The Pilot's Lounge #64:
New pilots (and old hands, for that matter) sometimes need permission to do what their gut tells them, rather than trusting old wives tales told during hangar flying sessions. Other times, the gut instinct needs to be honed with a few well-placed stories. AVweb's Rick Durden has some of both.
Just as vices tend to become habits, the Pilot's Lounge again made its annual odyssey from the pleasant confines of the virtual airport to the EAA Convention at Oshkosh this year. The regulars camped together and did their best to keep things stirred up. Jay and Doc Walt did a formation arrival in their Beech 18s that made the EAA AirVenture newspaper and impressed all of us by rolling their main gear simultaneously. Keeping with tradition, within minutes Doc Walt and Pat had the chainsaw blender up and running. Pat claims the thing is a redneck magnet, but it also seems to attract parched pilots in droves. There were numerous good gatherings with many pilots I greatly respect. Gil was there, listening and from time to time expressing his brand of common sense learned the hard way in C-130s in Southeast Asia; Ron, who now flies in that same area but came up in the wilds of Canada, added his insights, as did George with his vast background in the health and well-being of engines. As is usually the case when pilots congregate, it meant that I got to listen to many of my betters and learn much.
As conversations ebbed and flowed, I was fascinated to listen to more than one pilot ask a question about a procedure or system or operation by prefixing it with, "Is it OK if I ... ?" As I listened, it seemed to me that the vast majority of those inquiring had been thinking about the issue, often had done some reading or talking about it, and had figured out the answer, but were just looking for permission or verification that what they felt was right was OK. Some of them had heard some of aviation's more foolish old wives' tales repeated until belief had started to set in, yet had the good sense to do their own research on a subject and wanted permission to deviate from what they had heard for so many years from the local airport hangers-on. Some were truly worried about looking bad when others were watching.
One young man forcibly reminded me of one of my student solo cross countries. He said he'd just made three go-arounds on a gusty day and was mortified that everyone at his home airport saw that he couldn't get the airplane on the runway on the first try. His comments brought back that I'd done the same thing (only the count was higher) before I landed and taxied in. Then I had to go into the FBO and get my logbook signed and bear the stares of all those pilots who I knew were thinking that I couldn't fly. As I was walking out, an older gentleman had stopped me and said that making go-arounds until I was satisfied with my landing was the smartest thing he'd seen on that airport all day. He gave me permission to do what I was pretty sure I should do. To this day, I never ever feel bad about making a go-around.
In the spirit of that kind pilot who spoke to me in Boone, Iowa, it's time to officially give every pilot on the planet permission to do intelligent things in airplanes even though they may conflict with old wives' tales and "conventional" knowledge.
So, here goes ...
It's OK to make a go-around if you do not like the way a landing is shaping up. If the lineup isn't right, if you're too high or even too low, or the airspeed isn't in the parameters you set for it, go around. It's perfectly OK to make a go-around at a controlled field. You are the pilot in command. When you get the airplane collected, tell the controller what is going on and what you want to do next. Your taxes pay the controller. He or she will work you in for landing once again. Want to know the truth? The controllers will be very glad you made a go-around because crunched airplanes on runways really increase their workload.
It's OK to refuse a clearance that a controller gives you if you don't feel safe complying with it. If you are going IFR from Detroit to Cleveland and get routed over the lake, it's OK to refuse that routing and get one that stays over the shoreline. The controller will work it out. It's perfectly OK to not have a burning desire to fly a single-engine airplane over a large body of water. Wanting to stay over land may be a pretty good indication of mental health and good judgment.
It's OK to follow the procedures for your airplane in the POH even though the old guys have some other, "better" way. If the POH does not call for a power reduction after takeoff, there is no reason to make one. In fact, the power reduction that the old airport hands insist on probably came about from some completely different type of engine that some of them once operated -- or once heard about -- and they have decided to apply the procedure to every engine regardless of its make, power output or operating needs. That power reduction may actually be causing stress to the engine. It's OK to be suspicious of the airport knowledge. It's also OK to call the manufacturer and have a chat with a service rep about procedures in the POH. Knowledge in aviation is sometimes a rare thing; however, when looking for it, it's usually better to go to the people who have actually done some testing of the part or system rather than someone who claims that he's "run 15 engines to TBO and knows how to do it." There are so many variables in engine life that the self-proclaimed expert may or may not have been involved with any of the ones that matter.
It's OK to read John Deakin's columns on engine management and learn what is going on inside your engine so that you can make informed decisions on how to operate it.
It's OK to lean the mixture any time you are in level flight, at any altitude. There is absolutely no reason to run the mixture full rich when you are in level flight unless you have an airplane with a pressure carburetor set up as they are on the Twin Bonanza. If you want to get book fuel burns (or even beat them) you have to lean the mixture in cruise. The POH will get you started in doing so. If in doubt, run 100 degrees rich of peak and you'll never hurt the engine. If you are at 65% power or less you cannot hurt the engine by leaning it. It is not developing enough power or heat to damage itself. If you lean it too much, it will simply run rough and then quit until you slide the mixture control back in a notch or two. In general, the worst place for running the engine is about 50-75 degrees rich of peak. Run either richer or leaner and you'll have a happy engine, clean spark plugs and predictable fuel burns.
It's OK to declare an emergency when something goes wrong or if there is something going on that doesn't make sense. There is no paperwork associated with declaring an emergency. By declaring, you are telling the world that you are smart enough to be a pilot in command and that you understand how to call in the troops that are available to you to solve a problem. One of the worst things you can do is think you have diagnosed a problem, decide it's not a serious problem, and then -- as the fire breaks out -- realize your diagnosis was wrong and you should have declared. You may be about to touch down on landing, but the fire trucks are in the shop and the CFR crew is out cutting the grass. You're screwed. If things aren't right, declare, get the trucks rolling and take command of all of the assistance available.
It's OK to work a weight and balance before you load the airplane. How long has it been? What will that airplane carry with full tanks? Where can you put it? Are you sure? Know what happens in your airplane if the CG is one inch forward of the forward limit? Can you physically flare the airplane to land? How about what happens when the CG is only one inch aft of the aft limit? And it's turbulent on climb out, causing you to stall the airplane? When will it become neutrally stable in pitch? At what point will it display negative stability? If you stall it, is it possible to recover from the stall, or the incipient spin? How well do you like surprises?
It's OK to tell that overbearing, impatient jerk of a passenger that the weather is just plain too bad to make the flight and that it may be tomorrow or the next day before you can go. Remember, if you push it, your funeral will probably be on a sunny day.
It's OK to take a flight review every six months or annually. Professional pilots do so. You know that the one variable that seems to be determinative as to whether a pilot will have an accident is how long ago the recurrent training was. So, it's OK to have a standing appointment with your favorite instructor every six months to get a good review and an instrument competency check. It's cheap insurance.
If you see or do something during a flight that doesn't meet your expectations for a sufficient level of safety or if you think you inadvertently violated a FAR, it's OK to file an ASRS (NASA) report. The FAA will not find out. You may provide yourself with a little bit of protection should the FAA decide you did violate a regulation. (Keep in mind you only have 10 days after the event in which to send in the NASA form). You may also call attention to a safety matter that needs to be resolved. Pilots filing NASA reports have caused changes to be made.
It's OK to expect that the airplane you rent at an FBO has all of the squawks fixed. After all, it's probably worth substantially more than any car you rent at Hertz or Avis and you wouldn't tolerate squawks on a rental car, would you? It's OK not to tolerate an FBO that tells you not to write up squawks. It's also OK to complain about poor service at an FBO. By the same token, it's OK to compliment good service and good FBO employees publicly and to management.
It's OK to sit quietly in an airplane before you start up. The cockpit or some spot away from your passengers and distractions can provide you with the time to clear your mind of earthly distractions, visualize the flight to come, shift mental gears to movement in the third dimension and program your internal computer for what you are about to do. After all, humans have only been flying for about 219 years and that isn't time for tens of thousands of years of evolution to have caught up ... we have to think about each flight we make because it isn't yet a natural part of us.
It's OK to get involved in local politics to help protect your airport. It's probably also a good idea.
It's OK to go ahead and get that rating you have been thinking about. Pick up an instrument ticket. Go ahead and exert yourself a bit and get your commercial or ATP. Who cares if you ever "use it"? The skills you pick up will add tremendously to the enjoyment you get from flying. You will also have a deeply satisfying feeling of accomplishment. Look around. Notice who is telling you not to get the rating, that it's not worth it. It's the hangers-on with the ancient private ratings, who nearly roll airplanes into balls of aluminum when landing in mild crosswinds. It's easier for them to accept their own lack of ambition or desire to be better pilots by holding others back. Do they represent the level at which you want to remain?
It's OK to go to a safety meeting and ask questions. It's OK to challenge the wisdom of those who make pronouncements about flight, including columnists. It's OK to demand answers.
It's OK to fly the airplane and not the microphone. When you are in the pattern, making your position report is not nearly as important as making sure the airplane is where you want it to be, on speed, configured as it should be, with the checklist complete. Then, and only then, should you consider talking on the radio. That may mean you do not make a radio call at some spot you ordinarily would. It's OK. I've read too many incident reports where pilots got so interested in reporting on downwind that they interrupted the landing checklist and proceeded to omit to extend the landing gear.
It's OK to fly more than above 2,000 feet above the ground. Sure, most of your training took place down there and your dual cross countries weren't much higher. But, if the weather is decent, climb higher. You won't have to worry about towers, and you may reduce the chance of blundering into a TFR or other restricted airspace. Your normally aspirated airplane is most efficient between 6,000 and 8,000 feet MSL. Plus, you may find smoother air and your passengers will appreciate it.
It's OK to show respect for your passengers. Remember how nervous you were about flying when you started? That's where they are now emotionally, and they probably don't even have the drive and desire for flight that you did. So your concern for them and willingness to provide a smooth, enjoyable ride that keeps their best interests in mind may make the difference between whether they become aviation supporters or vote to close your airport.
It's OK to insist that the people in the airplane with you wear the shoulder harnesses.
It's OK to run your pre-landing checklist more than once. It's also OK to point at the landing gear position indicator on base or final and ask your passenger to confirm that it says what you think it does. It may just prevent that certain embarrassment of a gear-up landing.
It's OK to slow the airplane down on final and fly it at the speed recommended in the POH and to use all of the flaps. Excess speed on final has caused far more accidents than too little speed. It's OK to admit that that airplane feels better when you are going faster, and then to go out and practice until you are comfortable approaching at the published speed of about 1.3 Vso. It's not OK to go faster -- it's asking for trouble on those landings where it really matters.
It's OK to wait until you are on short final to push the prop control forward. It's not OK to do it on downwind when you are still going fast and therefore make enough noise to aggravate every homeowner around the airport.
It's OK to remember that a lot of people on the ground don't particularly like airplane noise and to show respect for others by flying higher, turning the prop slower and otherwise flying quietly.
It's OK to expect an instructor with whom you fly to sit down with you before a lesson or flight review and go over the goals and what will be covered on a lesson. It's also OK to expect that the instructor will be willing to work with you and cover specific types of things you want to review. It's OK to demand that an instructor tailor training to the type of flying you do, and it's OK for the instructor to demand that you work to the best of your abilities when you take recurrent training.
It's OK to use a basic, two-seat trainer for knock-around and proficiency flying. It doesn't make you any less macho and it may allow you to afford to fly more. After all, that's what's really important, isn't it?
It's OK to be suspicious when you buy an airplane and to inspect it extremely carefully. It's also OK to refuse to buy an airplane that is not as represented, or doesn't have all of the paperwork to prove compliance with all ADs or otherwise prove that it is airworthy.
It's OK to volunteer for the various aviation activities in your area. It's also OK for you to organize some of them. Aviation has enriched your life; it's time to give something back.
It's OK -- when an old friend shows signs that it is time for him to stop flying -- for you to talk with him and see if you can reach him. It's also OK that if your talk doesn't work, that you take the necessary actions to have him stop before he hurts himself or others. It may be one of the hardest things you ever do in aviation, and it may cost you a friend, but it may also be the most important thing you do.
It's OK to sit quietly in the airplane after shutdown and go through the flight in your mind; to think about what you did right and what you could have done better and what you learned from that flight. It's OK to be thankful that you were able to make one more flight.
After the flight, as you are securing the airplane, it's OK to thank the airplane for taking you aloft.
Now, you have permission. It's OK to go out and learn.
See you next month.