Aviation YouTubery: Dross And Delights


“You can literally learn any skill you want for free on YouTube. You can become a person of value in a matter of months.” –Elon Musk

“I just assume every YouTuber is a colossal %$#@bag until they prove otherwise–it’s much easier that way.” –YouTube commenter

I almost wrote that Americans love a spectacle, but what is more true is that humans love a spectacle. Thus, we have YouTube and a ready means to, at the touch of the keyboard or mouse, bring the spectacle right to the comfort and convenience of the desktop or the den TV.

For as surely as YouTube advances human knowledge and skill, it also stokes the outrage machine and encourages people to do galactically dumb stuff in the greedy, all-consuming quest for views. That means that two things can both be true: Musk’s claim that YouTube is a teacher for the ages and also that it’s a great stinking sewer of empty pixels that rob you of time you’ll never get back. So it teaches a skill you never had to exercise in high school or college: a sixth-sense ability to resist twisting your neck around to see the car wreck you know is coming—or, for our purposes, the airplane wreck.

Exhibit A is the story we ran over the weekend about a YouTuber who evidently feigned an emergency, bailed out of a nice old Taylorcraft and filmed it crashing. Then he gave us his simply harrowing tale of survival hiking out of the wilderness. (I could hardly stomach adding the link up there but it’s unfair to make you look for it.) A friend wrote me absolutely outraged about this and thought the guy ought to be jailed or at least punished in some way. Our story on the video was about the blowback, less the thing itself. And mea culpa, on a slow news weekend, we fell for the rubbernecking in quest of clicks.

I’m not particularly outraged by the video myself. Yeah, the stunt makes GA look bad, but I’ve long since stopped stressing about that, given all the boneheaded accidents we write about. On the other hand, I don’t care if the FAA finds a way to yank this guy’s certificate or the state of California makes him backpack out the wreckage on a littering charge as maybe prior restraint against the next self-centered yahoo who thinks this kind of thing is justified in the holy quest for online engagement.

And don’t think that YouTube spawned this kind of silliness. It just makes it more convenient to find and watch and inspire one-up copycats at algorithmic speed. In the great tradition of American spectacle, from the late 1890s to well into the 1930s, steam locomotives were crashed into each other for the sheer entertainment value. In one of the first in 1896, the resulting explosion killed two people and maimed dozens. One fan got a bolt through an eyeball for his trouble. Then there are demolition derbies, another uniquely American form of amusement for when baseball is just too boring. (Full disclosure: I’ve driven in two demo derbies.)

I’m trying to make a better angels argument here, supporting Musk’s claim which I think is undeniably true. YouTube offers a staggering amount of aviation content and the overwhelming majority of it is decent, a lot of it is good and a small percentage of it is brilliant. YouTube means it’s possible for a video maker to bore deep into a topic in a way a mainstream publisher never would or in ways even the trade press simply can’t for lack of expertise and space or airtime. YouTube’s time is essentially unlimited and available on demand for free, anytime you want it.

I’m not going to make this a blog about my favorite YouTube channels, but rather offer some examples that are the diametric opposite of click whoring. This one, for example, from boldmethod, offers a thorough, well-illustrated explanation of LPV/LNAV/VNAV approaches that’s essentially all you need to know. It’s serious exposition. It’s what Musk is talking about. Russ Still on Gold Seal Ground School has his version of this kind of content with terrific graphics that are especially useful for primary students.

Steve Thorn’s FlightChops channel has, for years, presented aviation topics in a friendly, accessible way in which you can actually learn something rather than just waiting for the rending of metal. (He may have had a little of that, however.) For nothing but rending of metal—well, almost—I like Juan Brown’s Blancolirio channel, which is nothing less than quick reaction accident reporting with some analysis, but with helpful layering of technique addressing what could have happened and what you might do about it. For more general interest, AirBoyd has an eclectic collection of current and vintage military, airline and general aviation topics. Some of these just entertain and inform, but some have genuine, instructional takeaways that might just serve as useful reminders to execute on what you already know. I’ll stop myself with just one more mention of favorites, the Imperial War Museum’s channel on World War II aircraft. It’s excellent.

There are several mega-subscriber channels that occasionally address aviation topics in interesting ways. My favorite is Vertasium and this one is interesting because it shows that you can attract 11 million subscribers—yes, 11 million—and engage them with 20-minute videos on intensely technical subjects. The presenter, Derek Muller, is what we should all strive for. He has a bright, informative style but one that’s not afraid of the math. Another favorite is Sabine Hossenfelder’s Science Without the Gobbledygook. Although it’s not an aviation channel, she touches on aerospace topics frequently enough to be worth watching, including this nice piece on hypersonic flight. Astronomer Scott Manley’s channel deals with space flight—past and present—in such depth that you’ll gain a good understanding of orbital mechanics, painlessly.

I could go on for thousands of words. If I didn’t mention your favorite YouTube channel, feel free to do so in the comments. I don’t mind the entertainment and spectacle aspects of aviation videos—after all, my own efforts aren’t exactly religiously scholastic—but after viewing that Taylorcraft offering, I feel like I need a shower and a dose of penance for willfully occupying the same YouTube universe. Just remember, at even a casual glance, there’s a lot more good in it than bad.

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  1. Good article. I agree that YouTube can be both a valuable learning asset and a colossal waste of time. I am currently using it to learn about how to perform various maintenance or repair issues on airplanes in preparation for getting an A&P license. My problem with YouTube is that their computer algorithms decide what they think you should see and flood the screen with all sorts of click bait. It supposedly learns your viewing preferences, but still has way to many things that someone must be paying them to peddle to the viewers. Thanks for the viewing suggestions. I already use a couple, like Scott Manley’s site, but I always appreciate hearing about useful and interesting sites to visit.

    • To “beat” the You Tube algorithms and get a “flatter”, less biased search – use an In-Private or Incognito browsing session and don’t log in with your account. You will be amazed at the difference.

  2. Paul, sometime ago I counted about 300 of your YouTube (Avweb) “precious collection of diamonds” videos. So you got that going for you which is nice! IMO, Youtube is a Five Star educational source.

    • If you know the source it does change the way I view it.
      And I know if it was posted by Paul, I’m going to be entertained.

      • You are correct! Like go to “Search”, enter AVweb by date. And just like that one will find 358 videos spanning 14 years. Paul is in most posts.

  3. Although instrument rated for many years, I’ve never been comfortable in weather or the Pelosi idea that you “needed to fly in it to learn about it.” If you have an experienced weather-pilot to fly with, that’s hard to beat. (I never have.) It occurs to me that flight sims are getting so good now that part of training could be several hours of simulated weather flying, with the instructor stopping the machine at decision points.

    I’ve been watching this guy’s video on taking a 172 from Anchorage to Oshkosh in winter. It gives great insight on decision-making on-the-fly, so to speak.


    • I’ve done both… hundreds of hours in IMC on a sim, and only a few dozen of hours in real IMC. The truth is, not all IMC is the same. I’ve been flying at night where I had to wear my toggles while in IMC , to keep my night vision there were so many flashes of lightning. Then flying is nice calm IMC where the calm went to decision hight.
      You should really train for both with someone that has long term experience flying in that type of weather (not just an instructor). Sadly many instructors have little real world IMC flight.

  4. Musk’s quote is so true! I recently needed to flush rivet a non-structural piece on an experimental airplane, and, having never squeezed rivets before, checked out Kitplanes Magazine’s “Metal Magic” educational series with Paul Dye. After viewing the video demonstrating a pneumatic riveter and squeezing some practice rivets, I proceeded to squeeze a line of perfectly formed rivets! The information was free and the result was priceless!

  5. Certainly much diarrhea on UselessTube.

    A friend of friends who is a doctor does find use of it learning about medical procedures, but being objective he combines sources, thinks things through, integrates, and distills. Too few people have that ability.

    Sounds like Bertorelli should find a better medium, they exist but I do not know of their usability, I don’t do videos well.

    • As you are so fond of saying: Fail.

      We–I–use YouTube because it drives views which I care about only to the extent that we gain some subscribers for AVweb, attracting enough advertising dollars to pay for the free platform for you to advise me what I’m doing wrong. 🙂

      Other choices are shouting down into a hollow pipe.

      • A couple of decades ago I was trying to help a project that would provide information to pax in airliners, financed by a newspaper magnate who would sell advertising on it.

        Project cancelled when he determined there was little market for the advertising.

        Most advertising is poorly done, including:
        – blocks content, so viewer moves on
        – vague, like the Rockwell-Collins full page ads with blue sky etc, even if you recognized the company’s name you probably wouldn’t know the occasion was being spun off from the Rockwell conglomerate. Who was the audience?

        • IOW Paul, good idea to develop a backup business plan.

          Someday some people will figure out how to measure actual reading of those ads you get money from today, and ultimately actual remembering of the message.

  6. If you are one who has no idea on how to change the timing belt
    on you car & want to do it – just what is wrong with watching the
    procedure on youtube ?? – for example

    • I’ve done this. Again, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt… as long as you already basically understand the procedure. Because you don’t know what they left out. I actually had this happen with a timing belt replacement. They left out one major step that almost trashed my non serviceable transmission.

  7. Well maybe…
    I used YouTube to refresh my plumbing memory. It was here that I watched one ‘expert’ say to solder one way… then yet another say, don’t do it this way and explained why.
    Yes, there is much to learn on the internet, and it might not be right. Even the so called ‘fact checkers’ have admitted in court, their ‘facts’ are really just opinions that may not be true or ‘facts’.
    Yes, legally, fact checkers just provide a wild opinion that is no better than any other opinion posted on the internet by a random drunk in the middle of the night.

    So, take YouTube education with high skepticism. When the techs from PayPal came up with YouTube, it was meant to be jackass entertainment… really it was.

      • I’m sure his techniques are sound, but at around 2:20 he tosses out a fallacy – that there is no real difference between MAPP gas and propane.

        He is correct in the fact that MAPP is no longer being produced. But in the same slide that he shows highlighting that fact is the point that MAPP substitutes (with labeling such as “MAP/Pro”) are generally almost pure propylene, which burns around 130 degrees hotter.

        Trust but verify.

    • Modern internet I find to be like driving a car or flying a plane – experience teaches you where to look in each situation, cutting the workload and increasing you performance.

      Most people are trying to be helpful but knowledge and experience can be extensive yet colored by faulty reasoning or memory. For a given topic it is now easy to quickly survey the spread of views and their likely merits using the number of views, subscribers and nature of the top comments. This is an emergent skill worth developing. I first saw it’s benefit when review sites became common 15 years ago. Even for something as simple as finding a good coffee (beanhunter app). It takes mere seconds to see which products have higher ratings, read the top and most recent for and against reviews and then check the other reviews of those people to gauge their credibility. Some will be single-use fake reviews, some are people who care about a topic more than you do. The cost or consequence of the decision will determine how much time you give to it. Ever was it thus.

      • Seems to be many groupies in review lists.

        Beware of ‘surveys’ that use self-selecting respondents – those cannot produce accurate results because they do not poll a representative cross-section of respondents. One bloating charity illustrated that one year by quoting number of respondents under age 30, by gender – 2:1 female:male which is not believable.

        And ‘Best of the City’ polls are badly skewed toward familiar names.

    • With much IP theft.

      For plumbing, key is not starting a fire. Hot air guns like Steinel’s help, but the new way is snap together joint system using a couple of simple tools. SharkBite is one brand. (In between in vintage was adhesive on PVC pipe and fittings.)

      Hopefully there’s an article somewhere on design of system including:
      – over-pressure relief on water heater for when heaters stay on and water boils, I rescued someone from that when the pressure pushed very hot water through a plastic toilet water line when she flushed it, melted the line, hot water all over, fortunately did not scaled her.
      – backflow preventers
      – slope of piping for when heating goes off

  8. Another thoughtful article from Paul! The links will prove useful.

    I use Youtube, aside from gross entertainment, to learn auto diagnosis and repair techniques. I learned long ago Youtube videos information content (and presentation) vary enormously. Aside from camera shake and impenetrable shadows, the content can mislead.

  9. Thanks Paul and love your list – checking out the museum channel. I now find YT to be a critical part of pursuing lines of inquiry for projects, research, techniques and news. My ability to get beyond the novelty factor and time-suckage has has to grow along with the site.

    Speaking of research, below is an example of the real/future power of YT in my opinion. It’s a couple of serious scientists talking about the state of play in a field I wish I’d been following more closely.

    Scott Manley got his YT start by recording himself completing fun and amusing space flight tasks in the Kerbal Space Program game. If anyone isn’t aware of KSP this internet cartoon might give an idea…

  10. I’ve watched video’s on brain surgery, however, I’m having trouble trying to figure out exactly how to start. Can anyone suggest a video?

  11. 😉

    Surgeons advise you have to be capable of handling the unexpected. Do UselessTube videos provide that?

  12. I enjoyed your posting. I knew and liked most of the Youtube channels you mention. One observation, all the channels focused on accidents are about click whoring. Period. In my opinion, your own postings, and the articles of Peter Garrison are among the few examples of genuine educational value in the genre “lets us analyze this tragedy…”

  13. What is most needed is a “fact Checking” organization just comparing the title to the actual content. BTW Paul, it is a good thing you owned up to the demolition derby participation as some of us would have otherwise taken offense.

  14. As we begin year 2022, the latest & greatest catch word is “MetaVerse”. The social media version will allow people to live in an internet video game world with infinite knowledge and ownership of electronic properties. The hands-on physical real world version of the MetraVerse we’re living today. The countless number of computers, engine powered equipment, household devices, vegetation and everything else that I’ve brought back to life with this phenomenal tool (the internet) is absolutely incredible. My ’76 3/4 ton 4×4 Chevy with snowplow has cost me a small fraction of a late model equivalent. Those of us that are hands-on types are living the ‘Ultimate MetaVerse Dream’ today.

    DISCLAIMER: Tools can be dangerous, some very dangerous, use them wisely. Keep that in mind next time you’re searching out information or strap a camera to your crash helmet. 🙂

  15. I treat YouTube like happy hour at the mess bar. There will be some people who are always worth listening to, some that have an occasional useful nugget of information, some only provide entertainment, and some that you just tune out.

    Personally I never felt I had a problem figuring out which was which on YouTube, the only issue was just like happy hour beers; it was always a good idea to ration your consumption…..

    Still my favourite thing about YouTube is that it is full of historical aviation clips and movies. Without YouTube I would not have been able to enjoy probably 80% of the really cool aviation themed presentations I have watched in the last few years.

  16. I’ll use this opportunity to take umbrage at Mr. Musk’s presuming to define for us what is a “person of value”. Eff off.

    Meanwhile, Mentour Pilot on YouTube makes excellent analyses of aviation incidents and accidents from a pilot’s POV.