Opinion & Commentary (155)

The High & the Writey: Never Kick a Frozen Chock

Field-tested rules about what to do, and what not to do. I officially entered Old Pilot status a few years ago and with that designation comes a responsibility to preach to you, the choir. You could—and up until now, you have—gotten along fine without my advice and bloviating about all things aviation. Let’s assume though that even though your flying life has been going along OK without my unsolicited guidance, the bon mots that I am about to “mote” you with will be the cream cheese icing on your aeronautical carrot cake. Please relax. There will be no test after I list my rules. There isn’t even a requirement that you follow any of them. Many of them might seem insipid and not very well-thought-out. Rest assured that each one has been tested, in the field, by yours truly. These rules are the result of multiple times I have been scared, cold, hot, nauseated, or just plain marinating in a Crock-Pot of stupidity. Much like the Federal Aviation Regulations, most of these guidelines tell you what you should not do, rather than what you should. The first set of rules are ones that I learned in my callow youth as…
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The Cutlass is a Utility Knife

CFI and contributing editor Kevin Garrison recalls the welcome sight of a 172RG on the ramp. I have never been able to figure out how Cessna named its airplanes. Piper named their aircraft with a Native American flavor (Cherokees, Pawnees, Navajos); Beechcraft went royal and named almost all of their aircraft after various one-percenters and birthers with Barons, Queen Airs and Dukes. Aero Commanders were named after birds, I think. (Is a Shrike a bird?) Cessna seems to have named their airplanes after what had to be a heck of a binge of “name the airplane” meetings that were fueled by caffeine and unfiltered cigarettes. Maybe they held the meetings in some sort of airplane-glue drying room and the fumes simply got to them. How else do you explain a series of unrelated names that include 172 Skyhawk, 150 Commuter, 182 Skylane, 162 SkyCatcher and 172RG Cutlass? The coolest product of 1980 Cutlass is a pretty cool name and I wish the glue fumes had abated at that naming meeting long enough for the group to stick with a cutlery motif. Imagine… the Cessna 162 Dagger, the Cessna 182 Hatchet and the Cessna 205 Butter Knife. Some people have said…
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The High and the Writey: Young Heroes, Yesterday and Today

A conversation next to a B-17 can reach across generations. I asked Steve, a local teenaged ramp rat, to go with me to the airport to look at two World War II bombers that were visiting for the weekend. I am a student of—and at my age, damn near a remnant of—that period of flying. Today’s display models visiting Lexington, Kentucky were a B-24 and a B-17. Exquisitely restored right down to their machine guns, these aircraft gave the ramp some much-needed class. Warbirds are a big deal at our airport, where it’s much more typical to see a Cessna doing touch-and-goes on a nice afternoon. Tangible reminders of air combat are almost never on our field. We bought our tickets and sauntered out to the ramp where this seasoned pilot did something he hadn’t done very much of during the past decade or so: I walked around a big airplane. See, in the world of airlines where I spent my professional life, the captain rarely does a walkaround or preflight. That is flight engineer or copilot territory. For the type rating and subsequent recurrent training sessions, captains like me had to display knowledge of and the ability to do…
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Full Circle: Wind Dilemmas

Lessons learned about wind and mountain waves. As I sit to write this, the major theme in my life these past few weeks has been wind. I say that because, first and foremost, we are right now involved in cleaning up our Florida horse ranch from the effects of Hurricane Irma—which, thankfully, amounted to only a half-dozen fallen trees and, literally, an infinite number of tree limbs scattered across our acreage. The second reason these past few weeks have involved wind is that I was concurrently producing an audiobook version of Harrison Jones’ nonfiction book “Miracle on Buffalo Pass: Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217.” Reading for the audio version got me to thinking about experiences with wind-induced dilemmas from my own aviation past. The book itself is an in-depth analysis and interview with nearly all the survivors of the Rocky Mountain Airways Twin Otter turboprop that crashed in a blinding blizzard at the very top of one of the most inaccessible spots between Denver and Steamboat Springs, Colorado on Dec. 4, 1978. We follow the passengers and crew through their experience, and then the bands of rescue personnel who mobilized immediately to attempt to locate the wreckage and any potential…
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The High and Writey: Nightflight

Night Flight: An experienced night flyer shares his thoughts on aviating in the dark. “The villages were lighting up, constellations that greeted each other across the dusk. And, at the touch of his finger, his flying-lights flashed back a greeting to them. The earth grew spangled with light signals as each house lit its star, searching the vastness of the night as a lighthouse sweeps the sea. Now every place that sheltered human life was sparkling. And it rejoiced him to enter into this one night with a measured slowness, as into an anchorage.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Night Flight” I have often said that if the creator had wanted people to fly at night, she never would have invented happy hour. Humans are daytime creatures. We tend to get sleepy at night, and the more mature and sensible ones—like myself—hit the rack fairly early in the evening. However, there is no real reason to avoid flying in the nighttime hours. There are quite a few advantages of slipping your surlies when the rest of the flying world slumbers. For example, it is impossible to get a sun-glare headache at night. The darkness found at night is not half as frightening…
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Left Coast Pilot Visits Van Nuys

The Left Coast Pilot visits Van Nuys…and learns a few things along the way. It’s been a while since my writing has appeared in these pages—and there’s a sad reason for that. Two days after Christmas, my wife and copilot Kate lost her battle with ovarian cancer. As full-time caregiver for her last few months, I had no time for flying, much less writing about it. In fact, her last flight—an air tour of our hometown just a few weeks before the end—was with one of our partners rather than me. I simply had no business flying at that point. One of Kate’s last wishes was for me to get back in the air. I got off the ground for touch-and-goes just three weeks into the New Year, and followed that up with a biennial flight review (BFR) and instrument proficiency check (IPC). I also accepted an offer to join my longtime flight instructor Larry Askew on a trip to Reno, Nev. in the turboprop he flies for a local almond rancher. During the BFR, Larry asked me to do a soft-field approach and landing. I hadn’t done one (or thought about it, for that matter) in quite some time…
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Full Circle: A Controller Speaks, Part 3

Highlights from “Spinning at the Boundary: The Making of an Air Traffic Controller” by David Larson. This month I’ll be continuing a series that highlights the interesting and entertaining memoirs from an FAA air traffic controller (one of the aviation-themed audiobooks that I’ve produced and narrated), David Larson’s “Spinning at the Boundary: The Making of an Air Traffic Controller.” “Spinning at the Boundary” is an insider’s view—with lots of iconoclastic observations and irreverent opinions—from an experienced controller’s career path and the ATC happenings during that long (and often tumultuous) period in our aviation history. With the author’s permission, here are more highlights from his years in the Miami (KMIA) tower and radar facility. The old airplanes that flew out of the northwest corner of the Greater Miami International Nuthouse hauled more than just pigs and chickens around the world. Sometimes they hauled race horses, and sometimes they hauled other exotic animals from one zoo to another. One day we’re going about our air traffic control thing in the tower and the guy working local had rolled a DC-6 off 9L. “Hey,” the controller said as he flipped his radio to speaker mode, so everyone else could hear it. “This guy…
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Full Circle: A Controller Speaks, Part Two

More excerpts from David Larson’s “Spinning at the Boundary: The Making of an Air Traffic Controller.” The last time we were together I began a series highlighting one of the aviation-themed audiobooks that I produced and narrated: the interesting and entertaining memoirs from an FAA air traffic controller. Retired after 36 years of working traffic—initially at some small and then on to several very large ATC facilities—David Larson’s “Spinning at the Boundary: The Making of an Air Traffic Controller” is available in print and e-book from Amazon, while the audio version that I narrated can be found at Amazon, Audible and in Apple’s iTunes Library. (Note: this book contains a measure of salty/profane language—be forewarned if you prefer not to hear or read that sort of thing.) “Spinning at the Boundary” is an insider’s view—with lots of iconoclastic observations and irreverent opinions—from an experienced controller’s career path and the ATC happenings during that long (and often tumultuous) period in our aviation history. Continuing with our selected excerpts from the audio script, and with the author’s permission, here are a few highlights from his years in the Miami (KMIA) tower, beginning with one particularly boring night shift: I was working the…
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Taking Us to Incredible Places

Taking Us to Incredible Places

Through well-produced YouTube videos, Doug and Denise Winston show just how much fun you can have when flying your own airplane. We all know life can be a lot like a game of “Chutes and Ladders,” where one minute we are climbing for the sky, and the next, we are sliding into chaos. Every person reading this has had to overcome some level of adversity, and many of us have been challenged to push on when others would have given up. I’m currently reading “Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story” by Jewel Kilcher, the wildly successful singer-songwriter who has endured decades of struggle to achieve her dream. Jewel’s records have topped the charts and her sweet voice has won her awards, but she would still be living in her car in San Diego if not for a strong instinct to survive anything that came her way. Kilcher writes in her autobiography that we must dig deep to pull out every last shred of self-motivation and continue chasing our dreams until they are truly fulfilled. For Jewel, life’s major challenges were merely bumps in the road. In October 2014, Doug and Denise Winston of Bakersfield, Calif. experienced one of…
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Remembering Scott Reynolds

Capt. Block pays tribute to an exceptional copilot. During my 36-year career as an airline pilot, I spent approximately 75 percent of the time as a captain and 25 percent as a copilot. I never flew an airliner as a flight engineer. The airline didn’t have any aircraft that required that extra cockpit person until I was high enough on the seniority list that I didn’t need to consider bidding the F/E seat—I just always wanted to have a steering wheel in front of me. My initial foray from copilot to the captain’s side of an airliner’s cockpit occurred after a little over four years, beginning with piston-powered airliners that were initially built in the late 1940s. When I upgraded to captain, it was on the 48-passenger Fairchild Hiller FH-227 turboprop, which I generally flew out of New York’s LaGuardia (KLGA) and JFK airports. After a couple years we elected to have a (pretty stupid, in my opinion) pilots’ strike, which lasted long enough to financially destroy the airline, but we lucked out of that boondoggle by being merged into another airline, where I basically spent the remainder of my airline career. Four more years of copilot, then back to…
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Closing Time

By Kevin Garrison KSMO will soon join the ever-lengthening list of excellent airports that were killed by obliviousness, lack of imagination and greed. Santa Monica Municipal Airport (KSMO) is most likely toast. It will be gone soon, and local noise abatement enthusiasts, politicians who say they are serving the people and numerous real estate investors will do a little happy dance. Once it’s gone, KSMO—like every other airport closed in order to serve short-term economic goals—will never, ever be back. It will join the ever-lengthening list of excellent airports that were killed by obliviousness, lack of imagination and greed. We pilots are fighting this apparent suspension of logical thought by the government of Santa Monica, but we are fighting a tsunami of misinformation and avarice. Warning: trigger words! All of the so-called “trigger words” have been used by the anti-aviation groupies to justify killing one of the most historically significant airports in the United States. The most commonly used dirty word that I could find was “one-percenter.” Citing the made-up fact that only super-rich people fly airplanes, the anti-aviation crowd demands that these people and their money go elsewhere. It is true that rich overachievers have been seen slouching around…
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Affirmative Attitude; Important Life Lessons

December 2015 Life as we know it is a series of lessons, and from the day we are born until we take our final breath, we never stop learning. We are constantly challenged by distractions, temptations and pressures, and the earlier a person can develop the mental fortitude required to meet these roadblocks head-on and fight through them, the better off they’ll be.
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