Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

My hero

One of my aviation heroes is Capt. Al Haynes.

Haynes, you might remember, was the United Air Lines captain who--with his crew--got Flight 232 on the ground in Sioux City in 1989 with minimum loss of life after catastrophic failure of damned near everything.

That Captain Haynes is a top-drawer, world-class pilot is obvious. He is also an excellent public speaker (for info go to But those have never been the reasons that I consider him a real hero. He is my hero because he has never tried to take the credit for his own heroism. That's a rare thing in our current world of ego-driven, would-be heroes.

Captain Haynes gives much of the credit for the outcome to the training he received over his lifetime. The man can hold an audience in the palm of his hand, and you can hear a pin drop as he explains that the miracle of Flight 232 was the end result of years of training. He says that in spite of the fact that no crew--before or since--ever faced the problems of Flight 232.

Surely every pilot who ever flew has wondered if he or she really has the "right stuff" to handle the "bad stuff" in the air. Are we really prepared to handle the engine failure on takeoff? The in-flight fire? The electrical failure?

You, the active flight instructor, make that decision about every student you solo or recommend for the private pilot checkride. Is she ready? Can he not only pass the checkride but also fly safely with passengers? Did I teach her enough? Surely those are the questions that keep CFIs awake at night.

I certainly can't compare myself to Captain Haynes, but the few times that I have been faced with emergencies--or what could have turned into emergencies--the answer has been, yes, my CFIs did teach me enough.

There was the dark night I was riding right seat with the new owner of a Piper Cherokee Six on top of an overcast above hills and trees. The owner was flying but wasn't yet comfortable in the airplane. The engine quit cold. My first reaction was the full realization that everything they ever taught me about engine-out night landings was an absolute. We are, I thought, going to die.

Funny thing, though. As I was thinking that, I switched tanks, hit the electric fuel pump, and slammed in the mixture. It seemed to take forever, but the owner said it was done instantly. The engine started right back up, and we lived to fly for many more days.

Then there was the time the pitot system went kaflooey in a Cherokee 140 while I was in the clouds. Or the time the radar in a brand-new twin was deceptively flawed and put me right through the center of a cell. The rain took a lot of paint off that day, and the turbulence broke a piece of the cabinetry, but I lived to tell the story because of what I learned from CFIs like you.

There were other times and other frights, but each time the training was adequate to get me through. It is an awesome responsibility that CFIs have taken on, and you can be proud of the people that your training has kept alive.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has amassed more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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