Live and Learn
By Ken Calman

waco in waterHave you ever known someone who wrecked a plane? Maybe you yourself have destroyed one. Whatever the case, I can almost guarantee the reactions from both sides, pilot and public, were silly.

This past year several close friends managed to ball up a few neat old planes. Each one of them felt terrible, embarrassed, and as if they couldn't let it go. Apparently, upside down in an antique airplane is not a fun place to be but not for the reasons you would expect.

Commit an act of human error, hey we all do it, screw up, again we all do it, or even have a plane destroyed while you weren't in it and you're in for a tough time. The likely FAA checkride (why I don't know), the insurance issues, the unending questions from busy bodies, and the possible bodily injuries that come with such an accident are the least of a pilot's problems when they wreck a beautiful old plane.

What is the biggest problem a pilot has with an accident? From watching people go through it, I believe it is the internal battle with yourself as to why it happened.

Pilots, the good ones, tend to be perfectionists with unbelievably high standards for themselves. Yet all too often, perhaps due to the mentality of the aviation community as a whole, they forget they are human. Most people I know could be in several car wrecks or fender benders and think nothing of it. But if they ding a plane their self-worth and ego meet in the bar to drink each other under the table.

This behavior has long perplexed me. Why do pilots react to aviation accidents in a different manner than they would to anything else? Here is the best example I know of to explain this. A friend dies in a plane crash and a pilot never flys again. A friend dies in a car crash and everyone drives their car to the funeral. This is a truly odd behavior but we all have to admit it is very common in our community. And although I'm sure I'll never know why the aviation community is that way, what I do know is that accidents happen. Just like that poor guy in the Stearman in Washington DC, things happen and we should be able to live with them. Have an accident like that and learn nothing from it though and you have a problem.

One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Indy Car driver Danny Sullivan. When asked why he was so successful, he said there was nothing to it, that "he was just the crazy teenage boy driving wildly around the back roads of Kentucky who survived". The moral to this quote is that you've got to do some crazy stupid things, survive, AND learn from them to get good. Live and learn.

I guess ultimately what I'm trying to say is that we should all be willing to admit accidents happen and that to point out what a person did wrong is not to say "that person is a terrible pilot". From a pilot's standpoint, we should also all be willing, when it happens to us, to say, "You know what, this is what I screwed up and this is what I could have done to prevent it" and then walk away to sleep at night. Leave the ongoing illogical punishment to the Feds and let's just all try to help each other be better pilots by learning from each other's mistakes.

upside down wacoBut what constitutes a mistake, and what defines dangerous behavior?  This 330lb Chihuahua (I am tired of 800lb gorillas) is the question nobody seems willing to answer and admittedly, it is one of the most difficult.  Therefore, I'll try to do that in the next NORDO but for now, I'll leave you with this anecdotal wisdom.

When one friend couldn't quit beating himself up over an accident, a friend from Alaska asked him how many planes he wrecked; "one" he said, to which the well known Alaskan seaplane pilot said back "Hell, I've wrecked seven, you're just getting started."

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