Everything I Know About Flying I Learned From Social Media


Once upon a time in a world thought to be a fantasyland, but that actually existed, if you did something stupid in an airplane that didn’t kill you, this would happen: An avuncular man with pattern baldness wearing a short-sleeve white shirt, a narrow black tie and a blue FAA nametag, would put his arm around you and start the conversation by saying, “son.” Wisdom and advice would flow, but your certificate wouldn’t be wrested from your wallet. And a good thing, too, because you probably left it on your dresser.

It’s different now. If you do something embarrassing, it will be caught on video, likely from several angles, edited, posted and viralized before the engine cools. And what will happen next will be the beat down of your life on social media because everyone is, well, just smarter than you.

I hardly need to post the video link because there are only about six people on the planet who haven’t seen the footage of the hapless pilot of a Cirrus get ignominiously dragged across the ramp after the airplane got away while he was propping it. Only two of those people haven’t commented.

I’m going to skip adding another lash to the poor man because I think the horse has already been reduced to red molecular mush and I can’t add much … other than to make the case for propping big ass engines in the first place.

That’s right, I’m arguing forand not against propping. Somehow, the notion has evolved that it’s OK to prop 65-HP Continentals, but an O-360? That’s suicide. I used to think that myself until the starter on the right engine of a Navajo I was flying crumped in, of all places, Teterboro. When I described my plight to the maintenance shop, the mechanic on duty said he could prop me so I could fly home to get the starter he didn’t have in the parts bin.

Prop a TIO-540-J2BD? Are you nuts?, I asked, but not in those words. He said something that began with “son” and ended with “just watch.” So I manned up, he propped the engine and away I flew. Both mains were chocked while all this supposed impossibility and inadvisability was going on. I’m sure I was on the brakes, too.

So yeah, you can prop a Cirrus. Or a Bonanza, an Arrow, a Mooney or almost any small airplane with pistons. A DC-3? I don’t think so. But I saw a pre-YouTube film of some clever lads wrapping a rope around the prop hub and tugging it with a truck to spin the engine to life. Necessity may birth invention, but desperation nurses it. Maybe it’s Briggs and Stratton run amok, but on other the hand, it’s just a question of scale.

The usual reason for doing any of this is a dead battery or, as in my case with the Navajo, a defective starter. But it is a good idea? Depends. If the battery can be easily and conveniently charged and you’re not in a hurry, that solution is less risky and allows you to have that second cup of coffee while you savor the wisdom of not planting yourself in front to something that can cut you to pieces. The second point would be to never be in a hurry around airplanes. It just never seems to be of any benefit.

But if you want to prop just because you want to prop, chock the sucker down with the biggest blocks you can find and/or tie the tail. I do both now, after my own near miss of losing track of the Cub. Just don’t forget that even after doing all this, you can still get injured or killed. But then that’s true of flying in general, no? Why give up living just to stay alive?

Pro tip: Always have a ballpeen hammer either in the hangar or your flight bag. Before you swing that first blade, find every camera you can and smash it to bits. Can’t a man at least enjoy his screw ups in privacy?

One last thing. Please keep the comments civil. We had to switch them off on the story about this because of downright nastiness. So, please don’t.