Can you prepare for class?

November 9th, 2015

It’s one thing to hear the training is like drinking from a fire hose, but it’s another to actually live that. What can you do to make the transition easier?

Most airlines do almost nothing to provide materials that you can study in advance. At a carrier where your equipment won’t be decided until you get to class and bid on it, this carries slightly more logic (but not much more). At carriers where the equipment is a foregone conclusion, it doesn’t make much sense at all. There is certainly material that could be provided to you for study that won’t violate security-sensitive rules established in the wake of September 11, 2001.

But, since that information from your future employer won’t be coming, you are on your own. If you are indeed going to a company where the equipment is already known, you can try to get your hands on the memory items and limitations that you will be expected to memorize. If you have a friend at that carrier, great. If not, find one.

Another thing you can start learning are some of the complex weather rules. While many of these don’t change from one carrier to the next, every airline has certain rules that are specific to that carrier. Alternatively, not every carrier is able to get all of the various exemptions, so what is in effect at one won’t necessarily be at another. Unless you can get the actual information from someone currently employed there, don’t assume that anything generic will work.

Airplane systems are usually fairly consistent, but every airline teaches them differently. Airline A may put a lot of emphasis on one system that Airline B appears to gloss over. Further, there can be differences based on certain avionics and/or engine packages. Again, if it doesn’t come from the source, be careful. Most of the major systems, such as flight controls, pressurization, fire suppression, and hydraulic will be the same from one carrier to the next for a given fleet, but instead of committing a lot of information to memory, concentrate instead on a more superficial familiarity that will make it easier to absorb the details later.

Even if the systems are consistent, the operational philosophies will vary from one carrier to another. For example, I flew the CRJ for 14 years, and I sat on the jump seat of several carriers that also flew it. At Comair, walking away from the airplane with the auxiliary power unit running was to risk your job. At another carrier, this was standard practice. On the other hand, we had much more lenient restrictions on taking off with the brakes above a certain temperature than a different carrier I rode on did. None was “wrong”; we all just did it differently.

If you can get current information about your soon-to-be employer, the best way to prepare for class is to stick with memory items and limitations and weather policies, and perhaps a general understanding of FAR 117. Everything else will fall into place later. More accurately, it will come from the fire hose later.—Chip Wright

What does a falling tree look like from the air?

November 5th, 2015

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about flying in Hawaii. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

tree cutting 1Every day away from the air means more hours in it to reach my goal. At 25 hours with the last 10 spread out over months, I am making little progress toward my solo.

A big, big milestone birthday approaches. My two-year goal to solo on or near it was dashed by family medical problems that led me to be a caregiver instead of a flight-taker. (My practical daughter suggested that perhaps I should not fly because her father needed me, and what if something happened? I suggested that, well, I could just take him up with me. “That works,” she said.) My husband came in the airplane with me a few times, but he would rather stay at home, as riding in small airplanes makes him airsick.

Weeks passed. Months passed. I have forgotten half of what I learned.

Got…to…get…up in the air…in a small airplane.

My most recent flight instructor agreed to take me up a couple of weeks ago. It was a constant speed propeller plane, one that had extra items to attend to. It had been eight months since I had flown, and it showed. He did most of the work that day. We did do go-arounds to practice landings at a nearby airfield.

Now, a week later, my birthday loomed, and I had to take to the air. Jerry agreed to take me up again.

With the review the week before, some basics had began to come back to me. I certainly feel more comfortable in the left seat of any airplane with a trusty CFI by my side.
My birthday is near Halloween, so scary stuff comes out all the time anyway. Scary it was to have to review so much when I was getting so close to solo nearly two years ago.

Taking a deep breath on a clear, blue morning at our house, I head to the airfield. Only as I get close do I see fog hanging about. Jerry calls. Farther west the fog is so thick he is sure that it is not a flyable day. He wants to know how long I am willing to wait it out for the top of the nearby butte to be visible for the needed ceiling.

It is my birthday; not only do I have all day, but I have arranged for a very special gift from my husband.

You see, we live in a clearing in a forest on a ridge. Eighteen months ago we had 17 100-foot Douglas fir trees cut down. In the winter we now have sun in some windows. Yet there was one tree at the end of a row near our pond that I thought needed to be removed to enhance our view.

“Honey, how about if you cut down that fir tree for my birthday gift while I fly over it?” He rolls his eyes. He agrees.

Earlier in the morning that I am headed to the Lebanon airport for my flight, he had already finished the undercut and started the backside cut. This tree had to come down this day on purpose before the wind came up and it came down on its own. Yes, I would wait until too dark for that fog to clear for my flight over our house.

We wait out the fog. It lifts, and no one was scheduled for that Cessna 172 anyway. We take off and head over to my property. Since it was my special day, I asked Jerry to do as little as possible and just tell me what to do. And we were flying the older, simpler (and cheaper) airplane.

As the airplane approaches our property, my husband cuts the last bit of trunk and sure enough, I see the tree fall while in the air. Certainly a unique event for a seventieth birthday.

I breathe a sigh of relief. I can see that the fallen tree missed the greenhouse and the llama. As we fly away from the property and over the fields, my smartphone lens is now put away and my hands again on the yoke. We take a look at a private grass airstrip and contemplate the steps necessary to land there. Thoughts only, but a future goal, as I already have permission to use that field. Then off through the skies toward the pattern and onto the airfield, keeping that little airplane a foot off the runway as long as possible for my training. Lesson and fun event in the same hour.—Jean Moule

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Your CFI’s voice in your head

October 20th, 2015

Fly the airplaneDo you hear your flight instructor’s voice in your head when you fly? I still hear my CFI John telling me to “look for traffic on the 45,” even though it has been 14 years since John and I flew together, and three years since my airport got a control tower.

It turns out most of us still hear our CFI’s voice when we fly, and our CFIs say a lot. I’ve collected some of the best from the Flight Training Facebook page. Don’t forget to share your CFI’s sayings in the comments.

Takeoffs and landings:

“Watch the runway, your airspeed, the runway, your airspeed, the runway, your airspeed…”—Sergio Rodriguez

“Keep your hand on the throttle during takeoff! And more left (or right) rudder.”—Jeremy Mendoza

“On final, ‘keep the nose down, keep it down, hold it, hold it, don’t flare too early.'”—Daniel Thompson

“Don’t let it touch, don’t let it touch, don’t let it touch”—Janis Horn

“Hold it, hold it”—Nancy Rice

“‘Hold it off, hold it off!’ when landing. And of course, ‘More right rudder!'”—Regina Coker

“More right rudder”—William Fence

“Watch your airspeed, watch your airspeed, watch your airspeed!”—Hicks Dunlap

“Watch your airspeed”—David E. Rowland

“He’s hollering, ‘MORE LEFT RUDDER!’ in a big crosswind landing. Me: IT’S ALL THE WAY TO THE FLOOR! Him: ‘OK THEN THAT’S ENOUGH.'”—Brian McDaniel

“I still hear ‘WATCH YOUR SPEEDS’ every landing.”—Gary Veduccio

“Fly the aircraft to the ground. Keep flying ’til the wheels touch.”—M. James O’Connor

“Hold it off, hold it off, hold it off! (While rounding out over the runway)”—Donnie Beene

“Don’t get flat! Don’t get flat!”—JP Wing

“The right airspeed determines where you land; the wrong airspeed determines where you crash.”—Doug Heun

“Flare!”—Gustavo E. Navarrete

“Don’t let it touch, keep it off, keep it off”—Johnny Ramm

“More back-pressure on the controls during landing”—Nichole Jesse Dyer

“Dance on those rudder pedals!”—Nichole Stacey

“Breathe, please! Did you know you stop breathing between calling finals and landing?”—Anne Hughes

“‘On final, numbers one-third up the windshield and on speed.’ Hasn’t let me down yet.”—Lindsay Petre

“‘Bad horsey, bad horsey’ on final approach and a reminder to keep my feet on the rudder pedals fighting crosswinds.”—Joshua Carroll

“Go arounds are free”—Lisa Osantowski

“Fly every approach expecting to go around. Actually landing should be an unexpected bonus.”—Jay Beckman

 

Airwork:

“No gorilla grip.”—Nichole Stacey

“Keep a light touch on the yoke, not a death grip!”—Wayne Stiles

“Keep your feet on the pedals, or I’ll start calling you a Piper driver!”—Michael Owens

“Heading, attitude, airspeed, ball in the middle! I teach my students that as well.”—Ron Johnson II

“LOOK OUTSIDE THE AIRPLANE!”—Jason John

“Pretend you don’t have GPS and find your way home.”—Liam Wilson

“Clear right, clear left.”—Jay Phillip

“See that tower? DON’T HIT IT”—Steve Kittel

“Your mind needs to be five minutes ahead of your aircraft; whatever is behind you has already passed.”—Terry Barton

“Keep your head on a swivel.”—Jay Scheick

“When practicing stalls on my own he told me to “just rip that Band-Aid off,” and now I do stalls simply for the thrill of it.”—Tommy Cheman

“Practicing power-on stalls while hanging on the prop with the stall warning horn screaming, ‘Don’t you stall this airplane.'”—Darren Nishimura

“Aviate, navigate, communicate (in that order).”—Scott Jeanes

“Scan for traffic. Then, scan for traffic, and finally, scan for traffic.”—Victor Huerta

“Stay coordinated.”—Karen Atkins

“Keep the ball in the middle.”—Duncan Malloch

“Pull back, houses get smaller.”-–Chad Obenski

“Cram, climb, clean (just a little at a time), communicate.”—Pamela M. Swanson

“Trim it to stay there” and “See, nothing to it!”—Scott Woodland

“Airspeed and attitude are your friends.”—David A. Brown

 

Emergencies:

“When the defecation hits the rotation, fly the plane, fly the plane, fly the plane!”—Ace Adair

“My instructor used to cut power at 6,000 feet and say, ‘Where are you going to land now?'”—Lloyd Stowe

“Multiengine instruction: ‘If you mess it up in an emergency, turn it into a glider.’ Maintain positive control.”—Windtee Aviation Art

“You fly the aircraft; the aircraft doesn’t fly you.”—Norbert Saemann

“It doesn’t fly you, you fly it.”—Nick Reed

“Always be aware of possible emergency landing places in a single engine plane at low altitudes.”—Jarkko Harju

“If you damage my airplane I’m coming after you.”—Frank Mierau, who said he left that instructor shortly thereafter, and we don’t blame him

 

Instrument work:

“Small corrections”—Chris Olin

“Small, soft, constant corrections.”—Guillaume Cholette

“I can still hear [his] voice. ‘Oye mi Yason, what are you doing?’ I say it to myself every ILS. Twice on a CAT II.”—Jason Bullard

“Turn, time, twist, throttle, talk.”—Mike Merill

 

The philosophers:

“There are two types of pilots: one that gets to 400 feet and wonders why the engine stopped; the other pilot gets to 400 feet and wonders why the engine didn’t stop.”—Bradley Lange

“It is better being on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.”—Adrian Pilot

“Airspeed is life, attitude is life insurance.”—Brady Patrick Nicholson

“Never give up.”—Marina Zompanaki

“From my father, who flew in World War II: ‘Always give yourself an out.'”—Tom Harnish

“Little chickens grow up to be old buzzards”—Rob Wahmann

“The three most useless things in aviation: the runway behind you; the altitude above you; the fuel not in the tanks.”—LRod Peterson

“The airplane is the body; the pilot is its soul.”—Ammar Aljabali

“Any landing you can walk away from is a good one. A great one is one in which you can use the airplane again afterwards.”—Doug Heun; Ben-Thomas Cairns;

“Never run out of airspeed, attitude, or ideas”—Bryn Fowd

“It is better being on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.”—Adrian Pilot

“The only time you can have too much fuel is when you’re on fire or overweight.”—Rodney Tuggle

“I actually asked my instructor for some deep, meaningful advice, to which he replied, ‘Uh…don’t die?'”—Ryan Nelson

Thanks to all flight instructors for drilling good practices into your students.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Career progression

October 9th, 2015

Career progression. It’s a huge point of discussion among pilots. But what is it, and what exactly does it mean? It depends on the carrier.

At an airline like Southwest or Alaska, which only flies one kind of airplane, career progression means something entirely different than it does at a carrier that flies multiple fleets. The same principle holds true at the regionals.

At a carrier like Delta or FedEx, career progression generally refers to movement both up the seniority list and up the pay scale. Most airlines pay the same rate for new hires, no matter what equipment they fly. But from Year 2 on, pay usually reflects the size of the airplane, given that larger airplanes produce more revenue, and hence can pay more.

Pilots generally want to maximize salary first, with schedules and quality of life following in importance. In order for that to happen, a couple of pieces need to fall into place.

First, retirement of more senior pilots has to occur in order to open up positions on larger equipment. Second, hiring needs to occur. More specifically, there can’t be any shrinkage or stagnation of the pilot group as those retirements take place. Third, overall fleet growth can significantly help. This is a key part of the equation at single-fleet airlines, because a first officer can become a captain simply by virtue of growth—even if the seniority list consists of relatively young pilots.

This is how I was able to become a captain at Comair in less than three years. In fact, over my 16 years there, I only moved up 500 total numbers because the average age was so low.

The last piece of the puzzle at a multi-fleet airline is the contractual freeze. Every airline incurs a freeze when you bid from one position to another in order to minimize training cycles and get a return on the investment of training you in a new airplane. Those freezes are generally two years, and usually there are substantial roadblocks to bidding backwards.

But not every airline works the same way with regard to pay. It’s becoming more common to have pay “bands,” in which groups of similarly sized aircraft pay the same. United pays the same on the 737, A320, and smaller 757 fleets. The 747, 777, 787, and A350 all pay the same as well. This is designed to take away the incentive to bid up based on pay, and  encourage the pilot to bid based on other factors, such as schedule or preferred domiciles. UPS is a prime example; it pays all captains and first officers the same rate no matter the equipment.

To use United as an example, the airline operates the A320, B737, 757/767, 747, 777, and 787, and will add the A350 in a couple of years. To fly all of them as a first officer while complying with the two-year freeze would take a minimum of 14 years.

But career progression is as much choice and preference as anything else. Most pilots want to fly the best schedule their seniority can hold in the domicile that best suits them—which might be because they live there or because it makes for the easiest commute. There are almost always opportunities to make extra pay that can often make up for the difference in the pay rates from one airplane to another, so pilots will bid fairly selectively. It’s not uncommon to see a first officer fly his or her first airplane for several years, then move on to a wide body for a couple years, with possibly a mid-range aircraft thrown in if the stars align. When the opportunity to fly as a captain comes up, the re-evaluation process starts over. As tempting as the money is, the schedule matters as well. Remember, seniority determines your domicile, the trips you can fly, and the weeks of vacation you can hold. Learning a new airplane is a stressful experience for any pilot, and the training process can be fairly lengthy, which affects the family life.

The same process holds at the regionals. The difference, however, is that regional pilots  tend to bid much more aggressively because of the low first officer pay and because everyone is jockeying to get their pilot-in-command time to move on. Very few pilots go the regionals with the intention of staying.

Progression is an individual definition as much as anything. Often, being able to fly the schedule you want is more important than the increase in pay you might see on a larger airplane. But eventually, assuming your seniority can hold something bigger, the increase in pay becomes too much to ignore.—Chip Wright

The return of the “Since You Asked” poll

September 21st, 2015

FT dig tagYou may have noticed that our much-loved columnist Rod Machado changed neighborhoods in the magazine.

Starting with the September 2015 issue, Rod discontinued his “Instructor Report” and resumed his popular “Since You Asked” column. It now resides each month in the Preflight section.

When Rod was contributing “Since You Asked” in previous years, we took advantage of new-ish technology to include a reader poll in the digital edition whenever possible. (For paper subscribers, the “Plus” icon [show above] means there’s a digital component to any given article.)

With the return of “Since You Asked,” we also are returning to digital polls. In October, we asked readers whether they used a GPS during dual cross-country flight training.

The vast majority (57 percent) of respondents said they did not use a GPS. Another 29 percent said they didn’t use one because the airplane didn’t have one. And 14 percent said they did use a GPS during dual cross-country flight training.

The poll question concerned a reader’s question to Rod: “Should student pilots be allowed to use a GPS’s moving map display during their dual cross-country flights?”

Rod said he has no problem with student pilots using a GPS moving map at any time during their cross-country training, so long as they meet a few requirements: “Technology should never be used as a substitute for the acquisition of the basic skills replaced by that technology. As long a a student learns the basic navigation skills required by the regulations first, then the use of a GPS moving map seems reasonable.”

Rod clarified his comment by adding that it’s not reasonable to expect a student to learn dead reckoning and pilotage skills while simultaneously monitoring a moving map. His responses, as always, are thoughtful and make the basis of a good discussion for you and your flight instructor. Preview the October 2015 digital issue here. (You don’t need to log in; simply push the “Preview” button on the login screen.)—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

The times, they are a’ changin’

September 14th, 2015

My, oh my, how the times have a’ changed.

I’ve been doing the airline gig now for almost 20 years, more than 16 of which was were the regionals. When I got my first job, it was the norm to have pilots pay for the own training. In my case, it was a check made out to the Comair Aviation Academy, for $10,995, plus another $2,000 in lodging and food during that training. To make things worse, I didn’t officially get hired until after I had passed thecheckride. Instead, I was in an aircraft-specific “training course.” This was a common practice for companies to work around prohibitions in union contracts that forbid—on paper—pay-for-training policies.

Once I got on line, I was making $16.79 an hour, with a 75-hour guarantee. My first full calendar year (1997) saw me make $14,605 dollars—which included a $7-an-hour raise for the final six weeks of the year—a net pay for the year of less than $1,000.

For years, first-year pay at the regionals was an embarrassment, and while the percentage increase in years two and three were substantial, it was still pretty lousy, especially if you were the lone bread winner. Today, the regionals are reaping what they (and their major airline partners [both management and pilots]) have sown: the long-awaited pilot shortage is finally here, and it’s hitting the bottom line. Flights are canceling, and airplanes are getting parked for a lack of crews.

The airlines are responding. Understand that the regionals can’t just raise pay for two reasons: Union contracts must be collectively bargained, and a regional gets its revenue from its major partners. Even if they have wanted to raise pay, they can’t do so until they get assurance from their major affiliates that they will be reimbursed for the added costs. Only when both of these provisions are met can pay raises be implemented.

Of late, the solution has been for regionals to offer some sort of bonus to new hires. This gets them around the collective bargaining issue, and it also allows them to dictate the terms of the bonus.

Loan repayments also are an option. For instance, Envoy offers both $5,000 and $10,000 bonuses, depending on whether or not you are coming from an affiliate flight school. However, the bonuses require the pilot to agree to a two-year commitment. Even Skywest, which took over Comair’s position as the regional of choice, is offering a $7,500 bonus. In fact, Skywest has recently been doing a lot of recruitment-by-mail, sending post cards to pilots on the FAA registry in the hopes that they might be interested in a job. They are casting such a wide net that they are even recruiting some of their own pilots!

The result of all of this has been a dramatic effect on first-year pay. According to ATP’s website, the average first year pay is now more than $30,000, and in a couple of cases, it approaches $40,000. It’s by no means a king’s ransom, but it’s a vast improvement over days gone by. There is still a long way to go to get pilot pay where it needs to be, especially considering how many pilots the industry needs to attract and convince to make the investment in a flying career over the next couple of decades.

But this is a start.—Chip Wright

Disability insurance

September 10th, 2015

When you’re in your 20s and 30s, it’s hard to imagine that your health will ever be seriously affected by anything. It’s bad enough to imagine getting cancer or a sleep disorder, but what about something less serious, such as a broken bone (or two or three)?

Pilots are unique in that our health affects both our direct and our legal ability to report for work. Something as simple as back pain can keep us at home. We are bound by the terms of our medical certificate to be of sound mind and body. If you work in an office and break your leg or your arm, you can still come to work. You may even be just as productive and as efficient with the injury as you are without it.

Not so with flying. If you break a leg skiing or an arm playing softball, you’re grounded until it heals. Further, if your medical expires during your injury, you will likely need a flight physical to return to work. If you don’t have sufficient sick time in your leave bank, you could face a financial strain. Most airlines only allow a sick time accrual rate of a few hours a month.

I don’t want to sound like a salesman, but I’ll take the risk. If you get hired by an airline, opt into whatever short- and long-term disability insurance the company and/or the union offers. Rates are based on age, so it’s cheaper when you’re younger, which is also when you’re not so well paid. It’s an investment that is worth making in yourself.

Over my career I’ve seen young and old pilots be out of work for extended periods of time through no fault of their own. One, in his late 20s, was out over a year because of a severe automobile accident. One was out for two months with a broken leg that was slow to heal. Another was out for nearly two years with a form of liver cancer. A number have been incapacitated by mental health issues and/or alcoholism. In the last couple of years, the FAA has attempted to crack down on overweight pilots. If they ever succeed in doing this, a large percentage of us will be looking at long periods of time off while we try to shed the extra weight.

As a professional pilot, take nothing for granted—especially your health. Get the STD/LTD coverage early, and keep it. With any luck, you’ll never need to thank me for it. But if you do, at least you won’t have to worry about coming up with the money for a stamp.–Chip Wright

Mining the message boards

September 1st, 2015

Forums.jpgThe internet has become a repository for just about any sort of information you care to find. Some of it is even true. A great example is the glut of information forums, aka “the web boards.” If you’re interested in aviation, there is no shortage of such sites to choose from. One of the most famous in the airline world is Airline Pilot Central. PPrune (short for Professional Pilots Rumour Network) is another, and there are way too many others to list.

How much credibility should you give these sites? That depends. While many are fairly organized, they all contain a tremendous amount of negativity. Further, if you’re new to them, you will find yourself spending hours scrolling through old posts looking for good information. Once you are up to speed, you can navigate them quickly and easily for the intel you need.

There are a couple of downsides to these sites. First, as noted, people hide behind a screen name, and many show a decided lack of maturity in their postings. This leads to a lot of bickering. Second, the overwhelming majority of these posts are written by a very small number of people, which means that the opinion of a few may be presented as the opinion of the majority, even if such is not the case. The actual sample size is fairly small. Third, much of the “information” is speculative only, as it is based on rumor and heresy, if not flat-out lies.

However, if you spend enough time filtering the boards that you are most interested in, you can get good information. You can also figure out which of the posters are level-headed, honest, and objective. When you notice these people, write down their names, especially if what they are posting pertains to the arena of flying you are interested in; it’s even better if they are working (or have recently worked) for a company that you are pursuing.

Once you’ve made note of a few of these folks, initiate personal (“private”) conversations with them. See if they are willing to spend some time on the phone with you. Ask your questions; write down their answers; and ask follow-up questions. Do this with several pilots in each category or forum. You may get conflicting information, but that isn’t necessarily bad. You can assume that many people have different experiences to draw from, and that in and of itself can be good.

One of the problems with being new to these discussions is that you sometimes don’t realize what you don’t know, which can only add to your confusion. The lingo can be new and overwhelming. It’s hard at times to understand how pilots—who clearly love to fly—can find themselves unhappy in their jobs. Some of this is self-inflicted, and some is caused by circumstances they didn’t predict. Your job is to find out which is which, and then try to understand what it is that you would personally have difficulty with, and find a way to avoid a similar fate. Not always easy, but it can be done.

The internet forums can yield significant good information, but you need to know how to find it, and you need to know how to source it. APC is a wealth of great info about the airlines. But it’s only a part of that information. Actually talking—by phone and in person—to pilots who are living the lifestyle you are interested in is another major part of that information.—Chip Wright

Familiarity versus unfamiliarity

August 24th, 2015

There’s a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Unfamiliarity can do the same thing. In aviation, we see the familiarity side of things when we throw caution to the wind (or worse). We ignore checklists. We rush. We do…dumb things. Most of us have been guilty of this. Examples abound: forgetting to turn off the master switch in the FBO’s Cessna, only to get a phone call later; forgetting to untie (or tie) the tiedowns; forgetting to lower the landing gear.

It’s natural to let your guard down when you’re in a comfortable environment. The good news is that you are comfortable in a place where you don’t really belong. The bad news is that you are prone to making mistakes because “it could never happen to me.” That’s probably what you said the last time you locked your keys in your car. In fact, such a dumb, easy mistake has forced the automobile manufacturers to idiot-proof cars as much as possible to try to avoid this, but people still find a way to validate human idiocy.

When you are overly familiar with something, either it’s time to force yourself to re-adapt the good habits, or it’s time to change your habits. Take the car keys. Once you’ve made this mistake, you quickly learn to check that the keys are in your pocket/bag/purse/suitcase/whatever before you close the door. You’re still looking to make sure that they aren’t in the car, but instead of looking to see if they aren’t where you don’t want them, you’re looking to see if they are where you do want them. The goal is the same, but the process is different.

With the master switch, an easy way to fix the problem is to always leave the anti-collision light on. That way, if you walk away from the airplane and see the beacon on, you’ll know that the master switch is on.

Unfamiliarity also can create problems, especially when the change from one piece of equipment to another is fairly drastic. For example, at my old airline there was a famous story—true—of a captain who transferred out of the turboprop and into the jet. Without getting bogged down in details, he was forced to leave an engine running after pulling into the gate. That by itself is no big deal; it happens all the time. Generally speaking, within a few minutes, he would be able to shut it down. Well, a few steps in the chain weren’t completed, and he was new to the airplane, so he was out of his comfort zone. Further, in the turboprop, a running engine could be easily seen (the spinning propeller) and heard (it was right next to the cockpit window). With a tail-mounted jet, you don’t see anything, and you don’t hear much more than anything.

He found out that he had left the engine running when he got a call from the station after he had arrived at the hotel. He had to talk the ground folks through the shutdown over the phone. In the end, nobody was hurt, but the lesson was learned: Try to know what you don’t know.

Familiarity and unfamiliarity can both be dangerous, but for different reasons. If you find your normal routine is not working, change it to one that does.—Chip Wright

Where is my DeLorean?

August 18th, 2015

Back to the futureThirty years ago, Marty McFly and Doc Brown got into a garage-modified DeLorean, activated the flux capacitor, and took off for…well, this year, to try and save Marty’s son from himself. Back to the Future played on a long-standing wish: flying cars.

As 2015 winds down, it’s easy to wonder why we don’t have flying cars. The easy answer is that the FAA would make such a dream a bureaucratic nightmare. That’s undoubtedly true, and if you throw in the Federal Highway Administration, you can see how such a great idea would be dead on arrival. But let’s take those two entities out of the equation.

Driving is two-dimensional. You move forward, backward, left, and right. Driving is also pretty easy. It’s not totally skillless or brainless, but we’ve done everything we can to make it so. Still, tens of thousands of people die every year on the highways in spite of some pretty impressive safety mechanisms and rules. Seatbelts are required (and their use is enforced, which wasn’t always the case); cars have roll cages, air bags, anti-lock brakes, and more. Still, no matter how idiot-proof we make a car, we manage to find ways to crash.

Flying, on the other hand, is three-dimensional, and that transition to and from the ground is, statistically, the most dangerous part of the flight. In the air, we have to deal with turbulence, even close to the ground. Imagine semis trying to fly next to a Camry. Unlike the DeLorean, we need to accept that a flying car will have wings, and those wings will be sized based on the payload. Semis and Camrys would be at constant risk of hitting each other because of the necessarily long wings on the semi, not to mention the wake turbulence. If you think on- and off-ramps are crowded now, imagine what it would be like trying to merge such disparately sized vehicles on and off the ground.

Infrastructure would be an issue as well, as we’d have to have much longer merge lanes to allow vehicles to get up to rotation speed. Consider that highways are designed to try to contain certain elements of a high-speed wreck (even if the only design element for this is building it in an isolated area). With skyways, we’d have to take into account that an in-flight collision would spread debris over a much larger area—which would necessitate additional safety enhancements for the drivers not only traveling quickly but now also falling to the ground. Buildings would need to be built to account for potential falling debris on the roof or through the windows.

In the end, flying cars just aren’t practical. In fact, if the skyways got too crowded, you’d be better back on the road, which is right where we are now. As fun as it is to daydream about defying gravity in every aspect of our lives, the truth is that without a quantum leap in strong, lightweight materials and powerful engines, it’s just not the way. But if you stick with flying airplanes, then where you’re going, you still don’t need roads.—Chip Wright