Dumbfounded

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Brainteasers

Growing up in New Jersey, I learned that when a stranger sitting on the bar stool beside you asks, "How ya doin?" the last thing the stranger wants to hear is how you're doin'. Moving quickly past the obvious question -- Why did I hang around bars as a kid? Because they had good bowling alleys -- I should not have been surprised with the responses we received from the Brainteaser #178 survey question: "What is the dumbest thing you've encountered in aviation?" It was more than a loaded question. It was a license to vent, and to shake indignant fists at the walls of civility that keep us separated from the beasts inside various institutions and practices. In short, there are some unresolved issues in the aviation community, and it's time to get those grievances out of the hangar for all to see. As with all Brainteaser surveys, the submitters' true identities are scrubbed from the record.

Institutional Dumbness

We received 104 survey responses, with the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) picking up the most votes for the dumbest thing in aviation. No real surprise there: TSA long ago made IRS agents feel good about their career choices. One reader in the Pilot Protection Program, who wrote from an undisclosed location, put it succinctly: "(TSA is) absolutely unnecessary!" Following smartly on TSA's heels were TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions). Pilots based in the so-called swing states during the recent presidential-election unpleasantness are familiar with the recurring TFR for Air Force One that did more to keep CFIs grounded and unpaid (Hey, wasn't this election about jobs?) than an Iowa squall line can do. Speaking of inconvenience in fantasyland, one pilot questioned the TFR surrounding Snow White's Castle: "When is a TFR not a TFR? When it is over Disneyland! There is nothing "T" about it! It's goofy!" The FAA's medical certification system garnered nearly as many dumb votes as TSA. Most voters in this category thought the Third-class medical was pointless, while half as many just waved their hands and said all medical certificates were dumb. Several reminded us how dumb it was that some pilots, knowing they might fail their physicals, could skip the medical hassle and fly certificate-free as sport pilots. Whereas if you risk taking the physical and fail, you're screwed -- no sport for you. "Just plain dumb!" Additional sport-pilot complaints included "disallowing instructional hours from a CFI-S (sport) to apply to a private rating." Not all CFIs might agree on that. Another pilot thought it absurd that the Cessna 150/152 was excluded from LSA (Light Sport Aircraft). FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) only found one negative vote, from a pilot who found his (or her) FSDO to interpret regulations somewhat arbitrarily. After all, what does "careless and reckless" mean really? It's so subjective. Piggybacked to FSDO was a ballot cast against FAA attorneys, some of whom, a reader found disturbing, "are not even pilots!" Oddly, some criminal attorneys aren't criminals ... oh, wait, we'd better not go there. Broader complaints included the full-stop landing requirement for tailwheel or night currency (FAR 61.57), and one reader declared all FAA acronyms to be dumb. Hardly anyone likes the FAA's No Pilot Left Behind Tests For Testing Sake written exams, but only one pilot bothered to cast a vote declaring them dumb. Although another voter, after complaining that FSS and its Flight Watch Services were dumb, thought it dumb for any student to be required to learn to decode weather reports when everyone uses the plain-language versions in the real world. There was a complaint that the FAA was making runways shorter. Hmmm ... While another pilot warned about an impending 600-percent increase in property taxes. We weren't sure on what, but in a democracy, everyone gets a say, provided they have a photo ID. And one respondent thought that mint ice cream should be outlawed. User fees and airport security each picked up a vote of dumbness. "Why," a pilot asked, "should I pay to park on an FBO's ramp and then have to get permission from some rent-a-cop to get to my airplane?" Why indeed? Some questions are unanswerable. ATC didn't get too many complaints ... partly, I suspect, because pilots and controllers have a strong bond from working together in the same system and from being irritated by the same FAA administrators. Plus, any experienced pilot knows that if you rat out a controller, your callsign goes into a secret controller database, and you become what's known throughout the ATC community as a "tie breaker," making you forever last in any sequence even when you get there first. Just saying ... As much as pilots spared controllers from dumb votes, the ATC institution, though, took a few hits. A Florida CFI didn't like the local ATC facility arbitrarily creating a "practice area over rough terrain in the swamps." That CFI probably doesn't like engine failures, either. Or snakes ... on a plane. One pilot hated NexGen, believing it was merely a means to soak pilots for more fees. And another pilot took umbrage over approach controllers keeping VFR traffic below the Class B shelves to allow the jets to skim overhead in the smoother air far above the cell phone towers and snapping alligators. A pilot about to depart New York's LaGuardia Airport said that, after taxiing to the runway, they noted that the windsock indicated a tailwind, contrary to the ATIS. The pilot informed the Tower that the aircraft was too heavy for a downwind departure, but the nimble-tongued NYC controller came back with, "Port Authority indicated that the wind sock was out of service." The captain thought that was dumb and said so. Speaking of institutional dumbness, here's a dumb NOTAM: Newton IA [TNU]: December NOTAM #1: Aerodrome BIRDS INVOF [Translation: Birds in the vicinity of] "There are always birds in the vicinity of every airport!" an incredulous Iowa pilot wrote. "Like we need a NOTAM for that!"

Pilot Follies (No One Is Excused)

We needn't scan too far from our own cockpits to test the waters of foolish behavior. Here's a handful of abbreviated dumb-act submissions:
  • "Bragging about scud running." True, that's dumb, but the submitter didn't specify if it was the scud running or the bragging that was dumb. We'll say both.
  • "Buzzing wildlife areas."
  • "Getting caught buzzing wildlife areas."
  • Dumb was the pilot who taxied out and departed with the seatbelt dangling from the PIC's door.
  • Show-off departures: "... yanking the airplane off in an unnecessary zoom effect to impress no one."
  • Making first-time passengers airsick by showing off (see previous dumb example).
  • "Drinking and flying." Yup, big-time dumb.
  • "Taking off with a trace of frost on the wings."
  • "Departing without removing the cowl plugs."
  • VFR pilots who don't turn on their transponders when not talking to ATC. This makes them invisible to TCAS and TIS.
  • Relying on TCAS or TIS to spot VFR traffic.
  • "Asking for a ride report at flight levels when crossing the Atlantic. It's always bumpy, and it's damn-near impossible to get an altitude change in the tracks."
  • Making opposite direction landings/departures to the flow of traffic.
  • Making right-hand traffic when left traffic applies.
  • Starting an airplane inside a hangar because someone (not you) is too lazy to use a tow bar.
  • Hand-propping an airplane with no one at the controls.
  • And, as a follow-on to the previous, a reader thinks the practice of leaving an airplane parked and unattended with the engine running is, frankly, dumb.
  • Taxiing into position and holding (think "line up and wait") at a non-towered airport. This leaves your six o'clock blind to the final. "Dumb!" shouts at least one reader.
And a flight instructor claims that this scenario is the dumbest thing ever witnessed: A Cessna 310 (twin Cessna) approached an airport with an 11,000-foot runway. The pilot lowered the gear but didn't get a nosewheel green light, so he requested to perform a low pass by the control tower for a visual inspection (Note: Controllers usually aren't mechanics or pilots and can't really see much). Tower reported, "Gear appears to be down." Pilot elected to shut down both engines in order to minimize engine/prop damage should the gear collapse. In doing so, the dumb thing landed short of the almost two-mile long runway, and the airplane was ruined. Dumbest thing about it? The nose wheel was down and locked; the bulb was no good.

Dumb Things We Say

Give a starving pilot a loaf of bread, and he'll feed pigeons for a day. Give him a microphone, and you'll never shut him up. Or at least that's the way it sounds on CTAF, where many pilots truly believe that the air flowing across the microphone keeps the aircraft aloft. Here are some noted dumb submissions:
  • Despite the CTAF chatter, some readers are annoyed that other pilots don't make proper or timely position reports in the pattern. Probably too busy flying the airplane.
  • CFIs who turn down radios and then forget to turn them up again. Show of hands -- mine included -- how many of us are guilty?
  • Blindly obeying CTAF/UNICOM advisories instead of flying the airplane.
  • Using the noxious phrase, "Traffic in the area (or conflicting traffic), please advise." That garnered several votes for dumb.
  • Flying needlessly long finals while making needless position reports.
  • Flying needlessly wide patterns (at 80 knots), again, with needless position reports.
  • Requesting winds on CTAF when ASOS/AWOS exists.
  • This dumb phrase was forced on American air traffic controllers in 2012: "Line up and wait."
  • "When ATC says, 'Cirrus 123, ident,' and the pilot replies, 'There's your ident.' The controller can see the ident! Don't talk, just push the dumb button!"

Dumb Aircraft

Curtis XP-55 Ascender

Even Ercoupe owners aren't afraid to show affection in public for their aircraft, but some flying machines strike our readers as dumb. Here, in no particular order, are some complaints:
  • The name "Airbus."
  • One reader just didn't like the Cirrus (many of us disagree), while another didn't like investing in one just before the stock market crashed (agreed).
  • Cessna Skycatcher.
  • The WWII Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender (looks like a bulky Rutan VariEze and dubbed the "Ass-ender").
And it's not just aircraft types that annoy; one reader thought the high price of aircraft parts was dumb. We suspect others shared that opinion. A loyal Beechcraft owner opined that the old Bonanza piano-key gear and flap switches were dumb. Beech long ago eliminated that arrangement. Cowlings that can't be opened enough to inspect the engine during preflight. A tiny oil access door is not enough. The spring-loaded RV12 throttle (automatically goes full throttle) claimed a dumb vote, and an Aerotek pilot offered an opinion about its throttle arrangement: "Dumbest things I've seen are placing the brake handle (#1 dumb thing) within less than one inch of the push-button vernier throttle (#2) on tricycle-geared Aerotrek Light Sport aircraft!"

Air Show and Fly-In Dumbs

Pity the fool who calls the annual gathering in Oshkosh, Wisc., anything but "Oshkosh," said a no-doubt rabid EAAer who didn't care for the fly-in's fancy marketing names. And another Oshkosh-by-gosher thought it dumb to exclude the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds from Oshkosh ... or whatever it's called. Ignoring common-sense courtesies at fly-ins brought in several notes about pilots who don't check NOTAMs and land on X'd runways during the air show. As an air show announcer, I've seen that happen more than once, which always makes the attending FSDO inspector cringe before walking out to meet the dumb pilot. Not all dumbness happens in the air at air shows. Consider the unknown Mooney pilot who started his engine in the tie-down area and then, according to our voting witness, "used full throttle to exit his spot and blew the door off a Cessna 170 that was parked behind him." But as dumb as that was, the same submitter considered the Cessna 170 owner to be nearly as dumb for leaving the door open and unattended.

Aviation Cultural Dumbness

  • Use of the hermaphrodite PC pronoun he/she.
  • Watching movie actors dress up like airline pilots.
  • The movies Flight, Snakes On A Plane and Flyboys.
  • A web-based quiz.
  • The Brainteaser author. (You might have something there ...)
And, finally, this feedback from an unnamed source: "The dumbest thing in aviation is that the AVweb Brainteaser quizzes make me keep guessing when I have the wrong answer. Let's value my time, and just tell me the correct answer with [an] explanation when I get one wrong. And if you're [sic] read this far, I apologize for wasting your time. So, good-bye." You certainly didn't waste our time but, personally, I'll think twice before ever asking pilots what's dumb about anything. Not that it'll stop me from saying plenty of dumb things in the future.