Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Being Resourceful

Pilots have the ability to find a way, no matter how great the challenge

As everyone knows, in 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew his 220 hp Ryan monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, from Garden City, N.Y., to Paris, France, becoming the first person to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic. During the 36-hour flight, Lindbergh flew low to avoid weather and also to get better fuel burn by using "ground effect," which we all know is the increased lift and decreased drag an aircraft wing generates when it's flown within one wingspan above the surface. He was one resourceful dude.

One of the most dramatic examples of pilot resourcefulness is found in the story of the 1989 United 811 747 incident. After departing from Honolulu for New Zealand, climbing out of 21,000 feet MSL, the flight experienced an explosion that turned out to be a faulty forward cargo door that tore a huge hole in the forward fuselage, caused rapid decompression and resulted in nine passengers getting sucked out the side of the airplane. Over the water at night, with no pressurization or oxygen, they lost two of their engines and some of their systems. The crew initiated an emergency descent back to Honolulu, dumping fuel the entire way. Their approach speed was above 200 knots, and even with an asymmetrical flap situation, the Captain was able to land the airplane safely in Honolulu, saving the lives of the rest of the passengers. For an exciting read, the NTSB report is available at, and for a cockpit voice recording transcript that's guaranteed to give you goose bumps, go to

Aviation history is filled with astonishing and inspirational stories, but it's not only the record-setting history-making flight that demonstrates the art of being resourceful. Every pilot has the opportunity to make best use of their time and assets in every flight. Odds are, most of your flights will be routine, but we all have the ability to pull something more out of our hats when challenged with extraordinary circumstances.

Year after year, we see NTSB reports of good pilots finding new ways to make the same old big mistakes, like VFR pilots flying into instrument conditions. Part of being a good pilot and a safe pilot is being resourceful and finding a better solution. An example would be flying into worsening conditions that you're not prepared for: resourcefulness would be doing a 180-degree turn, landing at the closest airport or, if all else fails, land on a road or in a field. Sometimes, we have to do extraordinary things to guarantee a safe outcome. I wouldn't recommend landing in Canada without a flight plan, but if it's the only safe thing to do, then go for it. If you leave yourself an out, there are almost always options to becoming a statistic. And, by the way, if you do declare an emergency, you as the pilot are allowed to do whatever you need to get your airplane safely on the ground—and there's no paperwork to file.

"When the going gets tough, the tough keep going." Being resourceful means taking care of yourself when no one else is there to take care of things for you, digging a little deeper for a positive outcome and turning a bad situation into a not-so-bad one. Perhaps it's about having faith in yourself and never giving up. You can be certain that Captain Cronin of United 811 wasn't about to "give up the ship" as he "flew the biggest piece back."

I'm inspired by stories like United 811. Odds are we won't be setting sound-barrier records or faced with landing a commercial jet in the Hudson a la Sully, but they prove we can rise to even the most extraordinary of challenges when we're resourceful. Whatever the challenge that we come across in aviation, we have the "ability to find a way."


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