Flying with a Different Approach
During the summer of 2005, I worked as an aerial
photographer / pilot. In that job, there was plenty of
low-level, seat-of-the-pants flying. It was about the
hardest and sometimes most dangerous work I’ve done.
Power lines, communication towers and other aircraft,
those patrolling power and pipe lines were a constant
danger. Bird strikes are common at those altitudes
I consider myself a cautious pilot. That summer,
I became even more aware of the dangers all pilots face,
by reading through a huge collection of accident reports
from the NTSB. Much of the information was lying around
the F.B.O.s and flying clubs at airports I flew from.
Many evenings and during down time, I would study the
U.S. and Canadian summaries, and delve deeper into some
of the more bizarre incidents. There is no shortage of
material. In fact, before writing this article, I
looked up the latest 30-day information which shows 143
investigations underway in the U.S., and 37 in Canada
for August, 2013. A total of fifty eight fatalities
are involved in just that one month.
I sometimes wonder if other pilots think so
much about accidents. In my opinion, it doesn’t hurt
to be well aware of the dangers in the work. The
knowledge gained from reading about other peoples
mistakes, can only make us more careful. Reports from
the TSB are pretty dry, matter-of-fact reading, but
pilots generally like to know the details of accidents.
Aviation articles relating first-hand experiences, such
as “I Learned About Flying from That”, and “Never Again”
are popular for precisely that reason.
There is a dark side to high-level exposure to
all this “education”. And that is it can steal away the
pure enjoyment of flying from the pilot. Yes, he needs
to be on top of the work and ahead of the airplane.
However, there were times I found myself concentrating
much too hard on the things that could go wrong. With
so many accident details fresh in mind, the balance
between caution and enjoyment was skewed. How many
one-time “perfect moments in flying” did I miss while
thinking, “what can go wrong?” That summer, there was
too much crash investigation material available. In some
ways, it wasn’t a good thing. Perhaps I missed more
than I should have. I missed too much of the joy of
By nature, I worry more than I need to. Call
it “Murphy’s law”, but maybe it’s simply wisdom. At
this age, I’ve seen some of the pitfalls and recognize
that there are many times when something is going to end
badly. I try to balance that with more enjoyment than
fear. On good days when the visibility is perfect, the
wind is non-existent and the airplane runs flawlessly,
there’s no sense in letting the worry get the upper
hand. If there are passengers on board, they need to
see confidence in their pilot.
Similarly, life in the airplane is wonderful on
a solo flight. When there came an opportunity to ferry
an aircraft to a location for maintenance or re-position
one for the next day’s work, that particular flight
could be most enjoyable. Usually there was no hurry,
and if the weather was good, it was just a relaxing
sight-seeing trip with no worries about paying for the
fuel being burned up.
There are some amazing stories in the Safety
Board reports, about tragedy, mistakes, and of
survival. It is information all pilots ought to be
aware of. Shortcomings of various systems and of
personal failures are good to know if something can be
learned from them. It is interesting and informative,
but the good and the joy, and the wonders of flight are
ultimately why we’re involved in aviation.