnawing questions' about what constitutes a mutiny and what doesn't. There was a good example of a navy captain in vietnam who was pretty out of line.

everybody screws up, even capt's.
Okay, thanks for the posts. I think this is pretty much what I planned to do, using the two challenge rule as stated. However, I guess I was really more interested in dealing with problem captains in general, and not just one incident where you may have to take control.

What if you have a guy that just does things that drive you crazy? We all have flown with people like that. I guess they get their jollies by berating other people. They are upset that they are stuck at a regional, or perhaps they have no control at home. They have the need to harass people they work with, and people keep refusing to fly with them. I hate to call in sick, because, again, they will have to call some poor slob on reserve that's probably still on probation. In the past, I have harassed captains back, or even just told them not to talk to me unless it's related to the flight. I've had captains tell me when to report, or tell me not to stay up late on an overnight. When I'm in the hotel, I might as well be at home, and the captain has no control over me. Our ops manual states that he is in command in flight only, and I can walk away on the ground as well.

Any thoughts on this?
A captain is a captain, big deal. Usually a captain has his mind on a lot of other stuff. Could be his retirement fund, the last spat with number 6 wife, or all the money he just lost at the craps table the night before. It could also be on the big picture of things and he is using you yes you to keep him out of trouble with the little things. Usually when it is the FO's leg I just let him go, as long as he is not going to cause discomfort to the passengers I give him/her a lot of latitude. As the person comes closer and closer to the safety boundry I get more and more aggressive in getting back to the margin that I feel comfortable with. If I have an FO that is safe but is busting the FOM standards I take him out for a beer or coffie and explain to him that he is only hurting his upgrade as that is what company really looks for FOM Compliance-they assume you are safe. I expect the same reciprocity on the line from the FO. We NEVER take anything to the Chief Pilot we solve everything on the road. If it is a real issue them we take it too the union committee. FO's and FE's are sharp and I have been called on stuff that throught all my training I had missed or overlooked, in the end it made me a better captain. I want guys to speak up because I am depending on them to keep me/us out of trouble. If you don't understand why a captain did something, talk to him in a 'safe haven' after the flight and usually he will give you good reason. If safety is not being compromised NEVER argue on the flight deck. As for taking over the controls I have only had to ever do that once and that was due to a major error by the first officer and I was preventing a literal crash. If the captain is any captain at all simply a verbal call is all that is need and it should be followed by a thankyou by the captain. As a FO always let the captain fly the first leg, then just fly like him, you'll learn a lot more and the captain's will always approve of your flying. Enjoy being in the right seat as once you move to the left things change. :)
That's why the FO, arguably, has the toughest job in the airline business. He/she is a constant chameleon(sp?), always having to adapt to every captain they fly with. After a while, you fly with the same ppl and you've "figured" out the captain. So as everyone else, says just follow the POM and standard calls if there's any doubt.

I have never had any extreme situations where I've had to take control of aircraft away from the captain, but when my life and and the rest of souls onboard are at stake, then rank and egos are out the window. I'll grab the controls and take over. It's all instinct.

In my 2+ years at Mesaba, I've flown with maybe 2 or 3 captains that have that "I'm Mr. Big time" attitude. Or the captains that let you know he/she IS the captain. I just laugh quietly when I run across captains like that. When they get like that, I just throw a nice "You're an idiot"-grin(perhaps shaking my head) in their face and just downplay their attitude. I can't stand captains, or pilots for the most part, that are controlling and have egos that don't even fit in the largest of flightdecks.

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