Plane & Pilot
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.

Although it’s questionable how many non-pilots read Plane & Pilot or attend pilot seminars, Gwinn probably is correct. He commented that he had only one full-blown emergency in his entire airline career and that most of the other problems he has had while instructing were a result of IPS, inherent pilot stupidity, either his own or that of a student’s.

Gwinn’s modesty is probably only exceeded by his experience, but he’s certainly right that those of us who are granted a soapbox on which to express our views need to make sure that our shoes are properly shined before inserting them into our mouths. I’m sure that I have far fewer hours than Gwinn, but in just under 40 years of flying, I’ve had 20 real emergencies, some of them undoubtedly induced by Gwinn’s IPS phenomenon.

That’s purely a function of the type of flying I’m sometimes paid to do. Guiding general-aviation airplanes across oceans, sometimes in mid-winter, often at 500 to 2,000 pounds over gross with temporary fuel tanks, an oil additive system, backup electric pumps jury-rigged to the fuel system and an HF radio on the right seat (if there is one) seems to invite problems. Similarly, testing aircraft just out of maintenance has resulted in a number of problems.

Fortunately, I’ve only damaged one airplane in 40 years of flying. It was a Piper Lance that threw a rod over the remote Ogaden Desert of southern Ethiopia on the last leg of a 9,800-nm, half-world circumnavigation from Santa Monica, Calif., to Nairobi, Kenya. (After we were rescued and airlifted to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian FAA asked me to summarize the accident on tape and to be succinct. So I said, “The engine quit. I landed.”)


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