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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.

Monday, August 1, 2005

The Derelicts


Are airplanes ever so far gone that they’re truly dead?



I’ve mentioned them before—those long-dead, thoroughly baked carcasses I taxi past each day that at some time in the past, were airplanes. Now they’re aeronautically shaped mounds of dust and bird droppings that occupy the last tie-down spots on the ramp. It’s as if they’re purposely quarantined away from “real” airplanes, those that fly, so as to not pass on the lethal disease they may carry. Out here, we refer to those kinds of airplanes as roaches. Don’t ask why. It just seems to fit.
Monday, August 1, 2005

A Chance Meeting


Sometimes reviewing the latest NOTAMs and TFRs isn’t enough



There I was, climbing through 5,500 feet in southeastern Texas, when I had a close encounter with a Boeing 747 named Air Force One. It was closer than I would have liked, anyway.
Friday, July 1, 2005

Safety In Numbers


The latest NTSB statistics suggest a decrease in general aviation accidents



This past March, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released preliminary accident statistics for 2004. The numbers show a welcome overall safety trend for general aviation (GA), with total accidents going down from 1,741 in 2003 to 1,614 in 2004. The accident rate decreased from 6.77 per 100,000 flight hours in 2003 to 6.22 in 2004. That’s a drop of more than 8%.
Friday, July 1, 2005

Fences


Whether real or imaginary, these obstacles keep us in and others out



Yesterday evening, a friend and I were flying across the desert a few miles south of Phoenix, when my fellow pilot asked, “Hey, wanna look at the horses?”

A wing dropped, and I found myself looking down at 30 horses that ignored us as we spiraled down around them. They were in a loose bunch in the sagebrush. Some were grazing, others were lying down, while a couple chased each other around in what appeared to be an equine game of tag. Every color and pattern was represented and spring had obviously arrived, as a number of colts frolicked about.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Wing Dings


Smoothing out those unwanted dents may have gotten easier



It’s a problem most of us with metal airplanes face at one time or another—dings, those small dents that seem to go hand in hand with owning an aluminum flying machine. Unless you own a wood-and-fabric airplane, you’re almost bound to develop some minor dings in your airplane’s aluminum surfaces. Rag and spruce designs aren’t totally immune from hangar rash, but almost.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

For The Birds


Finding inspiration from these heavenly creatures



As far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by birds. I remember sitting on the beach during family vacations to Venice, Fla., as a kid of seven through 13, entranced by pelicans in ones and twos patrolling the roiling Gulf of Mexico surf for fish. The big-beaked birds seemed to have total command of the sky, gliding soundlessly or climbing for an instant with hardly a movement of wing, then diving straight down into the water faster than I could think about it.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Time Flies


Tomorrow has a way of becoming yesterday entirely too quickly



As I’m typing this, my little red airplane is in the hos-pital for a 100-hour inspec-tion that is going to cost nearly 1⁄5 of what the air-plane is valued new. Every time the phone rings, it’s another one of those $1,000 calls. Yesterday, I was in a funk when I figured out that I would have to fly it another 100 hours just to pay for that inspection and then it would be time for yet another inspection.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Fill ’Er Up


Make fuel management a priority



Running out of fuel and crashing is something you might expect from an inexperienced private pilot, but not from a crew of professional pilots or even experienced pilots. Yet that was exactly the case when it came to an accident that occurred on April 8, 2003. It involved a Dassault DA-20C Fan Jet Falcon that was being vectored by ATC in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) for another approach.
Sunday, May 1, 2005

First Flight


Alleviating a non-pilot’s fears of little airplanes



As one who is sometimes asked to speak before pilot groups, I was struck by a column written by fellow editor, retired airline captain and general-aviation bon vivant Dave Gwinn in the February 2005 issue of Plane & Pilot. Gwinn was lamenting that some of the experiences we relate to live pilot audiences and write about to 300,000 readers each month may only serve to turn off non-pilots.
Sunday, May 1, 2005

A Needle In A Haystack


Current ELT systems can make life difficult for search and rescue



Sometime in 2009, the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system will no longer be receiving distress signals on today’s common distress frequencies, 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz. Instead, the satellites will monitor only 406 MHz, a frequency that’s being phased in for civilian use.
Sunday, May 1, 2005

Young Geniuses


When do you get too old to be a prodigy?



The other night, at the urging of a friend, Marlene and I did something we rarely do: We went to see a band play at a local watering hole (I would have said “dive,” but didn’t feel it necessary to be that accurate). The actual reason we went was because we kept hearing about Nick Sterling, this unbelievable local guitar player that everyone, from MTV to Gibson Guitar, was falling all over. We weren’t disappointed. He was an experience not to be missed, and this was just weeks after his 14th birthday.
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Smarter Than A Tow Bar?


It hurts when even the simplest things make you feel stupid



What’s the tennis ball for?” asked one of my students. Almost every one of them ask the same old question. I answered, “That’s one of the IQ tests that came with my hangar. You can’t be issued a passing grade around here until you figure it out.”
Saturday, January 1, 2005

So Many Types, So Little Time


In the world of flying, the range of experiences and the fun to be had are never-ending



One of the perks of this job is the chance to fly a wide variety of airplanes. My hours and ratings aren’t anything special, but I’m happy that I’ve been allowed to fly a little of everything at one time or another.
Saturday, January 1, 2005

Fear Of Flying


Conquering it may just be a matter of control



Am I the only person in the aviation world who has ever gone through, and still goes through, periods of apprehension when it comes to flying? I can even go so far as to say that I’m maybe even a little afraid. In my case, I don’t mean ready-to-soil-myself scared. I mean, I’ll be chugging along at about 4,000 feet, and for the briefest of moments and for absolutely no reason, a little twinge of fear sneaks a quick jab to my confidence. Then, it’s gone.
Wednesday, December 1, 2004

No Offense


Keeping quiet may be the safest tactic, but it’s not always the best



Exactly what part of the brain controls our egos, anyway? Since I’m not a shrink and simply apply what I’ve seen over a lifetime, I’d have to say that the part that controls our aviation ego is also tasked with the management of our sexual ego. This has to be the case and the reason for our egos because you get exactly the same reaction when you insult, degrade or, in any way, question a guy’s ability in either of those areas.
Monday, November 1, 2004

Learning From A Heavy-Iron Accident


Lessons gleaned from the big birds can teach us how to become safer pilots



A Boeing 727 is different from the airplanes that most of us fly. Nevertheless, there are some things that we can learn from the NTSB’s recently completed report on an accident involving a FedEx cargo 727, which was flown into trees and terrain during the pre-dawn hours of July 26, 2002.
Monday, November 1, 2004

Recovering From The EAA AirVenture


The countdown to next year’s show begins the minute you return home



We had just returned from Oshkosh, Wis., late last night, which is another way of saying that today, I’m going to be nearly useless. There are lots of things to be done, but I don’t have enough energy in order to cope, so screw ’em. That stuff will get done tomorrow.
Friday, October 1, 2004

The Silent Killer


The NTSB’s latest safety recommendation targets the dangers of carbon monoxide leaks caused by defective exhaust systems



Against the background of an aging fleet of general-aviation, piston-powered airplanes, the NTSB suggested that it’s time for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take a closer look at engine mufflers and do more to eliminate potential hazards posed by mufflers that have deteriorated.
Friday, October 1, 2004

Serendipitous Encounters


Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time is a spiritual experience



We were in the pattern and just in the process of turning downwind from crosswind when the tower said, “Eight-papa-bravo, you’re number two to a Liberator that will be crossing over the airport to join downwind in front of you. He’ll be doing a low pass.”
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

A Deadly Sense of Euphoria


Understanding the signs of hypoxia may just get you out of trouble



One of the subjects that is frequently emphasized in the materials that are published by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Aeromedical Education Division is hypoxia, which is more commonly referred to as “oxygen starvation.” The FAA points out that hypoxia is insidious in its onset. It sneaks up on you, and you lose the ability to sense that something is going wrong.