Becoming a pilot changes who you are, even if you don’t realize it at first. Sure, there are the practical lessons about math, physics, and engineering you don’t encounter in everyday life. But as a recent trip through my logbook proved, aviation offers courses in the humanities as well as the hard sciences.
Everyone likes to complain about the Federal Aviation Administration, and often it’s richly deserved. But for an open-minded pilot who’s willing to ignore the typical pilot talk, there are some encouraging developments in aviation policy right now. If you can find it in your heart, the folks in Washington might even deserve our thanks.
Like a bad golfer who is convinced the latest driver will fix his persistent slice, the aviation community keeps chasing miracle cures for loss of control accidents. But just like that golfer, pilots are likely to find that more practice beats bold new ideas.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the hot technology of 2016, finding its way into research papers and cocktail party conversations alike. As usual, most talk is either hopelessly optimistic or relentlessly negative (you know a trend is mainstream when you start reading headlines like, “Is fashion ready for the AI revolution?”). Cut through all the hype, though, and pilots can find a lot of reasons to be enthusiastic about AI.
The summer of 2016 may be viewed as the beginning of the end of standard FAA charts. It sounds foolish to make such a bold prediction, but there are some very good reasons to believe a decade-long trend away from traditional sectionals and approach plates has accelerated recently. Technology plays a significant role, but so do changes by the FAA.
Pilots love a good debate. This may be the only thing that isn’t controversial in aviation. Enthusiasm for debates doesn’t necessarily make aviation unique; after all, sports fans are famous for their spirited arguments too. What is different is our need to debate the same issues, year after year, sometimes decades after the facts are settled. Two recent examples are particularly long-running – to the point of being frustrating.
You don’t have to fly IFR at 10,000 feet to travel efficiently by general aviation. I was reminded of this fact after logging 15 enjoyable hours over the past month – all at 500 feet and 100 knots in VFR-only aircraft. That doesn’t mean it was boring. Over the course of two long trips, I had a few speed bumps, and in the process I re-learned some important lessons about weather, decision-making and technology.
I think we get carried away with this brotherhood talk. Sure, pilots can be accepting and caring folks, and the common bond of aviation often does bring wildly different people together. That hardly means such behavior is guaranteed, though. Pilots are still human beings who often bring their own powerful emotions, biases and agendas to any situation.
We falsely view most aviation decisions as binary. The language of decision-making subtly reinforces this, with exhortations to “keep it simple” or “be confident.” What we end up with is a hopelessly unrealistic set of answers: yes or no, black or white. We should know better. Flying is all about subtle clues, 50/50 decisions and shades of gray.
For a crass American, AERO is a very civilized show, held in a beautiful convention center with great coffee and lively beer gardens. Oshkosh this isn’t. Beyond these mundane differences, though, the show offers a fascinating lesson for US pilots. If all you’ve heard is how awful things are for private pilots in Europe, let me offer a more complete – although not entirely rosy – portrait.
There has been a lot of talk lately (perhaps too much?) about aviation issues in Washington: Air Traffic Control privatization, the third class medical, and user fees to name just three. Somewhat obscured by these Capitol Hill battles is a more complicated but also arguably more important legislative issue: aircraft certification reform.
This magazine was founded in 1938 by Leighton Collins to advocate for “facts – knowledge – safety.” Since then, its pages have been filled by some of aviation’s greatest writers, including Richard Collins, Wolfgang Langewiesche, Bob Buck and Richard Bach. Given that rich history, it may seem odd to celebrate a fifth birthday, but Air Facts in its current form was relaunched five years ago, in March 2011.
Bill Gates has famously said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” Thus we overhyped the internet in 2000, but failed to recognize how completely it would change life by 2010. The same could be said for electric aircraft, an emerging technology that seems to have been on the “coming soon” list for decades.
Golf and flying share a lot in common: a reputation as an expensive leisure activity, a mid- to late 20th century boom, a significant decline over the past decade and a search for relevance among a new generation. What can pilots learn from golf’s decline?
For all their cynicism, pilots have adopted tablets and apps like eager teenagers. Just five years ago, no one had ever heard of an “Electronic Flight Bag app.” Today, the majority of general aviation pilots – and a whole bunch of airline and military pilots too – are flying with one. How many other tools are used by Air Force tanker pilots and J-3 Cub drivers alike?
Before I stray too far into religion or politics, let me assure you I am not running for office. But all the complaining does make me consider the unique role aviation has played in my life, and most pilots’ lives I suspect. Might it be the miracle cure we’re looking for? Consider the following.
For an industry that’s usually obsessed with “risk management,” aviation sure isn’t using much of it when it comes to drones. The constant drumbeat of stories about close encounters between airplanes and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can be described as nothing short of a panic. Enough already.
It’s been nearly impossible to miss ICON for the last five years. The sexy design of the company’s amphibian light sport airplane has been matched only by the company’s sexy marketing. But now that ICON has finally delivered the first A5, it’s worth revisiting the project with an open mind. I see reasons for both hope and skepticism, but maybe more of the former.
So you’re taking a flying lesson tomorrow. Congrats. You’ll have a blast (yes, the instructor really will let you fly the airplane), but you may be surprised how much this flying thing will change your life. With that in mind, here’s some free advice from someone who knows a little about the journey ahead.
Freedom or security. Ketchup or mustard. Life is filled with supposedly difficult decisions that aren’t really decisions at all. Pilots face the same false choice when it comes to technology. It’s time to embrace new avionics and solid hand flying skills.