Hangar Talk

The story behind the story

February 1, 2002

After many years of trial and error learning as a military, corporate, and charter pilot and flight instructor, Professional Aviation Inc. President and Secretary General of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations John J. Sheehan found a common thread emerging from those diverse jobs: The discipline of following a set of policies, limitations, and procedures makes for a safe, predictable flying environment (see " Turbine Pilot: Driving the Machine," page 105). Whether it's a Cessna 172 or a Gulfstream V, doing everything from preflight to the drive home by the book keeps the stress level to a minimum while providing a standard against which to measure performance. "Creativity in aviation should be reserved for telling about the flight, not conducting it," he says.

"Late last July, when Rotors of the Rockies and I agreed to do this month's story on earning rotor wings, we figured we'd have plenty of time to get it done for this issue," says author Michael Maya Charles (see " The Stuff of Dreams," page 80). But in August, soon after he started training, the Schweizer he was flying was taken off the line for nearly a month. "Then September 11 stopped us on our skids with the prohibition on flight training. After flight training was restored, we were again stopped by the nuclear power plant notam, which closed the airspace over Denver's Jeffco Airport because of the proximity to the Rocky Flats nuclear facility," he relates. The result of this on-again/off-again schedule was a headlong rush to finish all 60 hours of flying in time for the December 10 flight test. "On the last weekend before the test I flew 7.9 hours — that's a lot in a helicopter. AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Tom Haines is still trying to figure out what to do about the chiropractor bill," says Maya Charles.

Getting disoriented in an aircraft is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a pilot. In the past several years there have been numerous high-profile accidents where spatial disorientation was suspected. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation has studied the problem both in a statistical review of accidents and by using simulation as well as aircraft to observe pilots' reactions to the loss of gyro instruments (see " The 90-Percent Solution," by ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg, page 87). The results may surprise you. "Last summer, ABC television created more heat than light by broadcasting a one-sided documentary on the dangers of vacuum pump failure. ASF prepared AOPA President Phil Boyer to present the counterpoint but the producers were more interested in a good story. In addition to doing the research, ASF felt it was essential to spread the word about spatial disorientation as widely as possible," says Landsberg.

"This would've made a great story, if the flight hadn't been canceled." That was Greg Brown's first thought when weather scrubbed an eagerly anticipated flight across the Grand Canyon (see " When to Say No," page 101). "I felt like Sherlock Holmes," he says, "cracking a tough weather case. Holmes was probably under less pressure, though — my wife was at a remote location awaiting a ride home." Methodically, Brown gathered evidence, hoping to proceed in the face of difficult weather, but ultimately no-go was the only smart conclusion. Canceling is as much a part of safe piloting as flying skills, says Brown. "There was a great story here after all — the pitfalls facing every pilot when weather and obligations unite to challenge good judgment. We must take pride in saying no when it's the right thing to do."