On those days where the air is like liquid gold….smooth, silky, not a bump anywhere; where the temperatures are cool enough that having to keep a hawk-like watch on the engine monitor isn’t required, but it’s not so cold that shivering is a constant companion….
Those are the moments I love to fly. Probably more correctly said, they are moments that the experience seems more vivid, more sensual, almost palpably pleasurable. (The realization also comes that I love the nights when the weather simply sucks, and I get through shooting the approach, the runway comes into view, and as I taxi in I realize I’ve run on adrenaline for the last hour…)
Yesterday I flew the Husky again. My one and only pre-solo student wanted to fly the Husky. Again. I started her in the Husky a couple of years ago, taught her the basic stick-and-rudder skills I wanted her to have, then foisted her off on another instructor. The Husky is a great plane….for flying in and out of grass fields, for back-country flying, for short fields. It really isn’t an ideal trainer for a middle aged first time student. The “left vs. right” on the rudder pedals, the coordination required for turns, the absolute precision required on flaring to land….it’s just a lot to learn for someone who comes later in life to flying.
She had been taking lessons from her instructor in the plastic airplane, but a week or so ago pestered me to go fly the Husky. Out we went, and much to my surprise she did very well. Made the entire flight by herself, I didn’t have to touch the controls at all. Mind you, I did coach a few times….(coaching being defined as doing my best imitation of a WWII flight instructor yelling). Several “greasers” left me feeling like there was hope.
Less than two weeks ago I had been asked to speak at a meeting held at a local airport. I flew in, landed, and got out of the Skywagon on an afternoon pulled from a Norman Rockwell print. There wasn’t a breath of wind, the trees were a gorgeous fall color, and as the sun approached the western horizon the few thin clouds in the distance made the color perfect. An antique biplane was hopping rides, and as I simply stood and watched, the biplane took off. Sudden smoke and fire began to consume the plane, and as the pilot turned for a field, the fabric on the fuselage and upper wing was consumed, and it fell to the ground.
I didn’t know him well. We knew each other by name, and I had flown an event for him a couple of weeks prior, where he had greeted me (as he did everyone) warmly, and his reputation was that of a careful, conscientious pilot. From my limited vantage point, he had done everything right.
Yesterday, my pre-solo student flew the Husky again. I sat in the back seat, not even doing my WWII instructor imitation. She flew well. A bit of quiet coaching was met with continued improvement. One bounce required my intervention, but otherwise was a great flight. The taxi in, and out; the last landing which was a perfect 3 pointer, exiting at the first taxiway without effort….gave me great pride in her achievement. I remembered the days when I couldn’t get her to differentiate “left” from “right” with her feet….now the Husky easily goes where she guides it. Her takeoffs are a work of art…the plane stays straight, the tail rises to the perfect attitude, and the plane gently lifts off.
Flight instruction is a strange business. Great pride in seeing your student do well. Many memories of flights well done; some memories of narrow escapes; and the rare memory of tragedy. How do you encourage someone to “take a bite of the apple”, and yet convince them that this too, can kill them? How do you mesh the pure joy of flight with the sure knowledge of risk into your soul? Error…whether one’s own or someone else’s; failure….whether mechanical or human; fate….all are jackals that orbit in the darkness. Our skill, our training, our joy……and fate…..all are part of the warm fire by which we warm ourselves, and keep the jackals in the distance.
Flying, and instructing…..mixed emotions.
December 4, 2016 at 12:53 pm
Quite reflective. I’m neither a flight instructor nor a doctor – can’t presume to “know” what its like – but I have a good sense of how it must be. From the point if view of those who have received your encouragement and mentorship I certainly do know that you are one of the very best. Don’t ever quit being yourself
December 6, 2016 at 11:25 pm
Well written, Doc. I’m not an instructor either, but I lost a casual friend to a drunken attempt at low level aerobatics in a airplane he wasn’t supposed to be flying.
He would watch us kiss the sky in our agile contraptions of steel tube, wood, rag and glue, and pump our gas.
None of us realized how badly he wanted to join in…even though he had yet to solo the old 172 the FBO operator was teaching him in.
No one suspected when the alleged Aerobat was parked at the field that he would take the keys out of the box, and fly it.
No one could imagine that he would take a passenger and a 6 pack, and eventually attempt a vertical maneuver from down on the deck, stall, spin, and punch a bloody hole in the ground.
He had no family that we could find. His passenger left a wife and two young children.
Could we have prevented it? Most of us flew single seat airplanes, and couldn’t even take him for a ride.
Would it have made any difference if we had we bought him a few hours of dual in the Decathalon that our instructor sometimes flew, when his student didn’t need, or wasn’t up to his S2-A?
Somehow, I just don’t think so. Someone who would drink and fly with a passenger, in a stolen airplane, without even a solo sign off, would most likely do it anyway.
Sad. Some said Darwinism lives on.
December 11, 2016 at 4:26 am
I found and read the NTSB preliminary on the crash you witnessed.
I’ve written several additions to my response above, but none of them seem adequate. Deleted them.
I witnessed the death of a famous air show pilot in ’96, as his WWII monoplane nosed over on him on the runway.
According to the NTSB final, he had ordered the removal of the “turnover structure” and replaced it with a jump seat.
Many differences from one situation to the other…
Poor decision versus a probable prop failure. (Especially since a locally known warbird pilot was killed in a similar situation at a popular show near there four years before)
A quick end versus a fiery one…
A customer of the repair station I worked for, and a sheriff’s Captain I knew from phone conversations both died in an engine out forced landing on a golf course locally. They hit some trees and caught fire. The Sheriff’s officer got out, but the PIC was trapped in the burning plane. The officer suffered fatal burns in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the pilot.
I was relieved to find that the airplane they crashed was not one I had worked on, but felt guilt at the relief…figure that one out? Maybe a feeling that if I had worked on it, the engine out situation might not have happened? How vain is that?
There is some video online taken from a helicopter circling the crash of a night training flight that crashed at DAB two years ago. A 22 year old female flight instructor and a 22 year old guy working on his commercial ticket were on their third touch and go when the engine lost a significant amount of power, they tried to turn back to the runway, stalled, spun in, and burned furiously for what seemed like forever.
The aircraft was a near new 172 with the 180 horse IO-360 installed. It had been flagged for maintenance the day before, as the pilot(s) had reported power loss, engine roughness, and a loss of 400 rpm on climbout.
Maintenance had found nothing wrong, and released it for flight.
I’m glad I wasn’t the one who released that one…
I had nothing to do with it, but seeing the picture of the pretty blonde flight instructor, then the video of the crashed airplane burning and burning, and burning is enough to make me very glad I don’t work on other people’s airplanes any longer
And on the other hand, the situation described in my previous post was not entirely accurate.
The pilot had a private license, reportedly with 202 hours.
Toxicology testing found not only ethanol (at nearly double the legal limit for driving), but cannibinal and THC in significant quantities in his system.
And even though the accident was classified as not survivable, there was no fire.
We held a benefit fly-in/amateur airshow for the passenger’s widow…I have no idea what we raised.
I do know she filed suit against the owner of the airport…I doubt if it went far.
And I have mixed feelings about this one…feel free to delete it if it’s not appropriate.
February 21, 2017 at 6:59 pm
Hey, Doc! Checking out your site, it was great meeting you today. Look forward to keeping in touch!