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Pilot

Posts about pilot skills, knowledge, and judgment

In the early 1970s, astronaut Michael Collins (Gemini 10, Apollo 11) wrote a fascinating book, Carrying the Fire, about his experiences in the US space program. It's a book I think all pilots should read and one that anyone interested in flying and space exploration will enjoy.

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The sun was low on the horizon and the distant towering cumulus clouds glowed red-orange in the fading light. I was flying my club's A36 Bonanza with my instructor Rick, a former Naval aviator and Bonanza and Baron Pilot Proficiency Program (BPPP) instructor, and we were working on my checkout in the airplane. Rick has owned and flown Bonanzas and Barons for a long time and knows them inside and out, so I was in good hands. We were on our way to Grass Valley, his home airport, so I could get some night cross-country time and some experience with that unfamiliar, mid-elevation runway in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. A leisurely dinner was also part of the plan.

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I sat in my venerable, elderly Miata with the top down, waiting for the security gate to close behind me. The stars were out in the Summer sky as the dusk deepened. I was feeling content, having just completed my biennial flight review in our club's A36 Bonanza with my instructor and fellow club member Debby, a very experienced CFII and commercial pilot.

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My instructor Paul leaned over and looked at the instrument panel, asking, "What heading are you flying?"

"040 degrees," I replied.

"Oh, OK," he said, sitting back and looking out the window.

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"We were only climbing at about 100 feet per minute. The stall horn was blaring. I was sweating bullets! We finally just barely cleared the trees…"

We pilots love to tell "war stories" about experiences that scared the bejeezus out of us, and we love to hear these stories told. Accident reports and "never again" stories are standard fare in aviation publications and perennial favorite "hangar flying" topics. I have no doubt that some of the appeal is a natural desire to spin a riveting yarn and "one-up" the other guy, but I think there's also a sincere motivation to learn from our experiences and those of others. Lord knows I've told stories like these myself (some of them in this blog) and overall, I think it's a healthy practice.

More on "There I Was…"

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