Lately I have been writing about what silly things seem to be “happening “ to pilots. Particularly, things that seem to be, at least in part, due to inattention by the pilot. You know what I’m talking about. For example, inadvertently straying off the taxiway or runway. Just look at today’s FAA accident list.* How does one “accidentally” leave the runway for the brush or taxi into another plane? Unless there is a definite mechanical cause, inattention or distraction almost has to be involved. Take for example, if one is taxiing and the plane suddenly veers one way or another, a quick response on the brakes and throttle usually should fix things. If not, why not?
I have been thinking back over my flight career trying to get some answers to all of this. It seems to point to this. I never remember having any “toys” available. Not anything but a simple cell phone. When for example taxiing to the active runway for departure, I would have my charts on my lap. These would include a taxiway diagram as well as all necessary departure information. No laptop or other digital thingamabob in sight. (I have to admit to not owning any). This allowed me to concentrate fully on the task at hand: safely handling the plane.
Thinking way back, going into the 1960’s, I remember well, spending many happy hours flying the aero club’s Piper J-3 Cub. This was north of Boston, flying out of Tew-Mac airport. A small 2000 foot, narrow paved runway, with planes parked close by. Flying a low horsepower uncomplicated tail dragger, is an ideal way for a low time pilot to learn about the principles of flight. The plane did not even have an electrical system aboard. Starting was accomplished like this. Tie the tail down. With the mags (magnetos) off pull the prop through a few times. Turn the mags on. Now standing in front of the plane, grab the prop and give it a quick pull. After it starts untie the tail rope and hop into the rear seat if flying alone and get set to taxi for take-off.
Ok, after this prelude, I’ll get to the main point of all this. There are no superfluous instruments on a J-3. Really only: airspeed, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, tachometer and compass, plus some primitive engine gages. Nothing in the above to really distract the beginner pilot from flying the plane. Once behind the controls with the engine running, all there is to do is pay attention to what’s outside, taxi for take-off, and shove the throttle forward when ready to go. From there on “feel” largely takes over. Due to the increased speed and resultant air streaming over the control surfaces, the plane comes “alive”. After a short roll down the runway, the plane almost jumps off the ground and we’re airborne. The fun starts just about right away. A time to think of only one thing: Flying the Plane.
Well, I got off a bit down memory lane, a pleasant ride for sure. But I hope you can appreciate my point about distractions for the pilot. Really there were none on the J-3. Just compare to the latest trainers out there now. In addition to all the basic aerodynamic gages, add: an electrical system, radios, GPS, anti-collision devices, etc. This is plus all the electronics in the pilot’s bag. I won’t even attempt to list those.
So to make my point, I have tried to show how much “stuff” has been added to the basic airplane. Some, if not all are necessary in today’s flight environment. But the pilot must not allow these data sources to distract him/her from the basic task of flying and controlling the airplane.
Fly often and stay straight and level.
*Check FAA accident reporting site. From May8 to May23 there are plenty of examples of the above.