As you read the accident report that this story is tied to, try and accept the fact that a mere 22 years ago, pilots often did things that were questionable at best. To keep the job, get your foot in the door, or flat out conform to norms in your company, culture or god forsaken airstrip you’d been sent to, you’d succumb to things that, technically, may not have been on the up and up with the FARs. Even more wild? Usually these weren’t the things that bit you. It was plain old decision making, problem recognition or bad luck that conspired to make your day tough.
This post is about the day I stopped flying, sometime in 2001, when enough of my mentors had died that I thought, at a minimum, I could take some time to reflect. Take a good luck at my own suspect judgement, sub-par skill set and poor choices in equipment, destinations and jobs to fly.
When you first start flying airplanes, first as a private pilot and then sometimes not too long after as a flight instructor, you don’t really think of dying. At least I didn’t. I experienced close calls and stupid things – but they never struck me as lethal. Just terribly uncomfortable dry mouth and then … a sort of “awakening.”
“Ok…so… we’re not going to do that again… at least not in this airplane.
These moments made you better, theoretically. At least that is what I told myself as I piled on the hours along with new places, aircraft types and thrills.
Sometimes, in the frozen bays of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, your frozen runway might not last long. That area you landed on yesterday? Gone… overnight.
“I look out de window, and dare was de runway … gone.”
The only French Canadian in the village was called Patrick McKinnon, and he reported all matters flying conditions to visiting pilots.
And all the english speakers? They had french names, but didn’t speak french.
The Lessards, the Beaubiens and of course the LeBlancs would ask: “Can you read my mail? ”
“S’from de governmen’,” would be the explanation. As a visiting bi-lingual city person I had multiple uses. Fly the airplane and read the mail from Le Gouvernment du Québec. As an anglo, meeting people with french names who spoke with french accents who could not read french was an eye opener. Welcome to the Lower North Shore.
A challenge of getting older is that you search for places you were twenty years ago and you remember things that were pretty cool. Sure they were a bit edgy. But to you? Meh …. just another day. When I think about people like Mark Smith and Neil Lumsden and a few others with a few too many hours in single engined aircraft, I realize that my education began after college, somewhere far from Western Massachusetts. You might argue that my post graduate education began with learning the engineering limitations of a group of tired Cessna 206s, while also introducing somewhat jumpy Americans to a trip into the Okavango Delta of Northern Botswana.
Let’s admit that all taildraggers are different. Some way way different. Some are easy and some are mean. I have not landed a Douglas DC-3, but I bet it is easier than a Super Cub on a cross-windy day.
Regarding the cult of the Skywagon and related 185 / 180 obsessors, I can offer this from 47 years of breathing, 25 of which I’ve spent teaching flying things: The Cessna 180 / 185 Skywagon is an easy thing to land, to land well, with grace and aplomb, when you master key principles:
One of the challenges of representing buyers, whether it is a Super Cub, King Air or Phenom is knowing where to start the opening shot: The offer.
How do you proffer a number to an aircraft seller that shows the seller multiple things? For example, your contact and methods demonstrate:
Your math accounts for outliers such as super low or high airframe total time, damage history, missing logs or a run out engine. (And when these are great.)
An offer that is serious (i.e. committed / real buyer) and likely to close.
A number that is fair and close to what other transactions are valued at for the same make, model and age aircraft. (And how to find hidden gems here.)
Adequate respect and mindfulness on how you handle the seller’s conditions or needs. (A smooth sale has as much to do with emotional self awareness, as it does the spreadsheet of how you structured the offer.)
Some new or aspiring pilots know what they want: Big tires, a tailwheel and being “off airport” just as much as “on airport.” If you land on the water, or are a helicopter, you’ll get used to the tower saying “land at your own risk.” This is music to the ears of those who chose a slightly unconventional learning path.
What do you seek? (In your aviation dreams?)
The cookie cutter flight school program? Or do you value critical skills early on that are often not taught until you fly your first seaplane or gravel bar landing tundra tired Super Cub?
It wasn’t too long ago that we all learned to fly a tail dragger in a field somewhere near a bigger airport. Most also turned out to be really good pilots for the simple reason that they had to use their feet (i.e. rudder) and an intuitive connection and approach to much of their flying. Just ask Sully.
The beauty of mnemonic devices is that they allow the tail wheel, seaplane or helicopter pilot do a checklist without the use of both hands. While there are checklist purists out there who may disagree with my methods, let me offer this: If you fly many different aircraft, whose checklists can be absent, inappropriate, out of date, etc. it is best to develop your own. A good way to build that base, for everything from a J-3 Cub up to t Beech 18, is to use, what I’ll term, “the classics.” CIGAR TIPS and GUMPS (more on GUMPS in another post.)
I’m near certain that umpteen zillion posts have written about this subject. Nevertheless, here I go with my addition to the pile.
How do you teach students to land safely, who didn’t know how to fly a mere 10 hours ago?
The answer, to me, is 100% about feel, energy management (à la glider teaching), looking, sensing and adjusting as necessary. A trap that I, and many of my colleagues, have fallen into is thinking that landing is something a student will embrace if they are given firm numbers, power settings, checkpoints etc. Any type of recipe that emphasizes standardization exclusively does two big disservices to the student:
Conceiving, designing, prototyping and launching a great airplane isn’t enough. You need buckets of money. Container ships of it. Some connections with the mob, won’t hurt either. Better yet, if you are in a big hurry, a rich and connected European aunt or uncle. Perhaps the best, simplest overview of how it all went down can be found here.
That way, when Boeing comes after you, you can run to the only other safe harbor in town – Airbus. A good lesson for early entrepreneurs here (not that Bombardier has the “hey… Armand.. make me a snowmobile, esti!” feel to it anymore) is that being heavily diluted and living to talk about it is better than being cut off from the US market and certain death.
If I was an aviation tarot card reader I would say something smart like, “There was no other way for this to work. It was written!”
For us scrappy people of the start up world, this is a great story if only for how it ended. While Bombardier to some may no longer be the epitome of agility, brilliance or innovation, it is nice to see a relative “little person” find safe harbor from the sledgehammer of abuse, myopic policy, and too many litigious hit men in the boardroom.
I’m not a terribly patriotic Canadian, but I think this is an interesting story worth following.
Hegemony, aerospace, and the military industry industrial complex make for great reading when trying to understand the 51st State “nort of de border” as we say in Maine. Richard Aboulafia writes extensively about the link between US prime contractors and the Canadian companies that play second fiddle as subcontractors for US aerospace manufacturing.
It is really hard to fight when we are so intertwined. Bonne chance Justin. Donald, more reading recommended.