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Pilot Stories

Enjoy pilot stories? Our Pilot Talk section is full of informative and entertaining flying tales from accomplished pilot authors.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Catastrophic Structural Failure


Focusing on maintenance programs



The overwhelming majority of airplanes have the potential to keep flying until it’s no longer economically viable to keep them in the air, provided that they’re operated within established parameters, receive regular inspections to detect problems and undergo proper preventive maintenance. When there’s a catastrophic structural failure, such as a wing falling off, it understandably attracts attention from the industry, investigators and regulators.
Saturday, December 1, 2007

Obituary For My Friend


You don’t know true sorrow until you lose a dog



It was early on the first day of the EAA Northwest Regional Fly-In at Arlington, Wash., and Marlene called me at the exhibit. She sounded strange, so I walked away from the booth for some privacy and stood in the middle of a wide and grassy fire lane with lines of exhibit booths on both sides. Then a voice I knew said words that I understood, but that my brain refused to comprehend: “Budd, Nizhoni died about an hour ago.”
Saturday, December 1, 2007

From The Editor: ­Where Have All The Heroes Gone?


How times have changed



For the past couple of weeks, In the Shadow of the Moon, a documentary film about the Apollo program, has been playing nearby in Hollywood. Knowing the longevity of aviation-themed movies in theaters, I figured I’d better go sooner rather than later, so a few nights ago, I sat in the dark, in awe of what we (mankind) accomplished in the late ’60s and early to mid-’70s. While nibbling popcorn (no butter, thank you) from a bucket bigger than my head, the words of Michael Collins, the command module pilot of Apollo 11, hit me like a sledgehammer.
Saturday, December 1, 2007

Endangered Species?


Aviation is facing increasing pressure—is it time for an altitude change?



Endangered Species?The end is near! For hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, humans have been making predictions about the end. The end of the earth, the end of cheap oil, the end of life as we know it, the end of free WiFi—I hate this kind of gloom and doom stuff.
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Speed Is Life


The Mooney Acclaim asserts a new record!



Flying is a compromise. You can have cheap, and you can have fun, but you won’t necessarily travel fast. You can have fast, for sure, but it will not be cheap, and fun depends on your definition of the word. Several new single-engine airplanes are as fast as turboprops, but the question remains: Can an everyday Joe use that speed, say, on a typical business trip, and have fun in the process.
Thursday, November 1, 2007

From The Editor: Watch This!


And other famous last words



A few weeks ago, I was flying from L.A. to the Bay Area for an afternoon with some friends in town from New York and Toronto. As we were cruising up the Salinas Valley on autopilot (the airplane, not me), listening to some tunes pumping from my iPod, my friend Hillary piped up from the backseat. “Hey, can we do a stunt?” she asked with a big smile. “A stunt?” I replied, amused, as visions of the late Bobby Younkin gracefully rolling his red-and-black Beech 18 flashed through my mind.
Monday, October 1, 2007

From The Editor: Red-Tailed Angels


I can’t understand can’t



In what has turned into an unintentional theme this issue, I seem to have focused on, twice, people or groups that broke new ground in aviation. They were, in some way, told that they couldn’t or shouldn’t, or that it was unusual or possibly inappropriate, to fly. Not only did these people and groups fly, and prove wrong the legions of naysayers, defeatists and perpetuators of negative stereotypes, but they each rose to legendary status in aviation lore.
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bitten By The Viper


This One Goes To 11



viperThis is my “Maverick” moment, so I better not make good on that call sign I was given a few years ago. I’m cinched tightly into the rear seat of an F-16 behind Major Stephen “Chak” Pinchak of the 421st Fighter Squadron, and my heart is racing. I’ve just armed my ejection seat, so I’m sitting on a live rocket, in a jet plane, and we’re about to blast off—literally.
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Refueling The Tacos


The Stratotanker Visits Davis-Monthan



refueling the tacosFrom the cockpit jump seat of a 1954 Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, our clunky, creaky roll on takeoff seems a stark contrast to the day’s activities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz. After what feels like an eternity on an endless runway, we slowly lift off, leaving behind an incredible assortment of U.S. Air Force fighter jets, including F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F-4 Phantoms, A-10 Warthogs and two F-22 Raptors, on the ramp below.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cowboy Christmas


Rodeo in the American West



Champion calf roper K.C. Jones is backing his horse, a brown-and-white paint named Mornin’ Spot, into the right rear corner of what they call the box, next to the chute. He’s focused like a red-tailed hawk dive-bombing a field mouse.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Overstressing The Airframe


Exercise good preflight and in-flight judgment to keep your airplane intact



Some pilots may believe that an instrument rating and a fair amount of flight time are good insurance against getting into a situation that results in losing aircraft control or exceeding an aircraft’s design stress limits. However, without a healthy amount of good preflight and in-flight judgment, along with recurrent training that includes partial panel work and unusual attitude recovery, those two things can set the stage for getting into trouble.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

The Katrina Aftermath


General-aviation pilots played a huge role in helping hurricane victims



My timing couldn’t have been worse. On Monday, August 29, 2005, I boarded an American Airlines 767 out of Los Angeles and headed for Orlando, Fla., well aware that Hurricane Katrina was scheduled to come ashore at exactly the same time when we’d be passing overhead. The storm had grown taller than 50,000 feet, far above the maximum altitude of a 767, and was directly in our flight path.

 

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Iceland, The Prequel


Summertime flying in the North Atlantic can be vicious



This is being written on the road or, more accurately, in the sky. As I tap out these words on my Think Pad, I’m cruising comfortably at FL390 in a British Airways 747, only two hours out from Heathrow Airport in London. I’m flying to Jolly Old England to explore the puzzling British penchant for cold meat as well as warm beer.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

The Touchdown Set-Up


Be prepared for any last-minute corrections when landing



One of the really great things about most light general aviation airplanes is that they generally are highly responsive to control and power inputs, and touchdown speeds are comparatively low, making it possible to turn a sloppy approach into a relatively benign landing through some last-minute maneuvering.
Saturday, October 1, 2005

Avgas Alternatives


Is there a solution to skyrocketing fuel prices?



I did something incredibly stupid the other day. My fuel is on an open account, and the price is always buried in a seldom-seen monthly statement. So, I asked the price. The nice young lady said (with a perfectly straight face) that because I’m a tenant, I get a discount. I’m only paying $3.88.
Saturday, October 1, 2005

Through The Eyes Of A Ferry Pilot


Observing places, people and planes is part of the job



Almost by definition, half of every delivery flight I make is on an airliner. I’ve been able to dovetail ferry flights to and from the same destinations a total of once in nearly 30 years of delivering airplanes.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Go/No-Go Decision


It’s better to be safe than sorry



Every pilot has his own tolerance for risk, but most of us who fly ferry across the oceans on a semi-regular basis have developed our own set of guidelines for when we will or won’t fly. We like to hope that those guidelines make perfect sense, but they often don’t. They’re just our way of doing things, they work, and that’s all that matters as long as they keep us alive.
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Weather-Avoidance Assistance


You can’t always rely on air traffic control for climate briefings



While the primary duty of controllers is to separate and direct traffic, they also have a duty to help pilots avoid weather hazards. The FAA’s handbook for controllers requires them to issue pertinent information on observed and reported weather, provide radar navigation guidance and/or approve deviations around weather when requested, define where significant weather is located in relation to an aircraft, issue the level of echo intensity and help pilots figure out the best alternative routes and altitudes to avoid weather.
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Remembering Curtis Pitts


Some losses are extremely hard to accept



I had just parked in front of my insurance agent’s office and was cursing myself for forgetting to bring the premium check when it hit me. It was as if someone way down at the end of a long, gloomy tunnel had whispered, “Curtis just died.” I looked down and saw goose bumps on my arms.
Monday, August 1, 2005

Turbulent Times


Grappling with gusting winds during landings



A few weeks ago, New York was experiencing an extended period of rainy weather, accompanied by what seemed like constant low overcasts, reduced visibility and winds that were designed to test the quality of airplane tiedown ropes. I was really looking forward to the break in the weather that had been forecast for the coming weekend.