A Sensible Man?

November 13, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

1107_shiplandingWho are we to judge our fellow humans as to what makes sense and what’s dangerous? If you’ve seen the AOPA Online article by Sarah Deener and YouTube video of Dutch pilot, Jaap Rademaker, landing on a cargo ship at sea in a microlight aircraft, you might wonder.

It is a remarkable piece of flying, and I give him credit for his skill and perhaps just a touch of luck. But it got me wondering about how we categorize risk. Everyone has a certain tolerance. Pilots have perhaps just a bit more than the average bear—and some pilots have a lot more. Good for Homo sapiens that there are risk takers—otherwise airplanes and big cargo ships might never have been invented. We need people to experiment, to move things forward.

Does it change your thoughts that this was a planned publicity stunt? “Rademaker, a 600-hour pilot who flies a microlight, had no military flying experience that might prepare him for a carrier-type landing. He did have experience on short fields and an incentive to promote the ship building and operating company in which he invests. What better way to spotlight a new ship designed for high-volume, low-weight cargo than to land on the aircraft-carrier-style deck?”

Quite properly, some limited precautions were taken for an inherently risky project. Was the risk worth the reward? Will it sell any more ships?

Is our perception situationally based? Here are some common GA scenarios:

  • Land in a greater-than-demonstrated crosswind
  • Tackle an area of widespread thunderstorms
  • Land with minimum fuel
  • Fly in to an area of icing with a non-approved aircraft
  • Land out of an instrument approach “right at” minimums
  • Take off or land at a really short strip

If everything works out you’re the ace of the base, but foul it up and we think of you as a dummy! How many times have you done something in past flight experience that you reflect on afterward and think, “That just may not have been my finest aeronautical moment.”

“Weeks after the landing, Rademaker marveled at how the stars had aligned: a willing and capable crew on the boat, camera crews in the air, and weather that made it all possible. ‘It was quite an operation in the end,’ he said. Still, it was harder than he expected. ‘I won’t do it again,’ he said. ‘I will be a sensible man in the future.’ But, he added, he’s glad he did it.”

There’s an old European saying, “We grow too soon old and too late smart.” Life is like that, especially if you’re a pilot.

Safe pilots are always learning, and the goal of the Air Safety Institute is to ensure pilots have a wealth of information to keep them flying safely. Our education programs are funded through donations from pilots dedicated to forwarding that mission. Show your support by donating to the AOPA Foundation today.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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14 Responses to “A Sensible Man?”

  1. John Ahern Says:

    I have always been taught that, except in a case of emergency (and now, apparently, in the case of a “professional” stunt) you should not land any place you can’t takeoff from. Does this qualify?

  2. Jim Hardin Says:

    It was a Stunt, pure and simple. It belongs right up there with wing walking and low level aerobatics –

    Un-needed – Un-necessary – Un-professional

    But as a One Time stunt? I can live with that.

  3. Greg Says:

    I appreciate this article. It is in fact the individuals responsibility to determine how much risk he/she is willing to take, as long as no one else is being put at risk or, in this case, the others who may have taken on some risk did so knowingly. There are benefits to risk taking that are not always easily quantifiable and in my experience, someone who puts this much effort into evaluating risks and mitigating them is likely to be successfull. It’s the people who take risks spontaneously without carefull consideration that end up as statistics that are a problem because they pose a danger to other people.

  4. Scott Says:

    what is acceptable/unnecessary risk? In the military overseas, we violated almost every FAA, DOT, OSHA… safety regulation out of necessity. How many pilots died trying to cross the Atlantic? How many died perfecting carrier landings? How many have died testing revolutionary designs? Life is risk, and a solo landing is a high risk for a new pilot, but no risk for an old pilot. What one sees as risk is not even dangerous for another. And if your actions in no way put others at risk, who is anyone else to judge? If your actions pose no risk to others, what right does anyone have to stop them? But that person had better understand and be ready to accept the consequences of their actions should they fail, either in money, death, or otherwise. If they put others at risk, now they need to be assuming responsibility for those around them. Risk cannot be eliminated. Many thought it too risky for Columbus to try to circle the globe too, but if he and his crew accepted the risk, who are we to judge what is acceptable? What was risky yesterday, is commonplace tomorrow.

  5. Matt Says:

    I disagree Scott. Every time a life is lost in aviation, regulations follow. Sadly, but many of the regulations that we loathe and the conservatism that permeates aviation regulation is a direct result of poor decision making and loss of human life.
    If this guy hadn’t made it and crashed to the deck and drowned, the summary for most of us would be”what a fool”.

    You cite “in the military overseas” as justification for violation of safety regulations. In time of war or cutting edge training, that risk is sometimes justified. I fail to see the translational value of military service to landing a microlight on a ship at sea. This stunt is nothing more than a razor thin risk-margin taken by a fool. He goes on to say “I’ll be a sensible man in the future”, implying the flight convinced him of it’s foolish, unmanageable risk.

    You say, ” If your actions pose no risk to others, what right does anyone have to stop them? But that person had better understand and be ready to accept the consequences of their actions should they fail, either in money, death, or otherwise.” It’s actually a pretty selfish position. I would agree if only the dead fools were subject to the regulations they inspire………

  6. Scott Says:

    Matt, you misunderstood my point. For some reason, humans have an insatiable desire to impose their will on their nieghbors. Humans seem to think they are entitled to some form of ownership over the decisions of those around them. I fail to see how Charles Lindbergh was selfish in risking his life to cross the Atlantic. I fail to see How Niel Armstrong was selfish in his many risks that led him to land on the Moon. Where these men fools to attempt what they did? where those who died in the same attempts fools or selfish if they didnt hurt anyone? What about Columbus? What about Jimmy Doolittle? What about the Wright brothers? Where their risks any less foolish? Someone has to be the first to try something. Would you even exist today had not others before you taken “unnecessary” risks in order to create what we have today? I understand that you and others are afraid of death, we all are, but that does bot give you the right to tell others what is acceptable risk. If you dont think it’s acceptable, then don’t do it! But part of being free is the right to make choices, the right to take risks. I dont hear you complaining about the risks people take when they drive a car, even though those risks are many times greater; yet we look at cars as low risk. If I choose to do something dangerous, that is my right, Im not asking you to take those risks with me. Any person who takes a risk while endangering the lives of others could be considered a fool, but not the person who only risks themself.

  7. bob Says:

    I agree with Greg above and I would add that there is also a difference when you have a different stated goal. If your goal is to land an airplane on a cargo ship then you know what you are getting yourself into and it’s none of my business. If your goal is to get home to see your family, then it’s worth the brief period of time to wait out a thunderstorm.

  8. Gideon Says:

    Where would the world be without people that push the envelope?
    No aircraft, cars or open heart surgery?

  9. Jaap Rademaker Says:

    Dear Mr Landsberg, dear Readers,

    I am the pilot who landed on the cargo ship. Allow me to add my comments to the thoughts of many I have seen express their opinions.

    1) it was honestly not planned as a publicity stunt/commercial operation, I did it “because the opportunity was there” and because the conditions were ideal with only (see later in risk analysis homework outlined below) 9 knot boat speed over ground, and nearly 15 knots of steady wind, right people, right preparation, right safety measures

    2) I may have “only” 600 hours and a “mere” 17 years of experience flying in extreme cold and extreme hot climates, the usual doubtful wintry VFR Northern European weather, but here in Europe, things are on a much smaller scale than in your great country – such that in an hour, on average (yes seriously) I do about four landings; and such that we virtually never have the luxury which is standard and omnipresent in the US of having five thousand feet of tarmac covered runway on which my mother can land (she has no PPL nor any flying experience). Seeing more experienced commercial pilots dismiss me as “in the overconfident window” or a fool, I know to be wrong as I am in all walks of life risk averse, I do not even like driving fast.

    3) I talked through every conceivable scenario with everyone involved, in particular the captain of the vessel whom I know personally and whom I know to be very good at what he does – which I could see and verify on the spot as an experienced sailor he did well as he kept the vessel pinpoint perfectly nose into wind. Main priority was for me and I think should be for everyone, as Scott says, to not endanger anyone else, my principle in life is your freedom to move your arms is limited to someone else’s nose. That is why you’ll see no one standing on the deck during landing, but under the safety of the full width deck crane; I briefed everyone that in the unlikely event of a landing (as I am risk averse I did not expect to be able to land; even knowing a landing was unlikely, we did prepare for it – in the end so well that a landing turned out to be possible as proven) to be aware as non-aviators, not forget about a turning prop being invisible and to only approach from behind, for instance. When it turned out the deck was salty and wet, and my brakes did not work for a short landing takeoff, this was the typical curveball life throws that I am always trying to think of beforehand that was not thought out beforehand. I was therefore very unhappy about having to resort to guys holding the strut. I went through the risk with the heroes involved, how to do it, how to get out of the way of the wide tail. The plan – which worked – was that I would use the tailwheel feature of the Foxbat. This allows and I have practised that many times, a takeoff with “tail on the floor” to get airborne quick, to then push the plane less steep in order to build speed, stay in ground effect before pulling up again later. With the tail on the floor I thought no one would get hurt. The only other way would have been to attach a rope to the tailwheel and cut it with a bread knife – that would eliminate risk to people but I feared the tail was not strong enough for that job, and the two beefy maritime officers involved after a think and some engineering terms I did not quite understand, concluded matter of factly, Dutch can-do style, they were happy and cool with the plan and urged me to try it, instead of leaving my plane on deck and not endangering anyone (the other option under consideration).

    4) I had prepared by talking to experts such as Anna Walker and Brendan O’Brien as mentioned in the article, but the naval aviator commenting was right on two counts: I should have tried talking to a naval aviator, as one big issue invisible on the video (and to the commentator saying it was a stall instead of a landing) is that the bow of the ship was going up and down considerably – watch the bulb of the bow coming out of, and then being fully covered by water – which combined with the fact that (as another naval aviator commented on my youtube site) there was no angled bow, but on the contrary a bow with a high shield; and a bow that could not be trimmed lower led to quite hefty swirls and turbulence I did not feel when I made several test passes, each time a little lower.

    5) people making derogatory comments about the LSA class and/or this consisting of pilots that are of a lesser kind of person than GA pilots, or that this plane is “not a Husky or Maule or other “real” plane) – please realise a) that not everyone has the money or the inclination to burn 50 litres an hour and feel guilty about the environment b) that a GA plane (yes, I have a “real plane” licence too) is far easier to land than a VLA/LSA which is inbetween a glider and a General Aviation plane; a GA plane has lots of weight, and most “pilots” I see don’t fly it, they just drive it in under power with the benefit of lots of plane weight and endless runway, landing a few times a year rather than my weekly flying my plane into runways of just a few hundred feet useable soggy grass c) doing 85 knots on 14 litres an hour and having the safety no other GA plane has of really (not in theory) being able to land pretty much anywhere if weather conditions would demand with a rotax 912 100 hp of legendary reliability and more importantly – with very little noise so as to not bother fellow human beings on the ground wishing to enjoy nature peacefully, last but not least (I usually fly one up, half power burning 8 litres and no one hears me coming and neighbours love me) d) I only have a very small grass strip, high trees either end, every “STOL” pilot with a husky or cub I have invited to drop in, chickened out with the exception of Anna Walker who landed once in her cub and declared with a red face that it was too demanding and banned it for Tiger Club members.

    6) as I stated, I will indeed not do this again, unless an aircraft carrier would invite me which I would give my right arm for (after landing) and gratefully accept.

    7) although I am a rookie pilot, I am a very experienced yachtsman, crew for friends in the weekend, and even in winter time jump in with my drysuit during races to switch boats when I film; I know it back to front and dear Aopa reader so should you – if you have one, try it out, go play with it in the water, have someone there, it is a killer because in many survival suits (especially “aviation” cheap ones) air goes into your lower legs and you will float upside down, something I have never read in aviation magazines. Don’t bother with a lifejacket, apart from carribean waters, you’ll only have 10 minutes before you are incapacitated, it’s only useful to ensure they find your dead body. I do not pull stunts with planes but I do with boats – because it is generally quite safe even if it does not look that way. I therefore had a pretty good idea what would happen if I stuffed it all up, got caught on a railing and went over the side. As this small cargo ship could only do 9 knots (because it is ecofriendly, but that is another story) I knew that I would fling overboard, and end up probably upside down, strapped in, in my drysuit. The plane with its big fat wings and lots of compartments, would no doubt float. I had organised a chopper overhead with the most experienced pilot in southern england, a cessna 172 overhead with an 7,000 hour small aircraft pilot with Africa and cross pacific and atlantic small plane delivery experience (Brendan O’Brien himself) and a ship with a fast RIB lifeboat/fast dinghy I had seen in action, and I was aware there was a double crew on board with lots of trainees, several on standby at that lifeboat, with perfect radio communication across the teams that had all been briefed to perfection by the ship’s captain according to my requests. Even if I would have been knocked unconscious, I am convinced that with Dutch maritime officer already on standby on the lowering winch, response time to get the lifeboat in the water and be there with a bunch of physically fit guys would be spectacularly fast. There would be no risk as one commenting armchair aviator who evidently does not know the sea at all says “of being pulled under into the prop” or pulled under full stop. Even if that were to happen – again the 10 metre wingspan foxbat would have floated up like a cork, whilst I would be in the biggest (and most expensive) safety cage known to man.

    8) as far as I can check – and that included Eugene Ely in 1911 (he used an arrestor hook) – no one has landed a normal unmodified plane on a normal, unmodified cargo ship with a deck in front of the bridge of 60 metres.

    9) I look forward to videos of others thinking they could do better.

    10) Finally, let me take this opportunity as a Dutchman, to thank your people for liberating us 60 years ago, and still keeping on taking a stand for freedom and democracy, however difficult this is, our media may not express it but the majority of people are grateful.

    With thanks for your interest and kind regards

    Jaap

  10. Arnout Doyer Says:

    Was gewoon geweldig!

    Arnout

  11. Roy Says:

    I agree couldn’t agree more with Scott, and I applaud Mr. Rademaker for his sense of adventure and his sensible approach to landing on the cargo ship.

    With respect to Scott’s statement: “For some reason, humans have an insatiable desire to impose their will on their nieghbors,” I also think that humans (or perhaps mainly North Americans?) tend to blame others when their risky behaviour causes an undesired outcome – i.e., “Sequoia High School parents sue school after their son was kicked out of honors class for cheating,” etc.

    By the way, I think it was the First Canadian Army (supplemented with British and Polish troops and others) that liberated the Dutch. :)

  12. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Jaap….

    Thanks very much for your thoughtful and detailed response. If you will notice, and I think you did, I was very careful not to say this flight had no merit. More importantly, as has been stated several times, this was your decision to make and you were the one who would have suffered the consequences. Good – personal responsibility!!!

    The only downside, which we see all too often on both sides of the pond, is the the authorities decide after a mishap or accident that THEY should make the decision on what is safe and reasonable.

    Our freedom to fly is precious and as long as everyone understands that, and that risk we take to ourselves is exactly that – press on!!!

  13. Jaap Rademaker Says:

    Dear Bruce

    I appreciated your well thought through response – and welcomed and enjoyed this opportunity to be able to react to the various comments, particularly the ones under Sarah Deener’s original article. Don’t mistake my typical Dutch and direct corrective reaction to in particular Sarahafl04′s remarks as negative towards you at all; on the contrary I think it was a good discussion. It is clear to anyone reading certain remarks, that they show the writers are green with envy, they would have loved doing it themselves, it is very amusing ;-)

    This is indeed about freedom, and about ensuring to not endanger anyone else. I will readily admit again, as I have, that this was not sensible and I won’t do it again. But it was GREAT to do and I just hope some air craft carrier guys read this and send me an invite – send a message to channel name brainmaker on youtube, will travel !

    Jaap

  14. Jaap Rademaker Says:

    Dear Bruce

    Two small addenda. 1) I was wrong on Brendan’s flying hours – 13,800 actually 2) your question on “will it sell more ships” is not quite right. The aim was to explain to freight brokers and freight customers that this ship is different to a conventional 3,500 tonne vessel – the 3,500 tonne Global Seatrade M2 Runner has DOUBLE the square meterage of deckspace – and also the hold space is significantly greater. That aim has been achieved … J

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