Let’s make it home
few days ago a pilot I know died in a fiery crash doing what he
best, an Angel Flight returning home alone after taking a sick kid
medical treatment. He crashed at his
home airport about ½ mile from the runway about 9:30
shortly after reporting some kind of problem with the plane
ATC. It may have been foggy.
family waiting at the airport heard the impact, but
what happened until the emergency vehicles arrived.
I am NOT going to analyze what went wrong, because
I don’t know any details and what I have
already stated may not be
am going to take a look at some of the risks that we take
planes. I have taken a lot of risks in my 58 years. I lived and traveled on boats, both
sail and power, private and commercial for over 23 years. I have been through more storms at sea than I
can count, including through the eye of a near hurricane
strength tropical storm in a 27 year old wooden sailboat. That was the peak experience of both
Betsy and myself. I have worn out a
pile of motorcycles and traveled and lived in some pretty
rough places. I don’t do any of those things anymore,
going to sea is just too much work and I am bored with it and
partly because I am not nearly as brave as I used to be. I used to think it great fun to go to
sea in a whole gale and it was. Now I think it is somewhat
am glad I have done all of those things, because they
have been incredible experiences.
Betsy has been with me through most of them and the
danger has tied us together in a way that few couples will
experience. We are both still
here because we each had the necessary skills to survive
conditions. She is not so brave anymore
either. When I was
younger, I couldn’t understand how people
got less brave as they got
older. It wasn’t going to happen to
me. Well, I was sure wrong about that. Maybe,
after a while,
you realize how many close calls you have had and decide that
maybe should not push it so hard.
Maybe it is judgement, but not really.
There is no way I would want to not have had
those experiences. They made me who
I am. Too many people
spend their lives with no risk, or at least no perceived risk
miss some fantastic life changing experiences.
how does all of this fit into flying. I
am getting there. When I first began flying about 10
I liked to fly low. I don’t fly low anymore. In fact, I generally don’t
fly below 2000 ft. above ground level even over a good
strip like a beach. I like at
least 5000 ft. above hostile terrain and more when possible. Why is that?
I haven’t had an engine failure in my 2200 hours
experience compared with my nautical hours, or compared to many
much experience compared to a lot of pilots who crashed for
in that little bit of time, I have had a vapor lock resulting in a
about 75 percent power for a vertical loss of 3000 ft. I have had a stuck valve in flight and one
on the ground. Those
experiences made me realize that I had had valves stick
before for a
few seconds at a time, but had not recognized the symptoms. I had an engine FULL of metal that had to
be rebuilt. Found that one on the
ground too. I don’t
know how many
hours I flew with that engine that was tearing
itself to pieces. Well, that is why I like to have
distance between my plane and the ground.
don’t fly at night and I am not an instrument pilot
and don’t intend
to become an instrument pilot. Why is
that. Well, I think it is prudent
risk management. I don’t have to
get anywhere ever with the plane, I just use it for pleasure. I make several long trips a year,
mostly out west to the mountain states, but if we don’t get
to our destination
one day, we will get there the next or the next.
It seems that the more
we travel with the plane, the less important it becomes to
that day’s destination if we divert for weather. That is probably good. I have
several friends who are aircraft mechanics and pilots. They
single engine IFR and single engine night flying like the
plague. I am a pretty good mechanic and
deeply involved in the maintenance and improvement of my
planes. I don’t
trust them either.
day VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions in a light single, if you have
an electrical failure,
or a radio failure or a flight instrument failure it is a
non-event. In fact, it is a total
non-event if anything at all goes wrong with the plane
except engine, flight surface controls or airframe integrity. The plane will still fly just fine
and you can continue to a safe landing place with basic
pilotage. Even if you have total engine
failure, the plane still flies and in most cases, if you have
some altitude to buy time and distance, you can find a place
land reasonably safely. You
can probably even handle some modes of failure of the flight
controls. The outlook is much worse at night, worse still
in instrument weather conditions and incredibly worse in
instrument weather conditions at night. That
is an enormous increase in risk to
get somewhere you don’t have to get to.
is easy to fly partial panel with an instructor
sitting next to you,
if the vacuum system or some of the gyros fail.
The easiest part is that the instructor covers the
failed instrument or instruments.
In the real world, they will probably fail slowly and you
NOTICE that they have failed and WHICH ONES ARE LYING. That is a whole different ball of
wax. When they fail with the instructor in the plane, you
have just been expecting
it and have prepared your brain to deal with it, it is not a
surprise. Well, that is just one of the problems. You can also lose power, or
electricity for the radios, or both at the same
time. How many people
replace the batteries before they will no longer start the engine. Many planes are flying around
with batteries near the end of their useful life. I know mine do. I
don’t replace them early. This
means that an engine
or alternator/generator/regulator failure will also result
in total electrical failure. Now, if it
is night instrument meteorological conditions, this is a very
bad situation. You can’t talk
you can’t navigate.
A flashlight and a handheld radio may save the day, or
not. Is the risk worth it to
get some where you don’t have to get.
at night in a single engine plane is beautiful.
It sure will get ugly, if the engine quits. Is it worth the risk. I bet that
pilots who are full time mechanics don’t fly much
at night. The ones
I know don’t. They know how many
can fail and how often they do.
risk ratchets up considerably in rental planes.
You never really know the condition of the
plane you are flying. If you
own the plane, or fly a plane professionally and fly it a
is different. The average renter has
no idea, the condition of the plane he is flying. It doesn’t matter if the plane
great maintenance. The last pilot who
flew it may have not squawked a problem.
He may not have even
realized the plane had a problem.
Think about that when you take off into night flight,
IMC in a plane you don’t really know. Most of us that own
planes, own OLD
planes with OLD engines that have been rebuilt many times. Most of the accessories are OLD and
have been rebuilt many times. We fix
things in planes that we throw away in cars because plane
so incredibly expensive to replace with new. This
does NOT increase safety. On
the other hand, there have been so many bad
NEW crankshafts and other
parts from both Lycoming and Continental that sometimes old
better. We are not flying super reliable turboprop planes
two engines, or at least two electrical systems and two
vacuum systems. We are flying old
piston singles without redundant anything.
be careful. We don’t want to lose
anymore friends. Well, these have been some not too
thoughts from somebody who is not as brave as he used to be. Let’s have fun flying, but
make sure we get home to our families, even if that means we
the next day.