How Good Are You At Reassuring Nervous Passengers?
At least weekís Aircraft Electronics Association show, famed aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker was the keynote speaker. The connection? Heís head of the EAAís Young Eagles program and a perfect choice for recruiting pilots. Heís enthusiastic, animated and knowledgeable. Iím not sure AEA was the right audience for the pitch, but it was interesting to see what he brought.
Frankly, I was drifting a couple of dots left of course when my 10-second mental playback recorder said ďlost the propeller.Ē Did I really hear that? Up, on the giant screen, popped a video, shot point-of-view so you had a good view of the front seat passenger in his Pitts S-2 and glimpses of Tucker in the rear. As far as I can tell, this video isnít posted online anywhere, although Iím sure others have seen it in his presentations. Itís also not a recent event, but that didnít make it any less riveting.
The basic set-up was this: Tucker was giving his niece a ride in the S-2, with some basic aerobatics. People who teach aerobatics have to become sensitive to how their charges are doing after a few minutes of pulling Gs. Tucker has an interesting way of doing it. ďAre you okay?Ē he asked? ďReally okay, or just medium okay?Ē He had a couple of other phases he used to cleverly probe the limits of encroaching nausea. He was persistent about it, too. This is something I donít think Iíve ever done to that extent and probably havenít thought of, either. Nice little lesson.
It got better. The prop loss part occurred later in the video when, in the midst of an inverted spin, the prop departed the airplane along with the crank flange and spinner. Someone told me you could see it corkscrewing off in the background, but I missed that. Now Tucker had a real problem. For a solo pilot, that would be a no-brainer bailout, since the aft shift in CG might make the airplane uncontrollable or at least unlandable. But Tucker figured he didnít have that option with an inexperienced, young passenger and with weight in the front seat, the CG shift was evidently manageable.
He was over a short crop dusting strip, so he set himself up for an engine-out landing to a very short runway. But that didnít look like the hard part, actually. His young passenger wasnít exactly freaking out, but you could sense through the audio link the potential for rising panic. Yet while he was setting up the landing, Tucker kept up a steady patter of confident assurances that this was going to come out just fine. Happens all the time. (Well, not quite.) If youíve ever flown a Pitts, youíre probably familiar with the hair-on-fire approach speeds and this looked faster than that, viewed through the camera toward the rear. It looked the Millennium Falcon in reverse. As his niece cooled below melting temperature, Tucker allowed himself a relieved laugh and both emerged unharmed. For as impressed as I was with the landing, the passenger care part was even more impressive.
I canít really remember why Tucker showed this video in service of his efforts as a pilot recruiter. Iím not sure I heard what lesson was intended. But I know what I took away from it. As most of us do, I pay lip service to reassuring nervous passengers, but Iíve never been any good at it. Iíll confess to a certain lack of commitment. With this exceptional example of how it ought to be done, I hope to do better next time.