Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Being Prepared

When I was little, I read a book entitled Scouting for Boys, written by Lord Baden-Powell. Lord Baden-Powell was a British officer who fought in, I believe, the Boer War, and there he discovered that without engaging in actual combat, boys could usefully be employed as scouts to spy on and delude the enemy. He returned to Britain and launched a training campaign to ready boys for such a role. Be Prepared was their motto, and that was the beginning of the Boy Scouts.

Despite the paramilitary intent, the book introduces a lot of basic skills related to survival, clean living and general preparedness for life. The chapter that made the greatest impression on me urged me to all times consider what urgent situation could arise, and devise in advance a plan to cope with it. Thereby while those around me were wondering what to do, I would already be launching into my prepared course of action, and saving the day. Excellent advice generally, and especially for pilots, but the 1908 context of the book introduced a twist. Baden-Powell explains the recommended actions for common emergency situations, such as a runaway horse. Horse-drawn carriages may have been common in 1908, but were pretty much reserved for parades and fancy weddings by the time I came along. (If one does happen to bolt, you should "race alongside it, catch hold of the shaft to keep yourself from falling, seize the reins with the other hand and drag the horse's head round towards you, turning the horse until you can bring it up against a wall or house, or otherwise compel it to stop.") But this exotic example engendered in me the habit of continually examining my surroundings and concocting the most bizarre and improbable emergencies in order to devise heroic solutions. Such a permanent impression did this imagined runaway horse make on me, I am today surprised to discover that it is only a single short paragraph in the book.

Two days ago I was waiting in line on a taxiway and determining my course of action should one of the aircraft on the apron break loose from the restraints of its crew and gallop wildly through the queue, wreaking mahem and havoc. (You thought I was exaggerating when I said the runaway horse had a disproportionate influence on my fantasy life, didn't you?) As any good heroism fantasy demands my role involved not only compelling the runaway aircraft to stop, but instructing ATC as to the best method of redirecting traffic around the pile-up. I came up with a diabolical combination of taxiways and runway backtracks that I've never seen used at that airport, and then went on to prepare myself for the serious likelihood that an earthquake open a chasm in the runway surface during my take-off roll.

The very next day I tuned the ground frequncy in time to hear an aircraft given a taxi clearance almost exactly matching my imaginary recommendation. Just before I had arrived there had been a taxiway-blocking incident (I believe no runaway horses were involved) and the controllers were dealing with it just as I would have advised. They're so clever.

After a lengthy traffic jam of wrong way taxiing, we took off, switched to the departure frequency, and had an instrument failure that legally required us to return to land. We adviced the departure controller, who switched us back to tower, and appears to have called ahead to tower to let them know we were coming back. I'm betting he said something ambiguous like "The IFR you just released to us is returning with a failure." The tower controllers were absolutely bouncing with emergency preparedness for us. I'm sure they imagined that at absolute minimum we had lost an engine, but were all set for us to have lost an entire wing, or to have been hit by a meteor. Despite the huge back up of traffic from the earlier incident, they offered us our choice of runways and emphasized that we should let them know if there was anything they could do for us. The failed instrument was completely irrelevant for the return to the airport, so we declined priority and taxiied back to maintenance. And I guess they can't give me back half an hour of my life.


Anonymous said...

Scouting for Boys is probably illegal these days.
You did well. Good to see all those procedures work.
Now when I see what happens at the local railway station when something goes minutely wrong, well, that's a different story

Anonymous said...

HaHa, I thought I was the only poor-sod who would craft woefully unlikely tragedies and make plans to deal with said tragedy.

I can't tell you how many pedestrian bridges I have walked across where I thought "If the suspension cable breaks, and I need to hang on to a bridge lying half in the river and climb back up, which side is better. If I can't hang on and instead have to swim, which side of the river is closer or easier to get to because of the river course."

I make plans for what I would do if someone coming towards me while driving suddenly has a heart attack and veers into my lane.

Some people have suggested I have some OCD mental disorder, now, thanks to Aviatrix, I can put the blame where it clearly belongs. Being a cub scout.


Anonymous said...

The grown-up equivalent of the Scouting book is the SAS Survival Guide: you should buy a copy to keep in your flight bag, or ask for it for Christmas (there's a tiny Collins Gem version as well).

At very least, it would provide some entertaining reading during long layovers.

Aviatrix said...

There's already a copy IN my flight bag. Isn't it great? And really big mittens. I may freeze to death, but my fingers won't be frostbitten.

Aviatrix said...

I think ALL pilots are like me, well except the bit about the runaway horses. It's really a fundamental part of the training and currency process: knowing what can go wrong and thinking about it in advance.

Max said...

May be you get an inflatable emergency scout, a bit like in the spook film Areoplane?