Monday, January 11, 2010

Crashing Well

The weather the next day is crummy so no one has to get up super early nor stay up extra late. We all eat breakfast together in the hotel lobby while the television shows images of random airplanes to illustrate a story on a float plane crash. We four pilots are sitting together trying to guess what kind of airplane actually was involved in the accident, and what happened. Our guesses are "Beaver" and "shit happens," possibly engine failure under extenuating circumstances. (I still don't know the result of the investigation, but the accident aircraft turned out to be a Beaver that is in both my logbook and Harrison Ford's).

Floatplanes are unforgiving. Without looking at any statistics we feel that the Beaver is a safe aircraft. It works in a harsh environment, so you're going to see a lot of accidents where people tried to get it off grossly overweight on lakes that were too small and rivers that were too tightly curved. But it isn't a falling out the sky kind of airplane. The engines are tough, too. We've heard stories of them coming in for routine maintenance and being discovered to be not firing on all cylinders.

Conversation moves to the crashability of various aircraft. The aircraft we are operating here has excellent crash characteristics. They do, they crash well. You pretty much have to stall them or fly them into something, or lose structural integrity before they do crash, and people still walk away. One pilot is talking about wanting the boss to get a Caravan ("the 80s van or the airplane?" we tease) in order to build turbine time. They don't crash well, someone points out, and we all laugh because they don't.

It's at about this point that I realize our customers have joined in the happy conversation about our aircraft's superior crashability. This is a totally normal pilot conversation, as normal as segueing from the Riders' sad sad Grey Cup debacle to other great chokes in sports history, but how did we get into this with our customers? They don't see anything wrong with it, though, thank goodness.

If I were an airline pilot I know I couldn't even MENTION the televised crash coverage during a hotel breakfast. Can you imagine sitting in the breakfast room with members of the public while news of an airplane crash came on the TV, and you're in your uniform with your crew. You can't react in any way that appears callous, unnerved, joking ... there's no safe way to react. I think I'd eat in my room.

9 comments:

david said...

If you were an airline pilot, you could have the crash conversation with frequent business fliers, just not with nervous vacationers (your company wouldn't be thrilled, but the fliers would be flattered to be included).

Your pax up north, for your kind of work, must be very frequent fliers.

Geekzilla said...

Hi, Aviatrix!

I think people who actively go out and charter airplanes are more accepting and understanding of the risks involved in air travel than the general public. I believe the general public simply expect to step into a plane and be magically transported from Point A to Point B and really have no interest in learning or understanding what goes in the process. People who charter planes tend to do their homework and know more about what goes on behind the scenes. That's just my opinion as an aviation enthusiast sitting on the outside. What do you think?

I still have a slight case of the butterflys when I get on a plane, but I attribute that to turning my life over to someone (the pilot) whom I don't know. It's a control issue, I admit. I get the same way when I ride in someone else's car. It would be great to get to chat with the pilot before departure. Once we take off, though, all the uneasiness turns into wonder as I gaze out the window.

Brian said...

Maybe you've mentioned this before, but now you've got me curious: what *do* you fly that crashes so well? That's worth filing away a mental note about.

david said...

Aviatrix has given us clues before, I imagine that it's the kind of plane that could, say, be landed gear up on a northern Manitoba runway with minimal fuss.

Brian said...

Say no more. Dashing looks, crashes with aplomb. A dual-threat plane, you might say. I'm duly envious.

Sarah said...

Soon after the 2001 A300 crash in New York - the wake turbulence / full-travel rudder disintegration, I was seated next to a deadheading uniformed Captain. I noted he was reading Airbus documents, but he did not seem interested in talking about composite control systems in general or particular. I tried to not take it personally. :) Discretion is required when one is crew and that visible.

Jimmy Mack said...

I had the distinct pleasure of parting out two Piper Aztecs this summer... If there was one plane I would feel safe in whilst crashing, that would be it. Very heavy steel frame surrounding the cockpit... It definately was difficult to take apart!

david said...

Mooney pilots boast about their steel frames as well. That wouldn't have been a good thing for me, though, when all the steel parts of my Cherokee (firewall, engine mount, etc.) became magnetized after a lightning strike while tied down.

zb said...

I'm still waiting to once see Airport (or some similar airplane/catastrophy movie) in flight. I'd pay extra.