“May you live in interesting times.” The purported Chinese curse is a most suitable understatement for what we inhabitants of this fragile blue marble have been experiencing as the year 2020 grinds on. Here in the pilot’s lounge at the virtual airport the regulars have been staying in touch electronically and flying little. COVID-19 has meant no flying at all for some renters—although that is starting to change—pay cuts and/or layoffs for several of the professional pilots, uncertainty for those who have been working hard on ratings with the goal of a career in the sky, and sorrow as we have lost one regular to the malevolent virus. Several of my friends in the lounge have been annual denizens at the big aviation events—Sun ‘n Fun, AirVenture, AOPA Fly Ins, the Reno Air Races. I’ve watched them go from hope that they’ll be able to make their annual pilgrimage, to uncertainty and finally, to some degree of disappointment and acceptance as one after another is canceled. From most I hear that they have shifted gears and are already making plans to go next year. They are rolling with the punches. “I’ll Do It Sometime” But I am hearing increasingly from the procrastinators. The ones who never went to Oshkosh, although they had talked of going for years, and from those I’d often invited for a weekend of flying on floats or skis but they always said that they’d go next year, and from those who had repeatedly spoken of a desire to...
The runway lights were just coming on when I met Kary and Karver in the pilot’s lounge at the virtual airport. Kary is a longtime CFI and volunteer pilot with the Civil Air Patrol and I admire her judgment on safety matters. Karver is a young man who recently completed his instrument and commercial ratings and wants to start doing some volunteer flying. I’d asked them to join me because I wanted to run something by them. I’m on the safety committee of the Air Care Alliance, the umbrella group that supports all public benefit flying (PBF) organizations. In the last year I’d spent a lot of time working with pilots involved with “safety best practices” for their various PBF organizations. Recognizing that the type of flying involved in the PBF world varies all over the map from backcountry, short airstrip operations through surveilling the landscape looking for missing airplanes or environmental depredation, to serious IFR in crummy weather, I worked to come up with a set of volunteer flying safety guidelines that could be applied to a volunteer pilot flying for any of the PBF groups. I’d talked over my ideas with a lot of people I respect in the aviation safety community. This evening, I wanted to put the result in front of a couple of pilots from each end of the PBF spectrum—Kary, with her thousands of hours and experience as a CAP check pilot, and Karver, who is about to get started as a volunteer...
It’s been unusually quiet in the pilot’s lounge at the virtual airport. We lost Old Hack last week. No, he wasn’t missing. I’m getting the words all wrong. We knew right where he was—in the long-term care facility where he’d been the last year or so—the place that he rudely referred to as the “feebs and droolers” ward because he said it described him. But we lost him. He went west, dammit. Yeah, that euphemism for death has been around for something over 700 years, but it came into common usage among aviators in World War I. I find that using it is a comfort when I think of a pilot friend who has closed their logbook forever. We got the summons via email from Karver. Karver, who is barely into his 20s, a relatively new pilot and who had become close to Old Hack as he, Karver, was starting to add ratings, told everyone he could think of to show up at the pilot’s lounge because he was throwing a wake for Hack. I got here early so I’d get a seat in one of the big, ratty old recliners and got to thinking about my late friend. Hack had been in his 90s. He’d bought a Piper Super Cruiser nearly new and flew it with panache and élan until he was well into his 80s—and had crossed the line well into irascible decades ago. Karver’s friendship with Old Hack had turned out well. After Hack was moved into long-term care, Karver would sneak him out and bring him to the pilot’s lounge. We loved those visits. Old...
It was a foggy mid-week morning when I stopped into the pilot’s lounge at the virtual airport. I was doing some research for an article in our sister publication Aviation Consumer and I needed Wi-Fi access, so I figured I’d tap into the flight school’s system. Karver, recently instrument rated and Kary, a long-time pilot and Civil Air Patrol check pilot, were headed out to get some practice in the clag before the fog was forecast to burn off. We greeted each other in passing, but then Karver stopped and said to me, “Hey. If the engine quits while we’re out in low IFR, Kary told me that we won’t have much time after we break out of the clouds to select where we’re gonna land and that I should just aim for something soft and cheap. Is she kidding me?” I did my best impression of a deer in the headlights and responded, “Um, well, not really. But, no matter how much time you have to choose a forced landing spot, there are some rules of thumb to keep in mind to maximize your chances of a surviving. Believe it or not, the little bug-smashers we fly are pretty crashworthy if you touch down right side up, just above stall speed and are wearing a shoulder harness. They’re even better if you have a BRS parachute on the airplane and have gone over the guidelines on its use. I’ve got some stuff on crashworthiness I can pull up and give to you after you fly.” “Great. I’ll see you then.” Pulling together the material for...
Now that I could see the airplane, I was pretty sure that It was an Aviat Husky. The down-to-your-shoelaces fog that I’d driven through to the airport was beginning to lose its battle with the sun. When I got out of my car 20 minutes ago, the fog had been the absolute master of the airport. I could hear a slow-moving airplane up above, seemingly standing sentinel over the invisible airport. Muted engine and prop noise in my ears, I went into one of the FBO’s big hangars to help set up for the huckleberry pancake breakfast fly-in. Now, after 20 minutes of setting up chairs and tables and hearing the big propane griddles fire up, I stepped outside wondering if the weather would cooperate so pilots could fly in. I saw that there were great, uneven rents opening and closing in the fog. The trees on the other side of the runway would appear and then disappear as the fog and sun contested control over the airport. As I watched, patches of painfully bright blue sky appeared and widened. That’s when I was finally able to see the patient early responder to the lure of a fly-in breakfast. It was a Husky; its squared-off wingtips and smoothly rounded tail surfaces made clear. The power was pulled back to lowest cruise, the prop being barely hushed around. I could visualize the pilot—he or she had set manifold pressure and prop RPM at or near the bottom the green arcs, using minimal fuel and keeping the airplane...
I’d stepped into the pilot’s lounge at the virtual airport after finishing up with my last student of the day. I didn’t think anyone was still in the building and I wanted to make sure the coffee maker was off—it has a tendency to create enough smoke to fog the room by morning if left unattended. There’s supposed to be an automatic shutoff but I can’t help but suspect that it has developed a personality and gets upset at being ignored and retaliates when people leave of an evening. The switch for the caffeine dispenser was firmly in the off position, so I started to turn toward the door, intending to head home. As I did so, I noticed that there was a copy of Last Plane Out, John Ball’s novel of aviators, personal integrity and what it means to have a passion for flight that defines one’s life, lying on the table nearby. I’d been deeply moved by the book when I’d read it as a teenager. Ball’s pilots were people who were a cut above ordinary because of their commitment to the highest standards in practicing their craft, readiness for—and ability to handle—the unexpected, an instant willingness to help others and a refreshing humility in their carriage. They had pride in their skills, without hubris, and the visceral understanding that no matter how much they knew, there was always so much more to learn. I grabbed the book and sat down to reread some of my favorite parts. An hour later it was dark outside,...
The reality is that we cant spend every second flying in hyper-alert mode dodging unknown and unnamed dangers coming at us in full stealth mode so that we avoid any risk of an accident. What we can do is decide that flying precisely and knowing our airplane is a point of pride as a pilot.
Losing a pilot friend to a crash and thinking to yourself that I saw this coming and not having done all that you could to prevent the crash is one of the most horrible feelings youll ever have in aviation. I know. Ive been there. Alternatively, kicking a friend out of a flying club is a tough decision to make, but it may just keep him or her alive.
The pilots of a DC-9-83 (MD-83) not only had things go well and truly south, but had maybe five seconds to do exactly the right thing—and the right thing was not the obvious thing. They did the right thing, right away, and stuck with it even though they had to know that they were going to be the first ones at the scene of the accident and were probably going to die. Those two pilots were heroes. That should be shouted from the rooftops.
There are three levels of flight testing. The top end, requiring extensive education and training, is experimental flight test. The next level down is production flight test. Service test flying is the lowest rung on the test ladder. It usually can be carried out by any pilot knowledgeable in the type of aircraft involved and who has some degree of experience and decent judgment.
Last week's tragic Bonanza crash featured two elements that reinforced long-standing stereotypes - which may or may not apply here. We just don't know, yet.

Featured Video

Featured Video: A Tribute To Bud Anderson

EAA put together this nice tribute to Brig. Gen. Bud Anderson and his favorite mount during the 2019 AirVenture.