There are few things as rewarding for new pilots as flying with their first passenger. I know that was true for me. Part of my whole motivation for completing my ticket was to share the excitement of flight that I’d discovered during my lessons and prelicense flight experiences. And once I passed my checkride, I wasted no time in filling whatever rental I was flying with as many friends as I could.
In the late ’50s, the Air Force began researching whether a pilot could survive bailing out of a high-altitude, supersonic fighter. There was only one way to find out: find a human who was willing to conduct such an experiment.
It’s Oshkosh, but with Gulfstreams, caviar, limos…and lots of beer
It was Super Bowl morning, and the airport was as dead as a Thanksgiving turkey. Where barely 12 hours earlier, the only way I could get into the air was by sitting at an intersection, engine running and whining to the tower, this day I practically owned the airport. The pattern, anyway. The airport itself was owned by the more than 208 jets and turboprops that had come into Scottsdale, Ariz., that morning and stayed—not to mention the dozens more that came, dropped off passengers, and then split. It had to be coincidental that across town, in the gleaming dome easily visible from the pattern, even though it was more than 20 miles away, the Giants and the Patriots were about to square off.
The other evening, I was flipping through the channels looking for something to watch on TV when I landed on a show about Concorde’s final flight, back in October 2003. Hard to believe it has been almost five years. Knowing that last flight would occur sooner rather than later, I flew Concorde New York to Paris return in the spring of 2000, just a couple months before its first and only crash, on July 25, 2000. It was something I just had to experience, and I’m glad I did, because it seems the days of supersonic airliners are behind us, at least for the foreseeable future. And because my flight was also before 9/11, I spent some time during our 11-mile high, Mach 2.02–cruise sitting in the jump seat at the pointy end, which, in Concorde, is really pointy. (Can’t imagine that happening now.)
The NTSB began 2008 by issuing a Safety Alert aimed at general aviation (GA) pilots. It deals with accidents involving controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) during nighttime VFR flight. The NTSB noted that some of the CFIT accidents it has investigated in recent years could have been avoided if the pilots had maintained better altitude and geographic position awareness. According to NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker, “Some of the pilots involved in these accidents had many years of experience and were instrument rated, yet for some lapses in basic airmanship, they failed to maintain proper altitude.”
Dogs make wonderful copilots, even if they do sometimes complain about the landings
Yes, I’m guilty. The rumors are true. I am one of those silly, sentimental pet lovers who regard dogs as a couple of steps above most humans. I’ve owned and raised a succession of Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, German shepherds and dobermans for the last 40 years, and as a group, they’re some of the most wondrous creatures on the planet. I’m ecstatic when they’re born, and I cry when they die.
About a year ago, I was driving north on the 405, a freeway in Los Angeles that’s usually a huge, 10-lane parking lot unless it’s during the wee hours or a weekend. It was nighttime and I was probably scooting along at about 80 when I saw a flash of lights in my rearview mirror. My heart skipped a beat, though traffic often moves that fast on the freeway. I reflexively let up on the gas and looked back again. This time, there wasn’t just one police car, but many, in pursuit of a single vehicle, not a police car, closing on me fast. I darted rather urgently to the innermost lane as a white Honda or Toyota, followed by about seven police cars, passed me like I was standing still—and I was only down to about 70. I thought, “Welcome to Los Angeles, land of the car chase.”
Balanced aviation nutrition is like nutrition of all types in that it has to support and nurture the body, the soul and the mind, but not necessarily in that order. Without it, the entity that is the aviator will, if not wither and die, at least not realize his full potential. The aviator’s growth, thinking and spirit will be stunted, and he or she will probably not even realize it. To maintain an aviator’s body and mind in peak condition, it’s essential that it be fed the proper balance of nutrition from each of the four basic av-food groups.
Analyzing some recently investigated accident statistics
We seem to be at the dawn of a new era of hope for general aviation’s future with the steadily increasing popularity of light-sport aircraft (LSA). For many, the light-sport license is a lower-cost entry into the pilot community. For others, the ability to use a driver’s license in lieu of an FAA medical certificate offers a way to continue flying as long as it’s possible to self-certify that there’s no medical condition that would stand in the way of safely performing light-sport pilot duties. For everyone, an LSA’s lower fuel consumption offers hope that the cost of the $50 fly-in hamburger may someday really drop back to $50—something we haven’t seen in years!
Woody was one of those pilots we all thought would live forever. He was something of a legend in the ferry-flying community: an aviator who had been everywhere in pretty much everything, had never wrecked an airplane and seemed to live a charmed life. A former African missionary, he was a friend for 20 years who knew more about flying the world than anyone else I had ever met, and we all assumed he was invulnerable to the dangers of ferry flying.
Not long ago, I was flying commercial from LAX to Boston Logan. As I settled into my seat in the back of the bus, I was chagrined that, right behind me, sat a young boy of maybe six or seven. When he started to kick the back of my seat, I gave his father one of those looks, but the kicking never really totally stopped. That’s what I get for a $300 ticket, I thought to myself—unwashed masses in steerage. Fast-forward to our plane racing down the runway and lifting off: I’m absentmindedly looking out the window when this same kid behind me reminds me with only a few words why I learned to fly.
Yesterday, as we were taxiing back for yet another dash down the runway to defy gravity, I started laughing out loud. My student asked what I was laughing about and I said, “The thought just crossed my mind that, at this exact moment, my daughter is on set in Toronto producing her first movie, my son is negotiating with several agencies that are competing fiercely for his scripts, Marlene is making a name as a ceramicist and I’m sitting in my favorite airplane doing what I love to do. Life is good for the Davisson tribe, and I can’t keep from laughing.”
A CNN correspondent reflects on flying as a family affair
For me, it all began a few thousand feet over some Michigan farmland about 40 years ago. We were somewhere between Detroit and Alpena when my father gave me a heading, told me to keep it straight and level, and then let me grab the yoke. I’ll never forget the joy I felt when that 172 began responding to my whims. It was love at first flight.
Accident investigators sometimes discover that pilots don’t have information contained in NOTAMs relevant to their flights. On rare occasions, even though a pilot asked for NOTAM information in a preflight briefing, the briefer accidentally omitted an item. More often, however, pilots don’t bother doing the research.
The payback can outstrip the cost by a factor of several thousand
Pete runs a dental practice and learned to fly so he could transport his family to and from their vacation retreat in Ogden, Utah, without all the hassles of airline travel. Andy is a relatively young entrepreneur who made it big in video games and learned to fly as one of his rewards. And Patty pursued an aviation career, flight instructed, flew charter and eventually climbed atop the aviation pyramid: She now flies Airbus 330s across the pond for US Airways.
It’s dangerous. It’s competitive. And it’s hard on the body. So why fly hardcore aerobatics?
Explaining why I do what I do is surprisingly easy. The quick answer is that flying air shows is what I’m passionate about. I love it. But beyond that is a story of inspiration, physical endeavor, ongoing learning and camaraderie.
In every accident, there’s a chain of events or conditions leading to the outcome. Break one of the links in the chain, and the accident can be avoided, at least in theory. The individual links leading to the crash of Comair flight 5191 at Lexington, Ky., on August 27, 2006, aren’t big ones like an engine failing or running out of fuel. The NTSB’s final report indicates plenty of opportunities to change the course of events. There’s almost a compulsion to ask over and over again, “what if?”
The following is in response to dozens of e-mails requesting additional installments on flying Africa. Keep in mind, this Caravan trip occurred in 1989 when South Africa still maintained its policy of apartheid.