Unapproved Aerobatics. A Chilling Reminder. By Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, June 10, 2013

(A Cirrus SR-22. Image Source: Wiki)

The Fatal Roll.



This chilling animation is from YouTube and apparently produced by the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association form flight data collected from the wreckage of a CR22. There is a lot of aviation content on the internet these days but this one carries a particularly relevant message for all pilots. Please watch this and then read on....




The NTSB report relates that the two occupants aged 23 and 34 were killed attempting aerobatics in the Cirrus SR-22T. A witness reported seeing the aircraft pitch up from level flight to a 30-degree nose up attitude before rolling inverted, reversing the roll and then impacting the ground in a steep nose-down attitude.

Flying from the right-hand seat, the 34 year old commercially-rated pilot, had flown a series of steep turns, low passes and one roll at low-level that which he was able to successfully execute. The aircraft was not approved for aerobatics. At times this flight took the two occupants down to a height of only 40 feet above ground level.

This accident raises numerous points for discussion, but not judgement. I’m interested in your comments.

Please watch the animation one more time....






The Fatal Stall. A Very Sobering Aviaton Video.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Fatal Stall.



There are a lot of aviation videos circulating on the internet these days. Some of them funny, some of them dramatic and some of them just have to be seen to be believed. One that always sits at the fore of my mind does so because it is absolutely chilling and the story behind it is equally sobering. I believe that it is well worth revisiting. Please watch this and then read on....




These were the final moments of an L19 Bird Dog and its occupants, captured by the ill-fated passenger. The aircraft, a single-engined Cessna was being used by the Forestry Department and lay undisturbed for a number of years following the crash, at which time the occupants and this footage were found. The family withheld the release of the footage for two decades before they generously allowed it to be shown so that others may learn. And yes, there is much to learn.


Firstly, the aircraft was operating on a summer's day in Colorado where the hills are high and the air is thin. Consequently, the ability of the aircraft to climb at this 'density altitude' is degraded in comparison to if it was flying along the coast on a cool day. The efficiency of both the wing to produce lift and the engine to produce power is reduced when it is hot, high and humid. A potentially lethal combination in the wrong circumstances.


Secondly, as the video evolves, the subtle killer of rising terrain begins to loom ominously. Towering mountains are easily spotted, but the approaching ridges of gently rising slopes is far less dramatic. At first, there seems to be little issue, but slowly and surely terrain is climbing towards the Cessna L19 at a greater rate than its performance can cope with. Ultimately the pilot realises that he can no longer out climb the ground below and the situation deteriorates rapidly.


The wing of the aircraft is now at such an angle to the passing airflow that the air is finding it difficult to continue to flow smoothly over the upper surface. This smooth flowing of the air is critical in the production of lift and the ability of an aircraft to fly. If you can imagine placing a paddle 'edge on' into a flowing river; the water flows past with minimal disturbance. If that paddle is then rotated with its flat face to the water-flow, the water no longer passes easily and disturbed 'eddies' bubble in its wake. In very simple terms, the air over a wing can behave similarly if it is inclined at too great an angle to the passing air. This is known as the stall.


A Cessna L-19  'Bird Dog'. (Image: Wiki)

Contrary to the average media reporting of aircraft accidents, 'stalling' has nothing to do with the engine spluttering. It is all about the wing's ability to produce 'lift' and keep it airborne. If the airflow cannot pass by easily and breaks into 'eddies' behind the wing, it can reach a point where it 'stalls'. Lift is lost and the wing ceases to fly. The condition can be worsened by other contributing factors that we can discuss another time, but in this video, the pilot endeavours to turn the aircraft away from the hills and this actually accelerates the onset of the stall. The warning horn can be heard 'beeping' in the background advising the pilot of the impending stall and loss of lift. Sickeningly the aircraft begins to 'porpoise' as its nose goes up and down on the threshold of the stall until the combination of factors leads to one fatal flick and spin into the tree-line and the hopeless call of the pilot to his passenger of, "Damn! Hang on Ronnie!"


Stall training and recovery is part of the training syllabus for pilots. However, it is often a manoeuvre that is often either only briefly taught and/or only flown in copybook scenarios. Training of fully developed spins beyond the stall has also gone by the wayside for many training institutions outside of the military. Furthermore, many modern civil training aircraft have extremely docile stalling characteristics. This in itself may not appear to be a bad thing, but it doesn't necessarily prepare pilots for aircraft types that they may fly at a later time.


As a consequence, stalling an aeroplane may be touched upon in the early days of a student pilot, possibly in a relatively 'docile' style of aircraft and then not revisited for many years; if ever. As this video graphically demonstrates, the onset of a stall need not be a copybook or dramatic event, but a killer slowly creeping and lurking as it boxes the unknowing pilot into a corner.


This blog is only a thumbnail sketch of a very substantial and fundamental aspect of aerodynamics. Yet this video serves to demonstrate the potentially insidious nature of the stall. The families of the victims should be thanked for allowing this footage to be shared, for it truly is a graphic training aid for the instructors amongst us. That being said, flight is not inherently dangerous, but it can be brutally unforgiving. It is not the place of mere mortals like me to judge any aspect of this tragedy, but I hope that I have learned something of value. Otherwise, there but for the grace of God go I.


Please watch this one more time........






Ground Rush. (Part Two) Landing an Aeroplane. An Aviation Training Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, June 20, 2012



Ground Rush. (Part Two) 


An Aviation Training Blog


by Owen Zupp.


Be Consistent.


It always pays to have a consistent set of terms of reference. The environment and the aircraft can introduce enough variables, so it is important that we endeavour to keep our methods constant.


One of the first items we can attend to for landing occurs even before engine start; seat position. Logically, seat position determines our ‘eye position’ which is critical in the process of perspective and judgement. Some aircraft provide a series of markings or guides for the best eye position, though the majority leave seat position up to the individual. Internally, the seat must be far enough forward to comfortably access all controls and switches while permitting full and free movement of the control column at its aft-most travel. For those aircraft with fixed seats and adjustable pedals, the same effect can be achieved through the use of cushions. The position should also permit a clear view of all instruments and annunciators without being obscured by the instrument panel coaming. (This can sometimes be a challenge with ageing, drooping coamings and another reason they need to be maintained.)


For the view outside, the positioning of the seat should permit a clear view ahead above the instrument panel. Commonly, pilots can sit a little low, but ideally they should have a view along a tangent down the nose. This will ensure an adequate forward field of vision in low visibility operations. This seat position is best assessed on the ground just before engine start. To do it any earlier may result in having to repeat the process after you move the seat to access a jacket on the back seat, or close a door.


Scan the instrument panel, exercise the controls fully and look well ahead to visualise the landing perspective. The perspective will be different on approach, but selection of flap will lower the nose further and enhance the outlook. If flying the same aircraft day after day, this exercise may come naturally, but take a little more time and effort when moving between aircraft. On approach with the seat adjusted correctly, remember to sit up straight and the eye position will offer a relatively consistent perspective on each approach. It is worth noting that if the seat position doesn’t feel quite correct coming in to land; LEAVE IT ALONE! Do not adjust seats on approach as the potential catastrophe from a seat sliding back is not worth the attempt.




It is often said that a good landing results from a good approach. This is fundamentally because a good approach involves being configured in a timely fashion, with correct speeds being flown and a stable rate of descent. It may be flown from a base leg or a straight in approach, so the perspective can change. What remains consistent is that the approach is unrushed and the pilot is able to focus on the approach and landing without being distracted by gross adjustments of airspeed and/or attitude late in the approach. Should these occur the safest option is generally to go-around and attempt another approach to land.


If new to a particular aircraft type, not overly current, or even just a little uncomfortable; establish the aircraft into its landing configuration of gear and flap setting early. It will result in slowing down early and powering up against the extended drag, but it allows the aircraft and the pilot to be established in the landing ‘mode’ without being rushed. With the landing checklist complete, there are no other tasks to distract for the primary one of flying the approach. There should be no further major changes in attitude or trim and the ‘picture’ out the front should remain fairly consistent down to the flare.


Once stable and configured on final approach, the aim point should be clearly selected. If not marked by a painted stripe, it may be abeam a group of trees or a darker patch of dirt. Whatever it may be, the pilot should pick the spot and keep it steady in the windscreen by whichever technique they have been instructed. However, the eyes should not be obsessed with the aim point. There must be scanning cycle that assesses the approach perspective, or ‘slope’, the track relative to the centerline and even a brief glance back inside to verify the airspeed. A mental repeating mantra of something like; ‘aim point-slope- centerline-speed’ may remind the pilot to continually assess the various aspects of the approach. Importantly, if something is not correct, fix it before moving onto the next point, always being aware that adjusting one element may impact upon others. As the approach gets closer to the ground, the adjustments should become progressively more subtle, notwithstanding that wind shear and the likes call for significant action regardless of the aircraft’s location.


Correctly flown, a stable approach flown with a consistent, cyclic scan will bring the aircraft over the fence in a healthy state to commence the flare. A ‘last look’ inside may be stolen to indicate whether the speed is a little fast or slow or trending, but otherwise the eyes are outside. The subsequent transition to the flare calls for the pilot to look ahead and release the rigid eye-line to the aim point.


Ground Rush.



The runway is now just below the wheels and the flare is about to commence. Much of the hard work has actually already been completed, so what can go wrong now? How can a stable approach be complicated at the last moment, or in some cases much earlier? Next blog, a number of variables will be discussed from over-controlling to cross-winds. When the wheels approach the earth some of the challenges are of the pilot’s making and others are most definitely not.


Ground Rush. (Part One) Landing an Aeroplane. An Aviation Training Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ground Rush. (Part One)


The Right Approach


By Owen Zupp



What goes up, must come down and for every successful flight, its end is marked with an equally successful return to earth. Only occupying a fraction of the flight time, the landing continues to provide a focal point for pilots, passengers and the chap on the hill with the telephoto lens. Why is it when the wheels meet Mother Earth, sometimes it’s a kiss and sometimes it's a slap? Often the answer lies well before the touchdown.


Method or Mystique?


Many words have been written and hours of briefings undertaken in search of mastering the ability to land. Some have been scientific and even mathematical in nature, while others have been far more general. For pilots, part of the problem is that landing is a mixture science and art. It involves the hard figures of approach speeds, aircraft weight, and available runway length, but also the judgement of when the appropriate control inputs need to be initiated and then modulated to guide the aircraft back to earth. Blend into the mix the varying ambient conditions of wind and temperature and the pilot is challenged by a genuine act of complex co-ordination.


As such, the input of a flight instructor and the age-old art of ‘practice makes perfect’ are often the best means of managing the individual’s manipulative issues. However, there are a number of fundamental matters that each pilot can attend to that will make the instructor’s lot much easier and go a long way towards improving the approach and landing phase.


Often very unfairly, a flight is judged or remembered because of the landing. The preflight planning, standard operating procedures and navigational finesse that brought the aircraft safely over the runway threshold are too often overlooked when the flight terminates with a less than gracious arrival. This culture can serve to exacerbate the pressure to perform that some pilots feel and ultimately climbs into their concentration, eroding their performance further. This is human nature, yet if we look at automation; it doesn’t suffer from such subtleties.


Advanced modern aircraft equipped with sensors and coupled autopilots routinely conduct ‘Autolands’ as the pilots watch on in the role of a monitor. These emotionless autopilots resist the tendency to over-control and are without trepidation as the ground looms large ahead. It is purely an exercise in calculation and function, timed precisely for a successful outcome. Even so, automation on aircraft may still have defined limitations such as crosswind, beyond which the pilot must intervene. As such, the need still remains for the pilot to be the manipulative master of the aeroplane and yet regardless of experience, the landing phase can turn and bite. Some of the reasons are those faced by student pilots every day.



The Goal.


It is firstly worthwhile to review what is sought from landing an aircraft. The smooth ‘greaser’ landing should not be the ultimate goal, though it can be a rather satisfying side-effect. In fact on wet runways, the aircraft manufacturers recommend a firm or positive touchdown as an extra defence against aquaplaning.


Safe landings are about arriving at the aim point, on the centre-line at the required airspeed and aligned with the runway. As long as the touchdown is not unduly heavy, bounced or askew, the goal has been achieved. The degree of comfort will be enhanced with a lower rate of descent at touchdown, but this should not be the driving force. Undue focus on the smooth touchdown can lead to the consumption of significant amounts of valuable runway as the pilot ‘feels’ for the ground. And even after such an effort, if contact not been made by the time the airspeed has eroded below flying speed, the aircraft will thump onto the ground anyway. Wasted runway, wasted effort.


Safety must always come first. Finesse will come with experience and maintained with currency. When the goal of the landing is clear in the mind, it serves to reinforce and clarify what is being sought on final approach; aim point, speed and centre-line.




Before the manipulation skills even come into play, the mind has to be on the job. For any phase of flight the pilot must be well rested as fatigue will erode the performance and safe conduct of the flight. As the landing by its very nature comes at the end of a sector, fatigue may be at its very worst, so rest should always form a critical element of pre-flight preparation. Yet beyond the physical fatigue, pilots can induce a degree of mental fatigue by focusing too much upon the landing well before it is even an issue. This can serve to distract the pilot from the tasks at hand and eat at the holistic viewpoint that is needed for sound flight management. It is best to preserve the mental energy until it is actually needed.


Tell tale signs can also start to creep in and instructors over the years have seen them on numerous occasions. Often nervousness manifests as the landing pilot starts to discuss the prevailing weather conditions in a negative sense as if to offer an excuse for the upcoming performance. There is no argument that hot, gusty conditions, or low visibility present their own challenges to the landing, but idle banter doesn’t help. Review the conditions and consider how they may best be countered before the aircraft is flying down final. Do the gusts warrant a speed additive on final? Where is the crosswind coming from and what actions are required to be aligned with the runway at touchdown? May a higher flap setting lower the nose for better visibility in passing showers? Respond to the conditions with an assessment and a plan rather than nervous tension.




White knuckles are another sign that the landing holds some demons for the pilot. Strangling the control column does not threaten the aircraft into flying better and actually destroys much of the pilots ‘feel’. It can lead to subconscious control inputs and poor trimming of the aeroplane. Both of these actions can interfere significantly with the flaring process where there are major changes in pitch and power. 


Similarly, a pilot’s posture can interfere with the landing. Whether through fatigue or stress, pilots can often slump or lean to one side as they fly the final approach. This can play havoc as landing is about appreciating the perspective of the runway ahead and a constant ‘picture’ is one of the best aids. At the flight’s commencement the seat was adjusted in an unrushed manner based on the best outlook, so any slumping or leaning is going to adjust that set of visual cues.


Often these traits are subconscious and build gradually beneath the surface as the landing draws closer. In the training phases, there is an instructor present to offer a wake up call, but once licensed, pilots must take this task upon themselves. Whether flying an ILS or sliding down a visual approach, use a cue to prompt a self review. It may be the selection of the final stage of flap, a certain height or capturing the Glideslope, but at some point take a moment to remind oneself to sit up straight and relax. Take a breath, adjust the posture and relax the grip on the control column to feel if the aircraft is really in trim. You are now physically ready to land the aeroplane.....

Check back soon for Part Two of 'Ground Rush'.





Five Tips for Choosing a Flying School. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, March 23, 2012

Five Tips in Choosing a Flying School.

As this aviation blog continues to grow in momentum and followers, the range of topics has been broad, from airline accidents and flight training to aviators of the past and reflections of the pure joy of flight. Accordingly, the range of feedback and aviation-related questions is equally diverse, so over the coming weeks I shall try to address some of these. As there’s no time like the present, here is the first one, “Top Tips for Choosing a Flying School.”


Now I won’t pretend for a moment that there’s a magical list to suit all scenarios, but what I can offer are some fundamental requirements that your new flying school should offer you. Prospective students can often feel like overwhelmed novices when they walk into a new flying school and are immediately surrounded by folks in uniforms and epaulettes speaking a strange dialect known as ‘pilot speak’. What is critical at this stage is that you remember that you are a customer and they are endeavouring to sell you a service, so listen carefully to the real words between the sales pitch and be careful with your cash. Take the time to chat with current students of the school as well.


Also, do your homework first. Research the aviation regulatory body in your part of the world to see what the minimum requirements are to achieve a licence and then bear in mind that these are absolutely MINIMUM LEGAL REQUIREMENTS. You will require more hours of training than this and this will equate to a higher cost. Additionally, endeavour to define what level of licence you’re looking for. Do you just simply want to go solo to say that you’ve done this or do you aspire to the flight deck of a Boeing 747?    Watch out, you might only want to go solo but find yourself hooked! As such, does the flying school provide comprehensive training all the way through to the commercial licence and ratings? The internet is a great tool in researching various schools and finding those in your area. Armed with a little prior knowledge about their school and your goals, you’re now ready to pay a visit to the local airport and seek out a flying school.


Without further ado, here are the tips....



What aircraft does the flying school have? Is there a substantial fleet built upon a few types, or is there a ‘Noah’s Ark’ fleet with seemingly two of every type known to man. What you need is a small range of different types, but enough of the type that you will be training in that it won’t be double-booked and leave you stranded or without an aircraft when maintenance falls due. There need to be enough of the aircraft to meet the demands of the school.


Additionally, what is the condition of the aircraft? If they are tired and worn out, then that doesn’t suggest much re-investment into the fleet by management. It may be a possible indication of cash-flow issues and a signal that corners might be getting cut elsewhere. Either way, a scrappy looking aeroplane does not reflect the mind-set of a proficient, meticulous pilot, nor does it provide the sort of craft in which you’d like to take a family member aloft.


Also, equipment is not limited to aeroplanes. What are the offices and briefing rooms like? Are they modern and equipped with good lighting and furnishings? This is where you’ll be undertaking your all-important briefings and sitting exams, so you want a sound learning environment.



Behind every good flying school are good people. What is the sense of the school when you first walk in? Are the instructors professionally dressed and polite or do they look like they’re auditioning for ‘Top Gun 2’ and you’re kind of in the way? Is there a mix of junior instructors and senior instructors, or just a few youngsters starting out? Personally, I have found some brand new instructors amongst the most dedicated and proficient in the early phases, but they still need mentoring from the old hands. Equally important is a spread of experience so that you are not kept waiting for a senior instructor to check you as you reach the various tests and milestones. Furthermore, to train for a commercial licence, ideally the instructor should have some commercial experience.


Take the time to speak with the Chief Flying Instructor. If the CFI doesn’t have time to speak with you on that first day then make a booking to chat when it’s convenient. If this proves difficult, or impossible, than that isn’t a good indicator at a very early stage. I have been a CFI and it can be a very demanding job, but a CFI is also part of the management team and should actively assist a new prospective customer.


What is the support staff situation? Is there a full time receptionist attending to the front desk and enquiries, or are bookings and new clients rated as a secondary duty for the flying instructors? Interestingly, in my experience I have found a common feature of good flying schools is a dedicated staff member attending to the front office duties.




Ask to see a copy of a training file. Does it look professionally presented, or has the same master file been photocopied for the last twenty years with no thought of re-visiting the syllabus and making it better. Perhaps they are of new a digital, online format. Also have a look at the training notes provided by the school for apparent quality. While you won’t necessarily appreciate the content at this point, if their briefing notes are poorly presented, not readily at hand, or worse, don’t exist at all then this is critical as these notes are the link between the text-book and how the flying school executes the lesson in the air. If they just recommend you purchase a manual and self-study, then that isn’t what you’re looking for.


The way in which a school administers its ground-based responsibilities often reflects how they operate in the skies. If attention to the paperwork is poor, then you’ll probably find that it is one of those schools that just want you in the aeroplane, ticking over the meter and then out the door as soon as you’ve paid. Flight training is a broader based undertaking than that; the flight time is critical, but its quality is dependent upon many supporting factors outside the cockpit.








Is the school well established with a reputation that precedes it? If so, they are probably doing something right as longevity in itself is difficult in the flight training business. I say “probably” because some sharks have been known to live for over seventy years. Hence, the recommendation of past and present students can be invaluable third party information. Bear in mind that a newly established school may also have much to offer; new aeroplanes, unbridled enthusiasm and a desperate need to grow its customer base. They may have poached experienced instructors to provide the expertise and be situated in a new building where the paint has just dried.


Longevity should be considered with all prospective schools. Does the operation look like it’s running on a shoe-string and won’t be here in a year? (Sometimes the big, glossy schools suffer from this too). As such, a word of warning, never put large amounts of cash up front for your training. I have seen more than one school close its doors and leave its students thousands of dollars out of pocket. Pay promptly following each lesson, or you may choose to deposit a small amount into an account for ease of payment, but don’t be talked into depositing a whole lot up front.


5. COST.

The biggest variable and most critical factor for many is simply the cost. Flight training is not an inexpensive exercise and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is kidding themselves. As with so many things, you’ll get what you pay for. Better aeroplanes will come at a premium above their clapped-out counterparts. Some schools may charge for briefings, but that is more cost efficient than not receiving them and having to repeat flight lessons.


There are all manner of costs associated with flying from equipment to text-books. Ask the school at the outset, what you need to purchase and what they provide. What is the price of these ancillary items? Do they provide ground theory training and at what price? What are the hire rates for the aeroplane and is there an additional fee for flight tests, or a lower rate for solo flying. Ask them REALISTICALLY how many hours it generally takes a student to achieve the licence you’re pursuing. What is the breakdown of hours in terms of dual, solo and tests and what is an estimate of the overall cost? Ascertain this figure before you even start and then add on a little to factor in rising process and hiccups along the way. As I said, it won’t be cheap, but you ultimately get what you pay for.







Learning to fly is a major step, so don’t rush in. Take the time to gather information and ask the right questions of the right people. If the answers are muddled or slow in coming, then that’s probably a ‘red flag’ for how they conduct their business. Quality flying schools don’t hide their costs or information and they’ll take the time to discuss both with you.


So there are some tips to set out on your great adventure of flight. It may seem daunting, but it will be well worth it. As I said earlier, these questions are a guide, not a complete answer to all circumstances but they should set you on the right path. Next in this series I’ll relate some of the common traps and pitfalls of flight training, so check back here for the next set of tips.


Safe flying!


So you want to be a pilot? An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, December 20, 2011


So You Want to be a Pilot.....

 By Owen Zupp.


 Author of 'Solo Flight' and '50 Tales of Flight'

I recently took a young lad for a flight over our local district; just a dawdle for half an hour or so. He keenly looked down upon the earth with that bright-eyed enthusiasm that all youngsters with dreams of flight in their hearts tend to do. For me, it’s over forty years since my father shared that experience with me for the first time, although I still vividly remember the ground falling away from the Cessna’s wheel outside my window. It was liberating and to quote John Gillespie Magee’s immortal poem ‘High Flight’, I truly felt that we had “slipped the surly bonds of Earth”. The fuse had been lit and the fire was to rage inside me until my turn came to take my own aircraft aloft.

Along the way the journey would prove to be both a struggle and an adventure. There would be weeks where the wage only just covered the rent but there would be nights where the sounds of the New Guinea jungle would play an amazing tune as I hung in my hammock. There would be life in a caravan in the midst of 40 degree heat and nights where the ice was getting so thick on the wings that I was sure there was no way out. I would bury good friends who had fallen in harm’s way and bury relationships that couldn’t overcome the distance and absence. But at the end of the day, I was flying.

Aviation was much more than a career choice for me; it was more akin to facilitating a passion or feeding an addiction. I had never possessed an alternative ‘life plan’ and always figured that I’d never need one. Yet now as I contemplate aviation on another 3am drive to the airport, I question whether it is everything thing to me that it once was. Had the dream become little more than a means to an end? For so much has changed in the industry that it is almost unrecognisable when compared to that first flight in the tiny, gleaming Cessna of the 1960s.



The face of the pilot has been through many transformations over the last century. From fledgling pioneers to heroic knights of the air, the aviators were seen as keen, strong and fearless. And in those days they definitely needed to be, although a little dose of ‘crazy’ was also a useful ingredient in the mix. When the world found the post-war peace of the 1950s and the airliners began to span the globe, it was not so much heroism as glamour that now painted the picture of the pilot. Exotic foreign lands and five-star hotels were the office, while the flight deck laid at his feet views of grand diversity. And they were ‘his’ feet as the airlines were still a man’s domain. Obviously this imbalance needed to change and finally it did when it was realised that women could actually operate airliners just as efficiently as their male counterparts. But while this door opening was a change for the better, it was far from the only change.

Jet travel saw the slashing of flight times and crossing the globe slowly moved further away from its former perception of luxury travel that was more akin to a cruise liner. World travel became big business where deals across borders could be sealed with a handshake in a matter of hours, rather than days. Passengers no longer had to layover in exotic ports, but could catch connecting flights and travel through the night to be home days earlier. And while these changes offered up a variety of worthwhile options for the customer, the role of the airline pilot was beginning to change.

And change it did. No longer did the role resemble the ship’s captain surveying the world from the bridge, instead the pilot became more closely related to the hard-working truck driver. Additionally, the security needs of a fragile world meant that air-crews were faceless creatures secured away in a bullet-proof flight deck. Like a rare species of nocturnal mammal, a glimpse of them could be caught if you happened to be in just the right place at the right time. The children’s visits to the flight deck were now a thing of the past and announcements about the world passing outside the windows were replaced by in-seat entertainment and iPods.



As fuel prices rose and fiscal reality rammed home, the five-star stop-overs disappeared. Low-cost carriers emerged to place further pressure on the bottom line of an already capital intensive industry. In some quarters, pilots began to pay for their own training to effectively buy a ‘jet job’ and their wages dropped as well. Fiscal reality had arrived for aviation and its survival depended on squeezing every inch of efficiency out of the operation in what was now a highly competitive industry. Accordingly, multiple days of sight-seeing in ports became measured in hours before it was time to turn around and cross the Pacific Ocean or some great continent once more. Travel became more routine and frequent and over a far greater distance and time. Sleep became the really valuable commodity to the pilot and crews flying to Europe could routinely see their ‘body clock’ passing them in the opposite direction somewhere over Afghanistan. Days off at home would be spent re-adapting to the time-zone just before it was time to leave again. Similarly, domestic flying became a series of multi-sector days, with minimum turn-arounds at the hotel before the transport would be shuttling the crew back to the airport for another day in the saddle. Just as glamour had replaced heroism, routine and efficiency had become the pilot’s new benchmark.

It was still dark as I pulled into the airport car park to start another day in the flight levels. I spared a thought for the young lad with the gleam in his eye and a burning desire to fly. I contemplated my own career and wondered if I had foreseen the hours of study, the cost of training and the years of minimum wage and second jobs would I have been so enthusiastic? If I had foreseen the freezing cold pre-dawn, pre-flight inspections and the lonely hours waiting for passengers at hot remote airstrips, would I have accepted the challenge? If someone had told me that the airline operations would become just like any other job, would I have listened to them? If I had known then all that I know now, would I have ever chosen to be a pilot?


Absolutely. In a heart-beat.


"So You Want to be a Pilot..." is an excerpt from the best-selling  '50 Tales of Flight'




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