What are you willing to risk? It’s a question at the heart of everything we do as pilots. Obviously, we’re willing to take a few risks or we wouldn’t be flying at all. Fact is that flying is a gazillion times safer than many other activities. It’s also a fact that it can be terribly unforgiving of errors or carelessness compared to other hobbies.
I don’t mean to suggest the absence of a few self-inflicted off-airport sailplane landings precludes a person from being a fundamentally skilled, aware, and eminently safe power pilot, of course. Far from it. It’s just that even the relatively simple act of “collecting a glider rating” can easily have beneficial blow-back; learning how to soar without ever leaving the vicinity of your training airport even more; planting a foot in both the power and soaring worlds still more.
Let’s cut right to the chase – Sully is a movie that any pilot, and especially an airline pilot, can watch without being mortified by technical and artistic errors on the part of the filmmakers. The portions of the movie that depict the flight and the water landing are done to near perfection. Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart not only play the role of airline pilots superbly, but they even manage to look a good deal like the originals.
Would it be VFR by the time I got there? Maybe… maybe not. Sure I’m instrument current, but is that good enough? Maybe… maybe not. It’s legal, but legal isn’t always smart. So, with full tanks I taxied back to the hangar and, after some light ribbing from my flip-flop-wearing buddy who questioned my judgment on such a perfect day, we heaved her back into the hangar.
Look around for that airport kid in your neighborhood or at the local airport and make his or her day by offering them some time exploring your plane or taking a short hop. It won’t cost you anything but some time and kindness and most of their parents would be thrilled to let them have the experience.
A fairly basic autopilot with an altitude hold function allows a pilot to focus elsewhere safely for long stretches, especially if en route under IFR rules, with ATC providing traffic separation. Even so, that isn’t an invitation to watch a Harry Potter movie, as the Tesla driver is alleged to have been doing.
A recent magazine article on the subject of aerobatic flight got me to thinking about what the regulations actually say. While looking for information, I ran across a recent (2012) legal opinion from an FAA counsel that left me more confused than enlightened.
Radio communication is always one of the hardest things to learn for many pilots. It actually seems to make flying harder sometimes: you’re already busy flying the airplane when ATC gives you a call so fast all you catch is your tail number. Other pilots in CTAF areas can make it even worse. Let me give you the top five things I’ve learned to say over the years that have made flying easier and safer.
The FAA is gearing up to start replacing the Practical Test Standards – the FAA’s checkride guidance for applicants, instructors, and designated pilot examiners (DPEs). The PTS has been the “Cliff Notes-to-the-Checkride” for years. Why in the world would the FAA mess with a good thing?
Who would feel safe flying with someone who did not have an appropriate level of confidence? In my mind, developing a student’s self-confidence should be one of the main jobs of the instructor. During periods where pilots are not actively undergoing flight training, it needs to be something they work on themselves. I can think back to several experiences which taught me this firsthand.
How can we turn around the public’s fear and confusion about GA? Let’s all agree, and get other pilots we know, to take the three-item Facebook pilot pledge. The three items are simple: Don’t share bad news, share only good news and share the beauty we see.
Lately there has been a lot of focus on over-reliance on automation in the cockpit – both in general aviation and the Part 121 world. Most of us can agree that as our avionics and aircraft become more sophisticated and automation becomes more affordable, this is a very real problem. But what about those of us who insist on flying with too little automation?
Are old guys attracted to old airplanes by nostalgia? For sure, in the first 30 years or so after WWII, there were lots of pilots whose romance with aviation began in the excitement of Lindbergh’s Atlantic crossing, grew through the “Golden Age” of ‘30s air racing and record-setting, and perhaps matured as biplanes went to war.
Aviation is not just about playing with your family’s toys and living out the thrills of flying every day. It’s about the friendships that are created in hangars, the sound of a Lycoming roaring to life after YOU replaced that cylinder, the old school feeling of grass under your landing gear, the controlling of numerous aircraft simultaneously, and the everlasting wonder of flight.
When I thought about why GA is distributed so unevenly across the world, and why it is so heavily assaulted by governments at all levels, I wondered if there is something about GA in particular that worries governments. Then it hit me: they don’t like the freedom that flying gives to their citizens.
Sorry, the buck stops here with us pilots. Technology doesn’t make us do anything, or enslave us. When we sign up to be aircraft pilots in command, we elect to use technology. We become solely responsible for flying the airplane, and for the safety of the flights that we conduct.
I assume my late night cruising position, lights down low in the cockpit, forearm resting on top of the instrument panel, chin resting on forearm, face as close to the windshield as I can get without leaving a smudge. I’m struck with an intimidating thought. The only thing between my forehead and a 470 mile per hour -54C breeze is about one and a half inches of glass.
What we love about these aeroplanes is how we feel when we are inside them, travelling across wide open spaces, chasing small puffy clouds or even just mastering two landings in a row without the instructor grabbing the yoke. It’s nice to have a beautiful interior, modern avionics and a super modern profile. But what’s more important is being able to fly, safely and passionately.
Beneath the surface talk of sports or business are often sons who still desperately need to know their fathers are proud of them but don’t know how to ask, and fathers who love their sons very much but don’t know how to answer. Many times over I’ve seen an airplane bridge that gap.
We all know the day will come when we will fly as PIC no more, whether because we keel over dead, get too sick to pass the medical, feel that our skills have deteriorated irreversibly, burn out on aviation, or simply run out of money. For me, a combination of factors added up to an important question.