My $1 Million Education

Senior Editor Dave Hirschman had an epiphany: What have all his years of flying cost him? And what else has he gained? Readers could relate.

December 1, 2013

I am writing to let you know how much I enjoyed, “My $1 Million Education.” I, too, have been extremely fortunate to fly a wide variety of aircraft and I always try to learn as much as I can from each—about their individual characteristics and about flying in general. The thoughts Dave Hirschman masterfully distilled for his article rang very true, and resonated immediately with me. I agree with everything he wrote, but I particularly appreciate his remark on the magic inherent to round-engine, tailwheel, and floatplane flying.

Charlie Moss
AOPA 4327475
Port Charlotte, Florida

My favorite is: Absolute certainty that you’ve totally mastered an aviation skill assures a large serving of humble pie is coming your way. I got over that one a long time ago! And, as for It’s OK for family members not to share my passion for aviation, my son, now 24, told me when he was about 10 that he would fly with me if I got my multiengine rating. Well, I got that in a Piper Seminole. Shortly after that, we were out watching airplanes come in for landings, and I reminded him that he said he would fly with me now that I was multiengine rated. As a Citation flew overhead inbound for a landing, he said, “Mom, I meant that multiengine!”

Amy Carpenter
AOPA 3401758
Atlanta, Georgia

I just read “My $1 Million Education” and there is one statement that I would like to address: “Mechanics are brilliant people who can’t tell time (or read calendars).” I take it Hirschman is implying that mechanics can’t or don’t know when the aircraft will be repaired? There is only one time when the aircraft will be repaired and that is when it is safe to fly. Period! It may take an hour, it may take a month, it may take a year. Whatever it takes. Owners of aircraft need to know this. Here is something that my father gave me years ago that will aid the aviation community for years to come. It is a hierarchy that anyone who has flown, is flying, or is thinking about flying should definitely understand:

Flying: The top-down reality ladder

1. Maintenance 2. Planning 3. Physiology 4. Judgment 5. Physics/Philosophy 6. Judgment 7. Skill 8. Physics 9. Maintenance

Jim Mulligan
AOPA 1209836
Mesa, Arizona

The point that really hits home for me (and will become a Facebook quote on my wall) is: There are few earthly problems that flying can’t improve, even if getting off the ground only provides a brief respite and a welcome change in perspective. This is absolutely brilliant and it resonates with me.

Jeremy Cooper
AOPA 1013763
New York, New York

Great airplane movies

What does Time magazine know about best airplane movies? There are easily a dozen worthy best aviation movies but among the top few would have to be Twelve O’ Clock High (1949), starring Gregory Peck. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and the winner of two, including best supporting actor (Dean Jagger). Hopefully, you will publish in AOPA Pilot a list of the 10 best aviation movies as submitted by your members.

Charles H. Criss
AOPA 5197464
Eagle River, Alaska

Dogfight: Towers

Like Tom Haines, I also learned to fly at a nontowered airport in the late 1960s. I have been at a towered airport for the past 10 years. The tower makes me lazy; they tell me where to taxi, where to take off from, and where to land. I have talked to many pilots from all types of backgrounds. Many of them will not visit me at my field because of the tower and the FAA ordering controllers to crack down on pilot deviations. We put on a pancake breakfast every month during the flying season. It’s the best breakfast anywhere—you name it and we have it on the table. Pilots as little as 40 miles away will not come because of the tower. I have talked to many pilots at a lot of fly-ins and they all say the same thing: Avoid a towered field at all costs. Last month we had a beautiful day and had the lowest turnout ever. I wish someone would have a very candid survey of GA pilots of all types and see what percentage avoid towered fields. Most pilots express themselves in private conversations; I wonder if they would in a survey. Your article was right on. 

Vic Vicari
AOPA 440193
Goreville, Illinois

Come on, Tom Haines. Get real. The question is not do you enjoy flying into busy airfields? The question is are control towers a necessary evil? Like you, I prefer to land at the local nontowered field when I travel. It costs less, it’s a lot less stressful, and you usually meet the nicest people. But there are occasionally reasons for operating into busier fields, and in that situation, I welcome the control tower.

As Dave Hirschman says, control towers have a purpose: to improve the flow of traffic at airfields that have sufficient traffic density to justify their use. I learned to fly at Northeast Airport in Philadelphia, a field that sounds a lot like Frederick. There was extensive flight training, corporate jet traffic, and the occasional commuter flight, all vying for space in the traffic pattern. The tower was able to coordinate all of these activities to keep the traffic flowing, oftentimes simultaneously to multiple runways. Could I have operated there without the tower? Certainly. But it sure lowered the stress level knowing that someone was there to help.

Obviously, we don’t need or want control towers at all fields just for the sake of having a control tower. I now fly out of Doylestown Airport, a nice suburban field. We do fine without a tower. While things can get busy on a nice VFR day, we all work together, and everything works out.

So we agree, keep the towers where they belong, and keep them away from the fields that don’t need them. But when I need to fly into a large, busy, airline-served airport, I want help from a control tower. The benefits of having someone on the ground coordinating the traffic are just too large to ignore.

John Brett
AOPA 4331168
Holland, Pennsylvania

Supporting GA

A few weeks ago I received notice for my AOPA membership renewal. I decided at that time not to renew, but not because anything was wrong with AOPA. However, on receiving my second renewal notice, I rethought my earlier decision and chastised myself for being so narrow-minded. AOPA is the standard for aviation support in face of many problems currently coming from diverse directions. Even though I am not a pilot, people like me need to keep supporting aviation in general and specifically organizations like AOPA. I mailed in my renewal yesterday and intend to remain a member.

William Sweet
AOPA 4506001
Leonardtown, Maryland