This started off as sort of a game. Two Air Facts staffers thought it would be fun to try to ask questions that they thought would be challenging for me to answer. They came up with thirteen questions. To start, I was to pick six to answer. I wound up answering all thirteen just because they asked. I have never been bashful about sharing my opinions and experiences.
- What is the biggest mistake you ever made while flying?
That is easy. My biggest mistake was not looking out of the left windows of a J-3 Cub, N77548 by name, on the afternoon of February 23, 1954. My omission meant that I didn’t see the Cessna 120 on a converging course. The rather loud noise that followed got my attention and I was able to land the Cub okay even though the landing gear was collapsed. The midair collision and the gear-up Cub landing that followed was the only accident in 57 years as pilot-in-command.
- Now that you haven’t flown in a few years, what do you miss most about flying?
I do really miss the challenge of going places in airplanes, almost always in whatever weather happened to be out there. I still follow weather systems and how they are affecting conditions aloft and at the surface and vicariously fly flights. Some think I am bit daft for it, but I enjoyed weather flying a great deal. I always studied conditions carefully and felt like I knew exactly how the flight would work. Of course it didn’t happen that way. There were many in-flight changes of plan, but I was never surprised because I fully understand that Mother Nature does whatever she wants and is completely unaware of things like forecasts. What you see and feel is what you get.
- What do you think of the iPad? Do you use one? Is it at all useful for pilots?
I didn’t have iPads and iPods when flying. (I have three now.) I did have an HP pocket computer, with Pocket Plates on it, and I quit carrying forty pounds worth of Jeppesen charts quite a while before I retired. If I were flying today, I am sure I would have a lot of aviation apps on my iPad and it would be an integral part of my gear and my electronic ruminations while flying.
- Do you think glass cockpits improve safety?
The question should have also included devices like the iPad. My answer is a simple “no.” Only the pilot can improve safety. The electronics are wonderful, they make getting information easier and more complete, and my airplane always had all the latest whistles and bells. But I was getting around the country safely long before that all came about. I never got lost, either. Temporarily misplaced, maybe, but never lost. Two electronic devices do improve safety. Having terrain and traffic information in the cockpit is truly wonderful.
- Are general aviation’s best days behind it?
I think it is safe to say that the good old days are gone forever but that general aviation will rebound. Corporate and business flying will prosper but the family/business use of personal airplanes will not likely ever get back to where it was in the late 1970s. It’ll be there in some form and in some measure, though. Recreational flying will soldier on.
- What is the one thing you wish you would have known as a beginning pilot that you later learned?
I was young and bulletproof but had I known of the real risks in flying, I would never have flown so close to the edge in those beginning years.
- Air Facts has run two articles on whether pilots should speak up when they see a dangerous pilot. Have you ever spoken up to a particular pilot you thought was an accident looking for a place to happen?
Not directly, but I have spoken up to people who I thought could influence the actions of a dangerous pilot. This was effective a few times but not at other times. In my writing I have always tried to help pilots understand what “dangerous” is.
- Air Facts had a Great Debate about whether stall training was a waste. Where do you come down on this issue?
I threw that hand grenade under the bunk because I wanted to see how other pilots feel about this. I am in a minority in feeling that stall training is a waste. To me the training emphasis should be on precise flying that never allows the airplane to get close to a stall. The training is, to me, too unrealistic to be of much value when the chips are down, usually at low altitude when the pilot allows margins to diminish because he is not doing a proper job of aircraft control.
- Is there any FAR that you think works against aviation safety?
Not in the strictest sense of the word, but if a pilot flies thinking that everything that is legal is safe, trouble lurks. There are too many gray areas that require judgment and common sense above and beyond the regulations.
- What is the worst advice you’ve ever heard given to pilots?
I would have to go with “It is okay because it is FAA-approved.” The FAA approves a lot of questionable stuff and savvy pilots look beyond that FAA approval to judge a modification or a repair.
- You have flown a lot of airplanes. Which one was your favorite?
I have three. Concorde because it was beautiful and really fast. It was way ahead of its time and while they build bigger airplanes that carry more passengers there is not, and probably won’t ever be, a flying machine to equal Concorde. My two general aviation airplanes would be the Bonanza and the Cessna 172, both for obvious reasons. I did fly a Cessna P210 for 28 years and almost 9,000 hours and while it was a favorite for its mission capability, it flew like a truck and climbed like a dog in hot weather.
- What one thing did you NOT get to do during your flying career that you wish you would have done?
I’ll look you right in the eye and say “there is not one.” In speed I went from a hover to slightly over Mach 2, and just about everything in between. I never had a bucket list and if I had, it wouldn’t have had anything on it because I’d rather leave a rocket-launched flight undone.
- What one thing would most pilots be surprised to learn about you?
It couldn’t have anything to do with flying because in almost 2,000 magazine articles and 12 books I have pretty well bared my aeronautical soul. Some people are surprised to learn that my education ended after graduation from a tiny high school in the tall timber country of south Arkansas. I would add that this has not been a hindrance. When I was selected to be editor-in-chief of FLYING, it was by an Ivy League grad and my two primary competitors were also Ivy League grads.
So, now I have answered all the questions whether I liked them or not. Ask yourself some or all of those questions and share your answers with us, if you want to.