Top Letters And Comments, July 7, 2023


Normalizing Deviance

Two thoughts:

My dad taught me to ride motorcycles, and we rode together often during my formative years. As an inexperienced rider, I often got butterflies before and during a ride–Dekker’s chronic uneasiness. It’s not a particularly comfortable feeling, and I asked my Dad once how long it took before it went away. “Son,” he said, “the day I stop feeling that way before riding is the day I stop riding.” It was a perfect answer that’s stuck with me my entire life; I still ride motorcycles today nearly 50 years later, and the butterflies are still with me.

Regarding the Gulfstream crash at Bedford, MA in 2014, it’s especially poignant that this tragedy resulted from a failure to use a checklist. The first B-17 prototype, known as the Model 299, crashed in October of 1935, killing two of the five occupants. The pilot lost control of the aircraft because he failed to remove the gust lock prior to takeoff. The event almost destroyed Boeing as an aviation company–it had bet all its resources on the B-17, and critics began to think the aircraft was too complex to be operated safely. But out of that tragedy was born an idea that has saved countless lives. A group of Boeing engineers and pilots devised a checklist for pilots to use as a memory aid. Boeing built another 12 aircraft, and its pilots, aided by checklists, flew nearly 2 million miles without incident. This ultimately convinced the U.S. government that despite its complexity, the B-17 could be safely operated by ordinary pilots. As we know, checklist use became mandatory for military aviators, and was soon adopted and mandated by professional commercial operators as well.

How sad then that a test crew elected not to use a checklist, thereby repeating nearly 80 years later the very same tragedy that prompted its creation.

Mark S.

Back in the 1980s, I was sitting in the cockpit jump seat of a TWA 727 about to push back for takeoff from LaGuardia. This was the first trip of the month together for this crew. The Captain called for the pre-start checklist, and the flight engineer began reciting it, a list he had probably performed hundreds of times. The Captain turned to him and said, “Please read the checklist–if anybody’s memory is going to fail, I would rather that it be mine.” A statement that has stuck with me for all of my flying since, and most of my ground-pounder life as well. It’s the “why” of we have checklists, whether in the cockpit, the operating room, or on an ocean liner’s bridge.

Lance N.

I have been flying for 55 years or so, and it has been a constant struggle to make myself heed the wisdom of this article. I think a related problem is that of “task continuation bias”, the tendency of a pilot to continue with an original course of action that is no longer viable. The more skilled and experienced a pilot is, the more likely he is to fall victim to this well-recognized psychological problem. I had flown hundreds of airshows, for many years, when I succumbed to this malady, which nearly killed me and destroyed the most beautiful airplane that ever was. Google “Tumbling Bear” for more on the crash if you are interested.

Robin H.

Short Final: Name Change

I’m sure that ATC has heard it all and said it all but here is an example I enjoyed:

Years ago flying over the Chicago area at FL350 in a Falcon, the center controller came on with “Falcon XXX turn right 20 degrees for Noise Abatement.” While in the turn and reading back the heading change, I queried “Noise Abatement? We’re at 350! The controller quickly came back with, “I’m guessing that you’ve never heard a Falcon and a 737 come together.”

Bill B.

Poll: Virgin Galactic Finally Flew Tourists. Would You Go?

  • A walk in the back country looking in the sky would be better for me and the planet. Helping pay a rich dude to have his ego stroked doesn’t cut it. Throw your cash at a kids’ hospital.
  • If I had the $250K, I would spend it on either a newer airplane or more gadgets for my existing ride. That would buy me a lot more pleasure than 20 minutes in the upper atmosphere.
  • If I was 10 years younger, I’d go to fulfill a life-long dream.
  • Cost is too $$$$$.
  • I’m ready!
  • Before the disaster with the trip to the Titanic I probably would have gone. Afterwards, I am suddenly a chicken or at least overly cautious. So, probably not.
  • I’d rather have a flight in a P-51 Mustang, Dash-7 or experience an aircraft carrier landing and takeoff.
  • Rather ride with Musk.
  • Only if they can get me above the Kármán line.
  • To stay few minutes in a region that isn’t even considered space? No, thanks.
  • I would rather fly in a P-38.
  • The price would have to drop to $1000 per seat.
  • If I was working on a space project…
  • For a few days, yes…for a few minutes, no, no.
  • Waste of fuel, time and effort for such a short and useless trip.
  • If it went a little higher and the “hang time” was a little longer.
  • Nope. So many more aviation-related experiences to be had for $250k.
  • Too much for sub-orbital flight.
  • I’d rather use that money to pay for someone’s actual education!
  • Some day when kinks are ironed out.
  • If 250k was small change, I would go.
  • I’d use the money to buy another aircraft.
  • Not at today’s prices and lack of established safety record. A brief suborbital flight may never be worth what it costs.
  • Better things for money to do.
  • It’s just wasting resources, if there was a scientific goal I’d certainly let someone pay for it.
  • Wait for Elon.
  • No. Stupid reason to spend that much money.
  • I’d rather use the money and efforts to help people who needs it than to waste it on a thrill ride.
  • Cost/benefit nowhere close in my personal world view.
  • It depends… How much are you paying me to do this? Risk versus reward!
  • Why? The ride is short, and better views are available on wide-screen TV!
  • Not on MY life!
  • I’d rather wait until I can stand on the Moon
  • Rather spend money on our 185 in the backcountry, where there is more bang for the buck.
  • Not worth cost for a 15-minute ride…
  • It’s not actually space. Just weightless so why bother?
  • Very unlikely.
  • If I had a free ticket. I have better things to do with $250k.
  • Maybe for $4K…
  • It is the equivalent of a roller coaster ride for rich people.
  • I’d rather watch it on YouTube and spend it all on frivolous stuff.
  • Only as PIC.
  • If I built it, I would go. But somebody else built it so I would have to think really hard about it.
  • Not interested in being a “rider” as opposed to an explorer.
  • Sure, if you’re selfish and have money to burn.
  • Prefer SpaceX.
  • I prefer a Cessna 172.
  • No way I’d spend that much for that ride.
  • I’ll happily watch others go.
  • Simply don’t have the desire to leave the corral.
  • Waiting on a warp drive or a Millennium nuclear-powered Falcon model for a ride…
  • Can I talk you down to $250?
  • Better rides at Universal.

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