14 January 2008

What I Cannot Teach You...

I knew he'd be trouble the first time I saw him.
His "walk" said it all... he was God's gift to aviation.

The certificate in his pocket said "Single Engine Land, Private Pilot Privileges".
He was the proud owner of a
Long EZ...
A "Hot" homebuilt aircraft that he HAD NOT built himself. During our initial meeting he made sure I knew how fast his airplane was, and what a great "stick" he was. Old pilots and bold pilots... this one was at the extreme end of the "bold" scale. In a perfect world I'd refuse to take him as a student. But it's just not that easy... I've got bills to pay. So we get in the R22 and start the process of learning to hover, and I know I'm gonna have difficulty with him, even trying to rein him in all along the way.

It turned out he WAS a good stick. He learned quickly. Soon we were at the point where he and I both knew he was ready to go solo.
He said, "Lemme show you something", flew to a residential area and asked, "What do ya think about landing right there?", pointing out a very confined area in a small yard behind a house which was surrounded for several blocks by similar houses. Trees, fences, wires, clotheslines... all complicated the approach, landing, and takeoff scenarios.

I say, "I wouldn't land there."
"Why?!"... He's surprised.

"Because too many things can go wrong, and the neighbors are gonna be upset if you land there, not to mention our friends at the FAA."
I thought that was the last of it. It wasn't.

It's an indication of the sort of personality I was dealing with...
Three days later he told me, "I landed in that lot I showed you behind my Mother-in-law's house, and it was no trouble at all!"
I was shocked... actually I think the word ASTOUNDED better fits my reaction.
I let him know I was not a happy camper and said, "If you want to continue
flying this aircraft, you'll pay closer attention to what I'm tellin' ya."
He got the message... I'm sure he continued to do stupid stuff with the helicopter, but he learned not to tell me about it!

But now you've been introduced to the sort of personality that would have been better suited being a Fighter Pilot than a civilian helicopter jockey...
The sort of personality that ends up eventually making the News-

I've discussed before why I think helicopters are safer than airplanes. One of the big reasons I feel that way is because when you find yourself flying along in questionable weather, you can land near "Farmer John's house" and make new friends over a cup of coffee while the weather changes. It's mighty hard to do that when you need 1,500 feet of level, reasonably hard, unobstructed real estate on which to land your flying machine. The thing to remember is, once you're on the ground, stay there until it's safe to fly:
News report.

Nighttime. Clouds at 300 feet. Less than 2 miles visibility. Judgment and flying skills impaired by drugs? When the bent metal has come to rest, everyone can see the links in the chain leading to disaster:
NTSB Accident Report.

A stupid, usless waste of life.
I'm sure that pilot also thought he was God's gift to aviation. It's really unfortunate that he was able to fool two others into getting back into that helicopter with him that night..


Anonymous said...

Being humble is important in aviation. Realizing your strengths and weaknesses, admitting fault and be willing to learn from others.

I don't have much experience yet, but it doesn't take an aviator to know that a bold man is not fit in this profession.

I agree that thinking you are God's gift to aviation is far from the ideal attitude, but thinking other individuals are a useless waste of life for their decision making might not be as humble either.

OlePrairiedog said...

As Forrest said so elegantly "Stupid is as Stupid does".

Greybeard said...

Odd that you would read that last paragraph that way, Anon, but now that you've commented I can see how you did it.
Although I regret that the R44 pilot did a stupid thing which killed three people, I meant stupid in the sense that it was SO unnecessary.

elay said...

True enough - there are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.

I'm sure you've read about this before - the difference: "airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts and helicopter pilots are brooding introspective anticipators of trouble. They know if something bad has not happened it is about to. (harry reasoner 1971)"

Teller said...

What a shame. It's always sad to see an accident report from something that was completely avoidable. It's one thing in the incidents where the dominoes are stacked against you from the get go...this is just sad an unnecessary, but a good lesson for the rest of us.