Blog: Ahead of the Power Curve

Aviation stories and tips to help you stay sharp.

Helping pilots learn from accident chains

  •  By Dan Sobczak
  • Editor's note: This content does not constitute flight instruction. Consult a certified flight instructor in your area for proper flight instruction.

Download Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains
  • Flight Chain App is an easier way to read NTSB reports, helping to keep you ahead of the power curve.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, once said of the voyage from the Earth to the Moon: "You've got to expect things are going to go wrong. And we always need to prepare ourselves for handling the unexpected."

That mindset applies to everything in life, from the extreme of exploring the Moon to the mundane of driving to and from work each day.

Regardless of the activity's scope, the tendency to focus on trivial things while losing sight of what matters most can happen to anyone, including pilots.

The story of the lightbulb

More than 45 years ago a small light bulb became the catalyst of an accident chain that led to one of the deadliest crashes in the history of the United States at the time.

A Lockheed 1011 jumbo jet was on a regularly scheduled flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The jet was on approach to land at Miami International Airport in Florida on a dark December night when it crashed into the Florida Everglades, killing more than 100 people.

The accident was puzzling because the passenger jet would have been able to land safely at its destination 20 miles away. All critical aircraft parts and systems were operating normally.

As the aircraft made its final approach, the crew noticed that one green light failed to turn on — the indicator for whether or not the nose gear extended successfully.

The crew discontinued the approach, set the aircraft into a holding pattern over the pitch-black Everglades, and focused their attention on troubleshooting the problem.

The crew of three — captain, first officer and second officer (or flight engineer) — became so engaged with investigating the potential nose gear issue that they failed to recognize the plane's gradual descent toward the dark swamp below.

By the time the first officer noticed an altitude discrepancy, it was too late.

As NTSB investigators worked to determine the cause, they found the landing gear had lowered properly and everything was working fine on the aircraft — all except a single burned-out lightbulb. That small bulb started the chain of events that ultimately led to the deaths of more than 100 people.

The broken lightbulb wasn't the cause of the accident. Ultimately the crash occurred because the crew placed its focus on something that seemed to matter in the moment yet lost sight of the big picture.

That was a critical link in the accident chain.

Keeping you ahead of the power curve with NTSB reports

NTSB reports contain similar stories in which a chain of seemingly insignificant events leads to a tragic conclusion.

In aviation, pilots talk about the accident chain, the series of events that lead to an accident.

For pilots, an important benefit of reading NTSB reports is to understand the accident chain so they can become safer pilots.

But deducing that chain can be tedious. It takes time to read an NTSB report and decipher its accident chain. A report can relate copious amounts of detail to help determine causes and factors in its chain of events.

What if in addition to reading that comprehensive text, you could also see the accident chain instead of having to imagine it while reading an NTSB report?

Download Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains
  • Flight Chain App, a new app for iPhone and iPad, helps pilots learn from accident chains. Flight Chain App is an easier way to read and learn from NTSB aviation accident reports by letting pilots see the accident chain.

With Flight Chain App's unique visualization of NTSB reports, pilots can easily decipher the chain of events and learn what happened quickly.

In an accident chain, it's not enough to know what decision was made. The key is to know why, and where in the chain of events, it occurred so other pilots can know what not to do should a similar scenario occur in their flying.

By seeing the accident chain, along with reading the complete report, pilots can enhance their knowledge which can help break a potential accident chain in their own flying.

Flight Chain App also lets pilots browse NTSB rulings to quickly review an accident's probable cause.

Mapping an accident's location and viewing any weather conditions reported at the time of the accident are also part of the app's feature set and provides pilots more context on a report.

Lastly, as part of Flight Chain App's mission to promote safe flying, pilots can review safety tips that relate to an accident in some way, and keep safety top of mind.

Learning from accident chains

Transportation safety has improved greatly over the years, especially in aviation, thanks to the hardworking efforts of NTSB investigators.

Accidents, while tragic, have led to new learnings, new safety improvements and new policies that help prevent pilot distraction and enhanced flight crew procedures.

In response to the L-1011 accident described earlier, many airlines started crew resource management training for their pilots to help make problem-solving in a cockpit much more efficient, thus causing less distraction for the crew.

Reading NTSB reports can help pilots stay ahead of the power curve and be proactive rather than reactive when flying, especially when an unexpected chain of events is developing.

Saving you time when buying an aircraft

Are you an aircraft broker or buyer? Another great use for Flight Chain App is the aircraft buy and sell process. The app is a great tool to have when researching an aircraft purchase.

Flight Chain App is right there in your pocket for quick and easy checks on an N-number's accident history. This is especially convenient if you're on location at a pre-buy inspection and don't have access to a computer to look up the N-number on a website.

Flight Chain App, along with its companion blog Ahead of the Power Curve, is committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.

Visit to learn more about how the app can help keep you ahead of the power curve.

Stay sharp!
The Flight Chain App team

  • Dan Sobczak is the founder of, a mobile app that helps pilots learn from accident chains by making NTSB reports more convenient and easier to digest. Dan received his private pilot certificate in 2003.

Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains

Helping pilots learn from accident chains.

An easier way to read NTSB aviation accident reports.