There are lots of ways to help young people get excited about aviation: EAA Young Eagles, mentoring, instructing ... but what if the kid is blind?
Click here to read Rick Durden's column.
that could be assembled and flown. She planned to talk with the kids for about an hour and just give an introduction about how an airplane flies, a bit about radio communications, weather, the
maintenance required for an airplane, what is on an instrument panel, safety around airplanes and a little about regulations. To her astonishment, each session went over an hour and a half as the kids
asked bags of questions, spent a lot of time touching the various airplane models to discover the differences between single and multi-engine airplanes, feeling the gauges, knobs and switches on the
panel and being amazed at how thick the book of regulations was. Kary told me that she did not have much of a concept of what would interest, bore or turn off a blind student, so she let the feedback
she got guide her presentation.
The large, flyable model airplanes were a hit, as were the stickers that could be applied to each. Every child got one of those model airplanes to take home. As with kids anywhere, it was probably
fortunate that they were made of Styrofoam and extremely light.
Kary's next challenge was arranging for an airplane ride for 40 blind or vision-impaired kids. She had given EAA Young Eagles rides before and
decided that she would make the event a Young Eagles set of rides as the Young Eagles certainly didn't put any vision requirements on passengers. She then contacted other pilots to see if they could
Gathering of Planes, Pilots, and Passengers
The weather on the mid-July Saturday appointed as ride day initially looked questionable. Fortunately, by mid-morning the rain showers that had been lingering in the area moved out and stayed away.
Kary and Lyle flew their Bonanza to the Greenville, Mich., Airport where the friendly folks at the FBO, Monarch Aviation, had agreed to welcome a herd of summer campers for the Young Eagles' flights.
Kary got a checkout from Monarch so she could rent a Cessna 172 and fly that, while husband Lyle flew the Bonanza for rides. Lori Layne, a pilot who works at Sparta Aero, at the Sparta, Mich., Airport
(where Kary instructs) and whose mother is vision impaired, agreed to help out as the ground marshal to get kids safely to and from airplanes. Greenville pilot Gerry Cox rolled out his beautifully
restored Aeronca Sedan and prepared to give rides as well.
Donated buses brought 40 campers and their counselors to Monarch Aviation and the deluge began. Kary, Lyle and Gerry immediately loaded up their airplanes, explaining precisely what was going on as
they did so, and taxied out with excited kids.
Arriving late (which I'll blame on weather), I recognized Kary's and Lyle's voices on Unicom as each took off, because they had already begun the flights.
After landing, I walked toward the terminal building carrying a massive load of ignorance regarding the world of the vision impaired. Spending a great deal of my life closely involved with aviation,
where vision means so much, had not prepared me for what it means to
be unable to see. My experience with vision impaired and blind people had been limited to time I spent with a blind friend over the course of a few years of college when we shared classes or
socialized, and when I was a part-time bank teller and was trained in assisting blind customers to handle monetary transactions. That was it. I wanted each of my passengers to have a pleasant
experience and learn as much as possible, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. I was somewhat intimidated as I reached out my hand to shake that of the young man who would be the first to fly with
me. (I was limited to one passenger at a time in the great and powerful Cessna 150 I was flying.)
He was fired up about the prospect of flying and immediately started asking questions about the airplane and our flight. As we walked across the ramp, he kept a hand lightly on my elbow. Approaching
the airplane I suddenly "saw" it as not just a vehicle of the air, but as a ramp hazard to one who could not see. There is not much in one's ordinary existence that presents a hazard to land
navigation as does a wing that exists about five feet above the ground, other than the rapidly disappearing backyard clothesline. I stopped and told my tall, young friend about the wing and that it
was about two feet in front of him and would probably hit him in the forehead if we kept walking. Together we found the trailing edge of the wing and we talked about how it connected to the fuselage
as he traced along it with is hand until he found the fuselage. Then I found I had to warn about the presence of the landing gear leg that could hit him about mid-shin. To my surprise, he quickly felt
around the open doorway and the right-hand seat, pivoted gracefully, sat in the seat, pulled up his feet, twisted around and was in the airplane. With a deft series of wrist flips he had folded up the
long, white rod he used to help himself sort out where things were around him. I offered to stow it behind the seat and he accepted.
I wish I could get into an airplane as smoothly as he did.
Once inside, I found that we simply started to talk about what was going on but, for me, with a heightened perception for many of the things I had long taken for granted: how the seatbelt buckles were
different from those of a car; where the rudder pedals were and how the control yoke functioned. It became much like giving a first flight lesson, with me explaining briefly what I was going to do
with the emphasis on what my passenger would hear and feel as we progressed.
Together we taxied out. I had my friend put his feet on the rudder pedals so that he could feel how the airplane was steered on the ground. We went through the pretakeoff checks together;
emphasizing that we wanted to make sure everything was working properly before we made the decision to leave the ground.
A New Feeling
On takeoff, I found that I was letting myself feel the airplane more than I usually did, wanting to try and share what the young man in the right seat was experiencing as we accelerated down the
runway and rose into the sky; how the slight bumps on the paved runway became closer and closer together as we got faster, how the airplane tilted gently upward and then how the very basic motion of
the airplane changed from a frantic race on the wheels to the smooth swing beneath the supporting wings.
As we climbed, and turned and then leveled off, my passenger and I talked about what we were doing and what he was feeling. I tried rolling into and out of turns at different rates and found that he
could tell we were rolling into or out of a turn most of the time, unless the rate was very slow -- which matched my preconceived notion on the subject. We talked about raising and lowering the nose
to go up and down and how it felt to do so very slowly and a little more rapidly.
I had my new friend put his right hand on the control yoke and asked if he wanted to fly the airplane a bit. He said he did, so I let go of the controls and had him try some turns in each direction
and then raise and lower the nose to see how the pressure he applied to the control yoke correlated to the feeling he had of increasing and decreasing G force. When he said he liked pushing on the
yoke and feeling a little like he might be able to float upward, I asked if he'd like to experience zero G, like the astronauts experience. He was all for it, so we pitched up about 10 degrees and
then together we pushed on the yoke until we were able to get about three seconds of more-or-less zero G. That was a huge hit and had to be repeated.
Neither of us wanted the ride to end; I had a seriously smiling passenger and I was fascinated by what I was feeling as the experience of moving through the sky became even more sensuous, for my
senses were truly attuned to it as they had not been since I could recall.
As we returned and landed I described exactly what we were doing and why the engine noise was decreasing as was the volume of the sound made by the air rushing past the fuselage. (OK, OK -- the
airframe rushing through the air.) Pure luck kicked in and I managed a smooth touchdown.
Taxiing in, I could not help but share the sense of happiness that surrounded my friend in the right seat. After we shut down he said that he had not wanted the flight to end. I've always felt that
such a feeling is the ideal way to complete an introductory
airplane ride and I felt lucky that I could be the one who was able to provide this experience for this thoughtful young man.
The Magic Continues
Almost immediately my next passenger was at the airplane and I found myself again describing the location of a wing, landing-gear leg and cabin door. And then again and again as the next passengers
continued to be ready to fly. I talked about the whole process of the flight multiple times, but without ever having it lose its magic.
I found that I was disappointed when I landed after a flight and was told that there were no more folks waiting to ride. I wanted this experience to last longer. I wanted to continue to drink of this
new nectar and more closely feel this assemblage of aluminum and steel and copper wire that I had been herding through the sky for so many years.
Fortunately, Kary and Lori found a way to prolong the moment with these young women and men. They had us park the four airplanes as closely together as possible. The kids were divided into four groups
and each spent time with each different airplane, running their hands over the airframes and sitting in the cockpits as each pilot watched respectfully. Standing at the wingtip of the 150, adjacent to
the tip tank of the Bonanza, I watched as two young men touched the Bonanza's tip tank, wing, fuselage and windshield and listened as one said to the other, "This airplane feels a lot faster than the
I'd always known that the Bonanza had a certain character and élan to it, but how did Beech manage to communicate that mystique even to someone who could not see?
After the buses returned and the campers had expressed their thank yous to us and departed, I could not help but feel that it was I who should have been saying thank you to them. In the few hours I
spent with those young women and men they helped me experience the true essentials of flight and to enjoy the pure pleasure of movement in the sky more than I had imagined possible. I gave a little of
my time and the rental cost of the airplane to those kids -- I got much more from them. I am truly grateful.
Aviation is a world of fascination and it provides a number of emotionally rewarding careers. And I know that at least one blind person has learned to fly and one recently made a pretty amazing flight
in an ultralight; but, I've been wondering what aviation careers might be available to the vision impaired. I frankly don't know and if anyone does, I'd like to be able to pass along the information
to those kids so that maybe a few of them can use the intelligence and thoughtfulness they possess to make a contribution to the world of flight.
See you next month.
Post-accident, most insurers will do the right thing but some will steer you to a marginal shop. Here's how to stand your ground to get competent repairs.
Click here to read this maintenance article.
that your top concern is safety but that you also wish to avoid diminished market value due to damage history. If the repairs are done competently, there's no ethical breach with a subsequent buyer.
Also, if your aircraft was damaged by the actions of a third party, remind the adjuster that there's no case for skimping on repair costs; a subrogation claim can recover the insurance company's claim
Based upon my experience, if you engage a qualified repair station, the claims adjuster will agree if you insist that the aircraft be repaired at the facility of your choosing. However, if the
adjuster resists and points you at a shop you don't want to use, you may have to up the ante by involving the manufacturer.
The manufacturer has a vested interest in not having a cobbled up airframe returned to flight status by a marginal repair facility. While it's expensive, you may play the trump card by getting the
manufacturer involved in evaluating whether your airframe can be safely restored to flight status by field repair.
In some situations where the insurance company declined to cooperate, I have had success with the manufacturer telling the insurer that it wouldn't support certain repairs the insurer's shop had
proposed. In other instances, the estimate for a repair acceptable to the manufacturer is so cost-prohibitive that the insurance company agrees to a write off the airplane as a total loss.
The Right Repair
In the past, some insurance companies have been skilled in finding repair shops willing to perform and sign off marginally legal repair work. That's not a slam against all insurance companies, just a
fact of life in the claims business. And just because one repair is less expensive than another, doesn't automatically damn it as substandard.
A shop favored by the insurance company will probably attempt to minimize the damage to the aircraft. It may, for instance, characterize damage to the propeller and engine as a mere prop strike when,
in fact, the aircraft suffered serious trauma.
Again, a capable, certified repair station acting as your advocate can counter the tendency of a "favored" shop to minimize apparent damage and to contain the cost of repairs below what's right and
A repair facility seasoned in the games insurance companies play can be a significant ally as you lobby to have your aircraft restored to the same condition it was in prior to the accident. While you
can't sue the insurance company of a third party who damaged your aircraft for bad faith, if your own insurance company refuses to recognize that your aircraft should be totaled and insists that it be
restored or repaired by a marginal operator, litigation is always an option. But it should be the last resort, when all other avenues have been exhausted.
If relations between you and your insurance company have deteriorated to this point, your counsel will want to have the aircraft inspected by an FAA-certified repair station or by the aircraft's
manufacturer. If these inspections generate a repair estimate that makes the aircraft economically non-repairable, that alone may convince the insurance company to see things your way without
resorting to a lawsuit.
Also, consider that if you do have to go to court, safety of flight concerns will make a strong argument in your favor. These concerns shouldn't be based on unfounded anxiety but on data you have
acquired through an FAA repair station, or by persuading the manufacturer to examine the aircraft and render a report on how the aircraft could
be returned to flight status.
In Georgia, for example, the insurance company may be required to pay the insured value of your aircraft, plus a 25 percent penalty, plus reasonable legal fees. Remedies in other jurisdictions will
vary but you should understand you do have options.
Loss of Use, Value
Typically, you can't expect your insurance company to provide you with a replacement aircraft while yours is being repaired. But if you routinely use your airplane for business, your flight records
will support the argument that your aircraft is instrumental to your livelihood.
If you can rent a replacement while your aircraft is down for repairs, this kind of evidence would assist you in pursuing a claim against a third party for loss of use of your aircraft, if you feel
that's necessary. This is, unfortunately, another incentive for your insurance company to use a marginal operator with discount prices. Your loss of use is not of concern to your insurer. Again, the
focus of loss of use is generally on a third party, say the FBO who backed a tug into your airplane and won't agree to settle.
You may settle with your insurance company for repairs but be careful in executing any proof of loss or release forms to ensure that you preserve the right to pursue a loss of use claim later on.
The same logic applies to diminished value to accident-related damage and repairs. We can argue about what damage really causes what loss of value but most appraisers agree that if two otherwise
equivalent airplanes are compared, the one with damage history will carry lower market value.
Once again, diminished fair market value is not a claim you can make against your own insurance company. If you feel the lost value is sufficient to warrant recovery, you'll have to pursue that with
any third party involved. If your insurance company has paid to have the aircraft repaired, it will ask you to sign a proof-of-loss or release form.
While your insurance company paid to have your aircraft repaired and may bring a subrogation claim in your name to recover from the offending third party, the money it paid you to fix your airplane
has nothing to do with diminished market value or loss of use. Any form presented to you by your insurance company should be modified to show that you're preserving your claim of loss-of-use and
diminished market value.
Getting your aircraft repaired following a major incident or accident can be a nightmare. The vast majority of insurance adjusters will handle it quickly, fairly and competently. But it's just as true
that some won't.
If the claim and repair process doesn't satisfy you, you'll need some grit and determination to avoid caving in to insurance company pressure to allow a marginal shop to fix your airplane, especially
if the airplane should really be written off.
In this article, we haven't covered all the pitfalls of getting a damaged airplane repaired and back in service. However, know this: The interests of the insurance company and the owner aren't always
the same. If an adjuster tries to steer you toward what you feel is a marginal repair shop, stand your ground and say no. It's your airplane and you have the right to see that it's fixed correctly.
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Reader mail this week about Marion Blakey, the Cessna LSA and more.
Click here to read this week's letters to the editor.