A Pilot's Perspective.

     By Barry Meek. 

October 2013   

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 too.   

       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 flying.

           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.    

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