My husband did his first solo and got his pilot’s license back in 2003. He bought a Cirrus SR20, which is a low wing fixed gear single engine prop plane. It is outfitted with a parachute for landing the plane in emergencies. He loved flying it for several years until he finally worked himself up into purchasing a new Cirrus: an SR22 turboprop with FIKI (flight into known icing).
I have been flying with him since he was an early pilot, and I must say I am impressed wtih his piloting skills. In fact, I would much rather fly with him than ride in car with him, as he drives like a bat out of hell. He is very cautious and does a great job of notifying passengers if there are going to be any weird bangs, bumps or beeps and what they are. He goes by the book every time he flies. He does his pilot’s inspection of the plane, making sure the tail and wing flaps are moving, checking the fuel and the undercarriage of the plane.
Once we are ensconced in the plane (which does not have a name – he insists it is just a means from point A to point B), he starts up the engine after hollering, “Clear PROP!” He does this even though there is not another human being within half a mile of the plane, just in case someone is hiding under the nose I guess.
He is in constant communication with ground and tower. He does a careful runup of the engine prior to every takeoff. He says every pilot is given a bucket of luck and a bucket of knowlege. He says the longer you fly, you take luck out of the luck bucket when you survive something weird and put some knowledge in the experience bucket.
He has had a couple of weird things happen to him. Once, after maintenance on the plane, the maintenance guys did not close the passenger door correctly and it flew open in mid-takeoff. He had to circle the field and land to fix the door. Pilots have crashed under those circumstances.
He heard a tremendous CLUNK in the undercarriage of the plane once and thought he might have lost a landing gear. He had to do a flyby of the tower and they had to inspect and make sure his landing gear was in place. They had a fire engine and an ambulance for him by the runway just in case he had to make a landing without gear.
One evening he heard a tremendous THWACK on the windshield – a vulture had just flown straight through the propeller and made a bird strike. I found out about this when I caught him furtively trying to bring in some bird-goo covered towels into the house and put them into my washing machine. I told him to throw the towels out – bird goo and feathers were NOT going into my washing machine and I would not be fishing beaks and toes out of my lint trap. I was relieved that he was OK, however.
The takeoffs and landings in an airplane are the most dangerous part of any flight. If you lose power or control of the plane while you are too close to the ground to recover, you are in deep shit. DH says pilots have an expression: “Takeoffs are optional but landings are mandatory.” This is very true.
He and I have a deal – I will never pressure him to fly if he believes it is unsafe because “get-there-itis” is a condition that has caused the loss of a lot of pilots over the years.
He is always careful with the weights and balances of the aircraft, and does not fly it unbalanced or overweight. He avoids thunderstorms like the plague. He says hitting a big thunderstorm can actually rip the wings right off the plane.
He also does not try to do any stunts in the Cirrus because it is not accredited to do barrel rolls and such. I know a lot of men would be tempted to try to do the stunts anyway, but DH does not because it is not permitted and it is not safe. He doesn’t do any reckless maneuvers that I know of.
He is a very trustworthy pilot and I feel safe with him when he flies. It’s the other guys you gotta look out for. You have to look for other traffic in the area to prevent a midair collision. If you can’t see the traffic the tower has warned you about you tell them, “No joy.” A pilot who does a lot on the lecture circuit tells a story about a student pilot for whom english is not his first language who translated “No joy” into telling the tower, “I am not happy.”
DH says most general aviation accidents are caused by pilot error, or even by several errors stacked on top of each other. One might be recoverable but the combination is disastrous. Some of the crazy things we’ve heard of pilots doing that lead to their death: taking off with insufficient fuel (preventable), taking off with the plane overloaded or unbalanced (preventable), taking off into adverse conditions such as low clouds or ice (preventable), flying under instrument conditions when you do not have an instrument rating (preventable), or flying into a thunderstorm rather than landing or flying around (preventable).
Since he does none of these foolish things, I feel very safe flying with him.
Everytime there is a Cirrus crash, he discusses it with me and explains how the errors led to the disaster. Another mistake is failure to pull the plane’s chute and trying to recover an unrecoverable condition such as a spin or a stall. The Cirrus is outfitted with a parachute FOR THE PLANE, which has saved the ass of many a pilot. You just turn off the engine, pull the chute, and the plane wafts gently to the ground. You can’t pull the chute when the plane is going too fast, or the chute will rip right out of the plane. It is best not to pull the chute over trees or mountains, but sometimes that is unavoidable. He has the cover off the parachute handle and the handle ready to pull at all times. Throughout his flights he reaches up with his hand and touches the handle to make sure he can find it even if he is disoriented or upside down. Overall, he is incredibly careful and thoughtful, and it makes me proud to fly with him.