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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.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Useless Aviation

Just because you don’t do it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done

Useless aviation. Now, there’s a term you seldom hear. It popped up in an e-mail that was addressed to me last week. The writer, a longtime pilot himself, was explaining that because I’ve chronicled various battles with off-airport individuals, he thought it was important that I understand that as you get older and can no longer fly, you lose patience with those involved in “useless” aviation—those who make noise and aren’t accomplishing anything.
Sunday, August 1, 2004

“Plane Talk” From Machado

A leading aviation expert’s collection of informal, but educational, articles

I’ve been privileged to call Rod Machado a friend for the last 20 years. We first worked together during the launch of ABC TV’s Wide World of Flying TV series back in the mid ’80s. Together with host and ABC senior VP Phil Boyer (now president of AOPA), director Dave Jackson (now president of King Schools), TWA captain Barry Schiff (now retired) and later, warbird enthusiast Jeff Ethell (sadly, no longer with us), Rod and I enjoyed seven happy years of playing to the TV cameras.
Thursday, July 1, 2004

Sporting Performances

The NAA is leveling the playing field for pilots who would like to set national records

Speed! It’s the reason that many of us fly. For most pilots, faster is better. I raced stock cars as a kid, sports cars as an older kid, and the current, much older kid would be racing unlimited air racers but for a lack of money.
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Devastating Details

Even minor maintenance mistakes can be fatal

One consequence of the nation’s economic downturn and the accompanying slump in general aviation was that some maintenance shops were forced to consolidate or close down, and many mechanics had to consider alternative careers. The result for airplane owners was the increased difficulty in obtaining high-quality maintenance services at a reasonable cost.
Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Gréyjà Vu

Clouds happen—even in Arizona

Wow! I just returned from the airport where I had to cancel a hop because the clouds were down around 700 feet and it was raining. This is spectacularly unusual for me. In fact, in 12 years of flying here in Arizona, it’s only the ninth time weather (usually it’s the wind) has stopped me from flying with a student.
Saturday, May 1, 2004

Flying Is Exercise

Being a hangar potato is actually hard work! No, really!

Until recently, I was convinced that the only exercise I get is pushing a computer mouse around between trips to the refrigerator (it’s a rule that periods of procrastination can only be interrupted for fridge trips).
Last week, however, while defending myself in a conversation with a student who insisted golf was good exercise, I arrived at a startling realization—I actually do exercise, but it’s disguised as flying.
Saturday, May 1, 2004

Known And Unknown Deficiencies

It’s both the pilot’s and mechanic’s responsibility to find faulty equipment

While the FAA makes the pilot responsible for determining whether or not an aircraft that he or she is about to fly is airworthy, the pilot must rely to a great extent on what others have determined about the airplane. It’s relatively easy for a pilot to check paperwork to determine whether or not an aircraft has undergone required inspections, to check that compliance with airworthiness directives is current and to ensure that required documents are on board.
Saturday, May 1, 2004

The Fascinating North Atlantic

Still a thrill after countless of crossings

Each summer for the last half-dozen or so, I’ve had the privilege of flying the North Atlantic with one or two clients. Last summer, I made two such round trips, the first in a Turbo Arrow to Versailles, France, and the second in a Cheyenne IIXL turboprop to London. For most pilots, the trip is a long-term dream, something they’ve been planning for a year or more.
Thursday, April 1, 2004

Air Vagabonds

Ferry flying may seem glamorous, but Tony Vallone’s book tells the truth

It seems every aviator I know would like to be an international delivery pilot. Each month, I receive more e-mails and letters on the subject of ferry flying than on any other topic, and that’s been the pattern for 20 years. I hear from every segment of aviation: new pilots with the ink barely dry on their private tickets and retired; 20,000-hour airline types; bored accountants hoping to change careers; charter pilots looking for a more exciting job; prospective aviation soldiers of fortune; and admitted aviation bums like me.
Thursday, April 1, 2004

The Wellstone Accident

Even the bigger birds can stall and fall

The NTSB has released its final report on the October 25, 2002, accident in which U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and seven others were killed at Eveleth, Minn. The twin-engine turboprop King Air A100 didn’t have a cockpit voice recorder, so there was no possibility of investigators learning what the pilot and copilot might have said to each other about the way things were progressing during the VOR approach to Eveleth. Investigators had to rely on other things to figure out what caused the airplane to experience an aerodynamic stall at a critically low altitude. In reconstructing the accident scenario, investigators used radar data, ATC audiotapes, aircraft performance numbers, interviews and a large body of experience derived from investigating other accidents.
Thursday, April 1, 2004

Pitts Specialski

A world away is as near as the next key stroke

An e-mail that I received said:
Report, can I gain the necessary drawings for independent building given plane PITS. Is it Beforehand thanked for answer,
Mihail K.
Monday, March 1, 2004

The Miracle Of Clouds

Amazing reminders of all things beautiful and powerful

Although I’ve made some slight progress in learning to fly during the last 38 years, I’ve never even come close to understanding weather. Naturally, I’ve read Bill Kerschner, Guy Murchie, Bob Buck and a number of other authors on the subject, and I appreciate some of the principles involved, but dealing with weather in a real sky is a very different animal from reading about it in books.
Monday, March 1, 2004

Learning From Mistakes

The ASRS collects pilots’ admitted blunders so that others can gain knowledge from them

One of the best things that the FAA ever did to promote aviation safety was to provide immunity from FAR violations prosecution for pilots who voluntarily report problems and incidents to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) before the FAA gets wind of what went on. During most months, NASA’s ASRS receives about 2,000 to 3,000 reports from pilots, controllers and mechanics. Quite a bit of the information works its way into studies of various safety issues.
Monday, March 1, 2004

Setting The Record Straight

I’m not on the outside, looking in. I’m just on the outside.

Lyn “I’m the boss?” Freeman, Plane & Pilot’s leader (a scary thought, at best) challenged me to put my flight-instructing skills to the test by checking him out in my airplane for an article. I figured, sure. It ought to be fun. I mean, it’s just a little article, right? And we’ll have a good time flying. But, the flying aspect turned out to be nothing compared to the talking part and the aftermath when the article came out.
Sunday, February 1, 2004

The Columbia STS-107 Accident

In honor of seven heroes

All of us in aviation lost seven friends last February. No one can forget the horrifying video of the space shuttle Columbia breaking up in the high sky over northwest Texas. For many of us who love the sky, the image was almost incomprehensible, a nightmare revisiting the 1986 loss of the shuttle Challenger.
Sunday, February 1, 2004

Gone With The Wind

Crosswinds can be deadly, even for the most experienced pilot

With apologies to Margaret Mitchell, most pilots would welcome the opportunity to be “gone with the wind” and let Mother Nature help keep a lid on upwardly creeping fuel costs. Just a few days ago, a friend of mine found that favorable winds aloft coupled with a direct-to-destination IFR routing cut more than a half-hour off the usual trip home to New York after a business meeting in Ohio. Even better, there was an absence of shear and turbulence, making for a smooth, quick ride. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. From time to time, National Transportation Safety Board investigators have to look at situations in which the capabilities of the pilot and/or the aircraft were exceeded by wind conditions.
Sunday, February 1, 2004


The tiny voice in our head sometimes isn’t in our head

At first, I wasn’t certain I had heard it. It was a faraway voice, not quite a whisper, and my headset killed the engine noise just enough that I could tell it was there. Had I imagined it? Was I actually hearing it, or was my own mind talking to me and making it sound as if it was coming through my headset?
Thursday, January 1, 2004

Ferry Dogs

Animal lovers go to great lengths to keep their beloved pets happy

D'ja ever try to take two German shepherds flying in a four-seat retractable? It's nearly an impossible mission. Years ago, on a whim, I took my big 120-pound Siberian husky, Kenai, flying in the family Mooney. Though Kenai was in the habit of talking a lot on the ground, he was pretty quiet and laid back during his short flight. He stared out the window for a while with that same curious look he gets when I put him on the phone; then, apparently bored with it all, he yawned and went to sleep, overflowing the entire back seat in the process.
Thursday, January 1, 2004

Take A Good Look

Step back during the preflight and make sure the controls are in line

Back when I was a student pilot, I developed a habit during the preflight inspection of stepping back and pausing to get an overall visual impression of the control surfaces on the airplane. It started after I had noticed that one of the ailerons on a Cherokee I was about to take out for a solo flight didn’t look quite right. From a distance, it was easy to see that while the aileron on one side was in alignment, the other aileron was sagging significantly.
Thursday, January 1, 2004

Becoming Invisible

“Sometimes, we’re all alone in a crowd”

Officially, the EAA AirVenture was over. Only a few hours earlier, a voice had boomed over the PA system, saying thanks and come again next year. That was the signal that it was time to return to the real world and normalcy. However, those of us milling around the boarding lounge at Appleton Airport, waiting for our commuter flight, were mentally and emotionally still walking the grounds at Oshkosh. We weren’t ready for normalcy yet.