As you read the accident report, try and accept the fact that a mere 22 years ago, pilots often did things that were questionable at best. To keep the job, to get your foot in the door, or to conform to norms in your company and culture you did silly stuff. Never mind the customized approach to that god forsaken airstrip that you’d been sent to, you’d succumb to things that, technically, may not have been on the up and up with the FARs.
What is even more striking is that all of this “off script” behavior was rarely the stuff that got you hurt. What killed my teachers, was a lack of simple risk mitigation, awareness, and plain old decision making that got the swiss cheese holes to line up. In aviation we recognize that it is a series of things that typically lead to an accident. Our job, to live and be safe, is to constantly be thinking the stacking of bad, vs. the stacking of good. (I wrote about this once upon a time for the turbine crowd here.)
This story 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 off to reflect. I should take a good luck at my own suspect judgement, sub-par skill set and poor choices in equipment, destinations and jobs to fly.
Mostly, it was time to give thanks for the large scoops of good luck that had fallen on me in years where I was doing the riskiest stuff.
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.
When I think about people like Bunte, Jordan or Sparks, Mark or Neil, or 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 graduate education began with learning the engineering limitations of a group of tired Cessna 206s, while also introducing jumpy Americans to the Okavango Delta of Northern Botswana.
In this first picture we can see a happy 206, that is empty, and resting whilst being carefully guarded by some great creatures, who also serve as the magnet to bring the jumpy Americans out to Mombo in the first place.
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: