Pilots Versus Fools

by David on August 1, 2010

Recently, I’ve been tweeting a little nugget of semi-random goodness, sometimes thought-provoking, often funny, and never a David Allen original. I find this stuff on the internet and say to myself, “Ooh, I like that. I bet at least one of my followers will like it, too.” So I tweet it.

Most of the responses to these tweets have been positive, and there have been plenty of retweets. I love interacting with people, so of course it puts a smile on my face to see this kind of thing.

In honor of AirVenture Oshkosh, my tweets this week have all been aviation-related. Here is today’s tweet:

He who demands everything that his aircraft can give him is a pilot; he who demands one iota more is a fool.
David Allen

The first (and so far only) response to this was one of my followers questioning the experience – as a licensed pilot – on which I could base such an observation. This was followed by a couple of back-and-forths regarding limits and how they are not necessarily “clear cut” when it comes to airplanes.

Frankly, this whole conversation has just been bothering me. No, I am not a licensed pilot. Those that know me also know that I am the first person to admit that I know relatively little when it comes to the operation of a flying machine. I am no expert.

First of all, this tweet was mine, but the comment was not created by me. That said, I did say it, so I am obviously behind the idea.

Now this may be a debate about aircraft limitations, but I guess my question is, why? Why would a pilot ever flirt with these limits? Don’t all airplanes have them? Yes. Is there such a thing as a limitless aircraft? Goodness, no. Every flying machine on this planet has an envelope within which it is designed to operate. The vast majority of pilots operate their aircraft in a small fraction of that envelope. They are still pilots, though and through. Many of my friends and I define a pilot as anyone who has sat all alone in an aircraft, firewalled the throttle, charged down the runway, and rotated.

Some pilots learn to use much more of that envelope. That is the guy I want to be.

But what I don’t understand is why it would ever, EVER be okay to exceed that envelope? Whether it be flying in excess of Vne, exceeding the maximum G-loading, or performing prohibited maneuvers, I cannot ever imagine a circumstance that would call for such action.

Is it possible to over G an airframe and have no damage occur? Maybe, I don’t know. I’m sure it depends on the plane and the circumstance.

Is it possible to perform aerobatic maneuvers on an aircraft that wasn’t designed or tested for such things? Maybe.

Buy why would you, as a pilot, ever want to find out? If you are wrong, it could kill you, and your passengers, and anyone on the ground that you end up cratering into. I call THAT sort of behavior foolish.

Sure there is the argument that if you get into a bad situation and need to do something outside if the airplane’s envelope to recover. But how did you get into that situation? Are you a VFR pilot who just flew into IMC and you are now in a descending dive? Do you need to pull-pull-pull to get the plane level again to save your skin? Will it work? Maybe, but the big picture here is this guy was a fool for flying into IMC in the first place. They are clouds. Stay out of them unless you are trained.

Perhaps I am closed-minded or prudish. But I feel like I have done enough flying to understand that each airplane has its strengths, its niche, its envelope. If I want to engage in a particular type of flight, I should use the correct aircraft and pursue the proper training. A good friend of mine put it this way: learn to use the full envelope of an aircraft, but only push one corner at a time.

This quote says it best:

Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.

— Captain A. G. Lamplugh

So now I need to know what you think. Am I ignorant or prudish? Am I missing the essence of being a pilot? Do I not “get” the fundamentals of commanding a flying machine? Is there ever, ever a good reason to demand more than your aircraft can give you?

Or do aircraft have limits that should never be toyed with, whether clear-cut or not?

I am extremely interested in your thoughts on this. If nothing else, I am teachable, and I am open to correction on this. But everything I know as an aviation enthusiast says that you just don’t try to make your aircraft do things that it cannot do.

What say you?

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