A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard
this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer
statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of
"there are no old, bold pilots.")
Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner,
master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us
-- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you
may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be
something we might never have considered before, or something that
didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized
it for the practical test.
Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you
through the Aero-News Network.
I overheard a Mooney on frequency one cloudy, rainy afternoon.
Its pilot was near Butler, in western Missouri, headed eastbound
toward St. Louis. Ahead, the Truman MOA (Military Operations Area)
was "hot", probably a quartet of Air Force Reserve A-10s from
Richards-Gebaur AFB (readers familiar with the area now know this
happened a long time ago) practicing bomb runs, or maybe some St.
Louis-based Air Guard F-4s (okay, now everybody knows) jinking
around in air combat maneuvering.
Kansas City Center alerted the Mooney pilot to the hot MOA and
asked if he wanted clearance around the north or the south to avoid
the airspace. Either re-route would add maybe 30 miles to the
Mooney's flight if began right away; the closer the Mooney got to
Truman MOA, the bigger angle needed to deviate... and the longer it
would take to get around.
The pilot responded, rather tersely, that he wanted to go
straight along the airway to St. Louis, and he would not accept a
turn to avoid the Air Force jets. Center replied that the airway he
was on does not exist through the MOA when it was hot, and that he
had to have a new clearance because the route he was cleared
temporarily did not exist. I could hear the frustration in both
voices as the exchange continued, until the Mooney pilot, intent on
flying in poor visibility through a hot airspace, between fast and
wildly maneuvering airplanes painted specifically to be difficult
to see, exercised his option to cancel IFR and fly VFR through the
The pilot of this Mooney showed contempt for the authority of
the air traffic controller, the airspace designers, and the Air
Force. To his credit he did exercise his right to fly VFR and
assume responsibility for seeing and avoiding the Air Force jets
(who may or may not be able to see and avoid him while pursuing
their mission). But this example -- "I'll do what I want regardless
of what you or the rules say" -- illustrates what the FAA calls the
Don't tell me what to do
The FAA says this attitude is found in people who do not like
being told what to do. They may be resentful of having someone
limit their freedoms, and may disregard rules, regulations and
procedures because they "don't apply to them". Taken to extremes,
the anti-authority attitude can lead a pilot to make unsafe
choices, forgetting that rules, regulations and procedures are
often made as a result of accidents.
A good thing?
But the anti-authority attitude can sometimes be a good thing,
too. Who among us would fly at all unless we bucked the "authority"
of public opinion, which by and large insists flying is
extraordinary unsafe. And consider the pilot being vectored toward
rising terrain in the clouds, or told to remain clear of airspace
on a route that keeps him/her over freezing water in a
single-engine airplane. Maybe we should replace the term
"anti-authority" with the phrase "healthy skepticism", and turn it
into a tool that keeps us safe by double-checking authorities just
as they and their rules double-check us.
Aero-tip of the day: Look for signs of the
anti-authority attitude in yourself. Use it to your advantage -- to
employ healthy skepticism -- but don't let it lead you to make bad
decisions just to avoid deviating from what you want to do.