A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

AUGUST 2005

What Kind of Pilot Are You?

A question on the life insurance application asked "Have you ever made or intend to make aerial flights other than as a passenger?" Easy answer to that one.

It goes on. "Over what areas are most flights made?"

I was discussing the topic with my financial advisor one day. He also deals in some creative ways to insure yourself, something I'd been avoiding for years.

"What kind of a question is that?" I was being totally serious.

He just shrugged. No help there. He's not a pilot.

Later that day after mulling it over, I filled in the blank. " Over flat land with lots of landing places" . That should make them think I'm a safe risk.

I wasn' t kidding. That's where I actually fly, as much as possible anyway. Maybe it's just as we get older we become more aware of our health and mortality. The days of brash attitudes and adventures are gone. Life becomes serious. We take fewer risks. Life insurance companies like that.

There have been times when I'd have preferred to be on the ground rather than flying. Once, many years ago, I was on a VFR flight from Vernon to Vancouver when conditions around Hope socked in. Having already spent one night on the lumpy couch at Merritt, it seemed important to me at the time to get back. Descending to about 2500 feet, I was still in cloud more than out of it for quite some time. This was before the days of GPS becoming the preferred nav aid. Looking at the map for some ideas, it became apparent that I was on a radial from the Bellingham VOR that passed directly through Abbotsford. If I flew directly TO the VOR, the map showed no mountains in the way. The Abby ATIS was reporting only a broken ceiling. So, it boiled down to keeping the airplane flying straight and with the right side up. Fortunately, in the months prior to this incident, I had been doing a lot of flying under the hood, and felt confident in my ability to successfully get through this. It was totally illegal and not a really smart thing to be doing. However after about 20 minutes, the solid cloud gave way to scud, then eventually to the broken conditions the ATIS had reported.

Without a doubt, every pilot can look back on antics and adventures that, in retrospect, he wouldn't get into today. It's all part of the experience and learning process. For me, the days of pressure to be somewhere, of someone else dictating schedules, times and go/no-go decisions, are gone. I fly strictly for my recreation and pleasure. If it's too hot, too cold, too windy, too cloudy or I just don't feel like it, I don't go. I was honest in my response to the question, "Over what areas are most flights made" . Yes, I'm totally comfortable with flying over the ground where there are plenty of landing spots.

Years ago, pilots like that seemed unrealistically cautious. We even laughed and joked about them behind their backs. But I believe wisdom grows with age. It's a natural process, one that I'd rather not fight. If you're scoffing or laughing at this right now, you're too young to know better. We won't hold it against you.

What kind of pilot are you? Does pushing the weather, the gross weight, the short runway, or the tight landing spot still loom as a challenge? Or do situations like that influence you toward the no-go decision? There's a cliché around about no old and bold pilots still alive. The older I get, the more I see that as fact.

If your flying is for recreation, it shouldn't be anything other than pure fun and excitement. Enjoy the exhilaration and satisfaction of a trip that goes without incident and is capped by a perfect landing. A true professional doesn't have to use his skill to get out of a bad situation because he avoids trouble in the first place. Leave the risks to the men and women who are under more pressure, who still have a boss who tries to make their decisions for them.

Life insurance companies like that.

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