Everyone knows that
alcohol impairs the efficiency of the human mechanism. This fact has
been emphasized again and again - in newspapers, magazines, television,
and other media throughout the world. Studies have positively proved
that drinking and performance deterioration are closely linked.
Estimates indicate that alcohol is a major factor in nearly 50% of all
automobile accidents. Analysis of aircraft accidents over the past
several years implicated alcohol as a contributing factor in almost 40%
of the crashes in the early 1960's. Discovery of the problem, education,
and regulation had decreased this factor to around 20% in the late
1960's and early 1970's.
In "hangar sessions"
among experienced pilots, there is almost 100% agreement that drinking
and flying don't mix. Yet, the accident record shows that far too many
pilots have ignored their own better judgment and paid with their lives.
An automobile moves in only two dimensions. An airplane moves in three,
making its safe operation infinitely more complex. Therefore, any pilot
who is not in top condition is severely handicapped. Even
straight-and-level flight from one point to another requires a high
degree of judgment, attention, coordination, and skill. Hundreds of
decisions must be made, some on the basis of incomplete information
(adverse weather, etc.). Obviously, then, anything which detracts from
your ability to make successive decisions which are correct will
increase your chances of having an accident.
What is alcohol; and how
does it affect your performance as a pilot? The alcohol you consume in
beer and mixed drinks is simple ethyl alcohol, a central nervous system
depressant. From a medical point of view, it acts upon your body much
like a general aesthetic (ether, chloroform, etc.). The "dose," of
course, is generally much lower and more slowly consumed in the case of
alcohol. But the basic effects on your system are similar.
Alcohol is easily and
quickly absorbed by the digestive tract. You blood stream absorbs about
80% to 90% of the alcohol in a highball within 30 minutes after you have
drained your glass. Beer works a little slower, but not much.
Your have undoubtedly
heard time and again that alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant. Yet
after one or two drinks you certainly feel stimulated. This sensation is
misleading and occurs because part of the depressant action of alcohol,
working on the brain, brings about a release from the usual restraints
and inhibitions. You may enjoy a feeling of security, well-being,
confidence, and freedom from pressure. In reality, however, your
thinking has become sluggish, you respond to urgent situations less
efficiently, and your ability to perform simple tasks with speed and
accuracy is hampered. If, in addition, you happen to be fatigued,
hungry, or under stress, these handicaps will be compounded.
The effect of alcohol is
greatly multiplied when a person is exposed to altitude. Two drinks on
the ground are equivalent to three or four at altitude. The reason for
this is that chemically, alcohol interferes with the ability of the
brain to utilize oxygen. The effects are rapid - first because alcohol
passes so quickly into the bloodstream, and second because the brain is
a highly vascular organ, immediately sensitive to changes in the blood's
composition. For the pilot, then, the lower oxygen availability at
altitude, along with the lower capability of his brain (under the
influence of alcohol) is to use what oxygen is there, adds up to a
Your body requires about
3 hours to rid itself of all the alcohol contained in one mixed drink or
one beer. The Federal Aviation Regulations make it illegal to fly for at
least 8 hours after taking a single drink. Most wise pilots allow a
minimum of 12 hours between "the bottle and the throttle." The general
rule for commercial airlines is 24 hours.
The subtle effects of a
hangover can be just as hazardous as the state of intoxication itself.
Morning-after weariness dulls your system and detracts from peak
efficiency. Recent research by the FAA's Office of Aviation Medicine
indicates that some functions may require up to 2 days for complete
recovery following a "binge."
Do not drink alcohol in
any form during the 8-hour period preceding flight, and do not
overindulge during the 24 hours before flight. Don't invite disaster by
letting alcohol and hypoxia gang up on you!