Dangerous Flights: Good PR, Bad PR?
Surfing the untracked wilderness of modern cable television, my scroll-around sometimes lands on something interesting. Lately, it’s been a show called Dangerous Flights, another of the Discovery Channel’s reality series. These sorts of programs are called reality TV and if reality were scripted, they’d be accurately named. Otherwise, like a patient drifting in and out of a coma, the reality appears more often than I’d expect and often sharply focused.
Here’s the set-up. The series tells the story…oh, shoot, I’ll take this directly from the show’s Web site: “Dangerous Flights is the real deal: a high-testosterone action adventure series on the edge of aviation’s final frontier, starring the daring mavericks who risk their lives in the high-danger, no-holds-barred, high-stress business of aircraft delivery.” I gotta hand it to the copy writer on that one, that’s straight from the 1940s radio drama of insurance investigator Johnny Dollar, “the man with the action-packed expense account.” And the final frontier is flying a 210 from Maine to France? Funny, I’d of thought those guys in Mojave blasting people into space were a little more final frontiery. But I digress.
The basic narrative involves a start-up organization of ferry pilots delivering GA aircraft around the world for various clients. As is the fashion in TV, each episode—and we’re now just starting season two—usually details two deliveries on a parallel plot track. What would otherwise be a dull plot line is sexed up with some lead-in problem—a Cessna 210 with major fuel leaks, a Cirrus SR22 co-crewed by a graybeard pilot who’s never seen a G1000, a geriatric Cheyenne with dysfunctional avionics, a jet with avionics problems.
Despite the overhyped promo, pilots paying attention to this series might actually gain useful glimpses into how ferry work is done and how some of the decision-making happens. And also a sense of the risk. In a recent episode, the one involving the SR22, two pilots are ferrying the airplane from Singapore to Ohio. One of them, Kerry McCauley, is an experienced ferry pilot with numerous Atlantic crossings, but little Cirrus experience.
They’ll be doing the translant on the Blue Spruce route, westbound, in the winter. McCauley is caught on film having reservations about the wisdom of such a flight, explaining he’s done it enough times to wonder if he’s not pushing his luck. The outbound flight handler in Scotland is dubious, noting that he has a list of pilots who didn’t return from such trips. Whether staged for the camera or not, I thought that an accurate glimpse into the often unvoiced fears many of us have before launching on high-risk flights. Props to reality TV for coaxing it out of him.
In watching this program, I constantly wonder what the non-aviation literate think of it, for they’re the core audience. Naturally, all of us in GA want the industry to be accurately represented and, might as well admit it, promoted to a certain extent. While that’s obviously not the point here, I wonder if Dangerous Flights ends up doing that despite itself. Would a person watching this show find it exciting enough to want to pursue flight training or be put off by the over-dramatized danger, not the least of which is the title itself? I really can’t decide if the series paints GA in a favorable light for the non-pilot or not. You tell me.
But the reality sneaks through nonetheless. Including being boring, which the show occasionally is, just like most of the long flights I’ve been on. You can only sex up situation normal so much in 30 minutes. And just like real pilots, the ferry crews sometimes make marginal decisions, one of which was flying a Cheyenne of questionable maintenance history from the Philippines to Florida, a trip peppered with the kind of breakdowns, malfunctions and general mayhem that anyone flying older airplanes will recognize. But I wonder if the aviation-interested viewer will realize that stuff happens all the time.
I suppose these days, as long as they spell aviation and airplane correctly, we ought to be happy with any kind of publicity we get for the industry. At least Dangerous Flights does that.