The American West is an amazing mosaic landscape of deserts, mountains, rock formations, and barren nothingness. Flying a cross-country trip over much of it was a personal dream of mine come true. At the time, I was still in training for my instrument rating, and this trip gave me an excellent dose of real-world flying experience.
We were on about a half-mile final when the controller decided to add some information for us: “Be aware of Coast Guard aircraft doing routine engine maintenance adjacent your touchdown zone.” I didn’t have to look far to spot the gigantic C-130 in its Coast Guard markings.
You have probably seen this before: a GoPro video showing a pilot struggling with large inputs on the yoke, giving the throttle a hard time with either high thrust or idle power, and after a fair amount of time focused on that demanding approach, a smooth touchdown followed by a reassuring smile. On the title of the video, something mentioning a high crosswind component, and below, the comments saying that the pilot nailed it like a boss. Did he or she?
This is not a story about fast jets, elaborate cockpits or major life and death mid-air drama… it is the true story of a humble student pilot trying so hard to overcome a mid-air incident that he took leave of his common sense.
A number of years ago safety and training experts realized few, if any, crashes were being caused by the events pilots spend training time for. Those action-packed simulator sessions were difficult, and we sweated through them, but in reality accidents were happening because of much more mundane aircraft failures and pilot mistakes.
“Nature’s art gallery.” That’s what Elliott Meisel calls the view most pilots enjoy. In this example, the view isn’t necessarily beautiful or calming, but it is awe-inspiring. Meisel captured this photo as he deviated around some storms in his 2006 Cessna 172. A close encounter, but not too close.
I will admit up front, this is the most scared I’ve ever been in an airplane! We were flying a B-1B, non-stop from Andersen AFB, Guam, to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. We were heading home after a lengthy deployment; we were all looking forward to family reunions and that Big Hug! Just past the halfway point, we suddenly got hammered by an extremely pungent odor in the cockpit!
There have been various books written about bush pilots. We are great storytellers about our many escapades, but a lot of what has been published does not get to the crux of what makes a bush pilot. So here is my take.
My wife, April, and I flew over 11,000 miles in our Cessna 206 last summer. We pretty much circumnavigated the lower 48, with a couple of “great loops” to boot. Our mission: to take our daughter’s used Ikea furniture and household items from her Houston apartment to Bangor, Maine, where she was working on assignment.
When talk around the dinner table turns to Covid-19 these days, I find myself increasingly using the language of risk management, as if I were evaluating a tricky go/no-go decision in an airplane. I’m certainly not suggesting pilots are experts on infectious diseases, but I do believe the lessons learned by the aviation industry over the last 50 years have something to offer as we all think about life in a world of risk.
Making predictions about COVID-19 is a fool’s errand right now, with a year’s worth of news happening in a week. But that doesn’t mean we can’t think in broad outlines about the future of flying. I’m obviously biased because I love light airplanes and the freedom they offer, but I genuinely believe general aviation will come out of this crisis stronger. This isn’t just wishful thinking; there are reasons to be optimistic.
Time to update an old debate: have Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs) taken off in popularity over the last five years? Are Sport Pilot certificates more common now that the economy is stronger? At the risk of provoking another argument, my review of the data suggests no. The Light Sport world is still alive, but it’s a niche industry with few real winners. But there is a silver lining.