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: