A Letter To My Former Coworkers
...a.k.a. my RV Safety Culture Document / Creed / Personal Code ,etc.
[ed. If you've ever seen the movie 'Office Space', I worked in a similar environment for over a decade. As a matter of fact, ten minutes into the movie you can see the actual building I worked in (pic). I've done this site full time now since April of '07, and keep in close touch with several of my former coworkers. They are great friends, and some have become pilots. A few have even started building RVs. This article is written with them in mind, but could be appreciated by any person I may have influenced into RVating over the years. ]
related: Watch 'Office Space' online here.
Rob, Scott, Steve and Shawn,
Being the original 'airplane guy' in the I.T. Department was fun. I'm honored you got your pilot licenses and started building your own RVs after watching me build and fly mine. Since you have the same computer/business background as me (non-military / non-airline), and since I'm now about a decade further down the road from you in flying experience, I'd like to take a moment to jot down some thoughts on how my flying style has changed over the last decade. How I have become much more conservative and safety oriented in my flying.
As you remember, I took a vacation day from the office to witness the first flight of my RV-6. A few days later I flew it myself and thought I was Bob Flippin Hoover. That was in September of 2002. I may have come across as knowing it all there in the office. Looking back, I now know that was just for show. It turns out I didn't know what I didn't know. I've learned so much over these last 1,000 hours in my 'experimental' taildragger that I'd like to offer you some advice as a friend. I hope you'll take it in the spirit it is offered. You are an important part of my life, and I want to have you around for as long as possible.
Over the course of the last decade hanging around with ex-military types and 30,000+hr airline pilots, and listening to how they talk, fly and act, I have gravitated towards a more conservative flying mindset. It is said the rules that airline and military pilots fly by are written in blood. What I've come to realize is that how I act around you might influence how you think about flying. How I fly around you will influence you more.
Will some of you be put off by what I'm about to say? I hope not, but probably. Will asking you to fly more conservatively save your life someday? Probably not, but I tried.
So, on with the list of my current personal limits....
Things I no longer do while flying small, single engine airplanes:
No single engine night flying
The law allows it. My comfort level now doesn't. A single engine dead stick landing in the dark isnít something I want in my (or your) logbook. I have ex-military friends with hundreds of night carrier landings that won't fly their RV at night. What do they know that I, a simple cube worm, don't?
That 10,000' runway over at KAFW with high intensity lights is a nothinburger at night. The tiny, barely-lit runway back at my home field, the one I have to return to, can be dicey.
No flying in shorts, flip flops or plastic (polyester, nylon, fleece)
Due to the nature of this job, I'm inclined to think I log more takeoffs and landings than the average GA pilot. So, I'm around more avgas and 1300įF exhaust pipes than most. Most days since about mid-2011 I wear blue jeans and a long sleeve Nomex racing undershirt as my flying uniform. If the undershirt is in the wash a long sleeve cotton shirt will do. Just as often I wear a Nomex flight suit with various cotton things underneath. Nomex gloves on all flights and cotton or Nomex socks. Leather shoes. When I get out of the plane I change back into normal clothes, usually before the chocks are under the wheels. The backside of the fingers on the gloves are useful for wiping the dust off the EFIS screens. What I'm getting at is it's not a hassle.
My flying clothes...
Cotton long-sleeved shirt, Nomex gloves, long pants. Passenger same....
Beats burning to death or needing a trailer load of cadaver skin if I have to crawl through some flame to safety. Sorry to be so macabre about it, but there it is, mate. Cold-blooded arithmetic - the degree of damage to your skin vs. time exposed to flame. Physics always wins.
It has been my experience that passengers appreciate the extra protection. Their thinking is "Hey, this cat put all this thought into his outfit, he's probably looking after the plane with the same mindset".
I went to college with a guy that was in a propane delivery truck fire when he was younger. Couldn't get out of the truck for about twenty seconds - lost four of his fingers in the process along with most of the skin on his arms. Twenty seconds. One of my high school friends died from burns received in a car crash when we were seniors - was wearing a nylon jacket that melted to his upper torso.
Playing guitar is a big part of my life, and keeping my fingers means a lot to me. Make fun of me if you want, but I'm wearing Nomex gloves. On. Every. Flight. If you want to be my passenger, you're in similar gear or you're staying on the ground. You want to fly around naked noo noos with 40 gallons of avgas all around you, be my guest. Go get your own plane.
I don't wear these clothes to pretend I'm Maverick or Iceman and I don't have patches or a name tag. Google '3rd degree burns' and click on Images. While you're at it, Google 'skin grafts' and click on Images. Yep, I've had more than one friend burn to death or need massive grafts. This ain't the Colleyville Women's Club...it can be life or death in a heartbeat if things goes to shit.
You might also enjoy Googling 'motorcycle squids'. Same mindset.
From an 8/13/2011 NTSB prelim report...(RV-8)
Passengers are given a set of extra gloves I keep in the plane and I have a spare long sleeve cotton shirt in the flight bag. I donít sugarcoat things. "Those are fuel lines running under our knees...and that one over there, just under your right knee, is pressurized. I don't anticipate any problems, but it never hurts to be better prepared."
Our 12-yr old son has 'flying clothes' that he keeps on the shelf ready and waiting: long sleeve cotton shirt, long pants, cotton socks, cotton baseball cap and Nomex gloves. He thinks they are cool. He's right.
My son Tate doing it right.
My stance on fire-resistant clothing cemented itself during 2011 - a blog I followed on Amanda Franklin's recovery efforts really was an eye opener. She was taken off life support on 5/26/2011, after a two month long fight. Rest in Peace, Amanda.
Regarding a 9/27/2011 RV-10 accident...
I started using a helmet during migration times and acro ....from Gibson-Barnes.com (ask for Frank)
No high speed low passes down the runway
I'm mortified to say I've done this a couple of times, albeit around eight years ago. Never again. I was an idiot. I've seen planes do it occasionally, in the 1-2 foot range, scaring up flocks of birds that missed the plane (and the pilot's head) by inches. 50' is perfectly acceptable I think (for scaring off deer, etc).
An A&P/IA does my yearly inspection
I'm not an airplane mechanic (and neither are you). Iím no longer comfortable betting my life on what I think looks right. While it is legal for me to do these inspectionsÖI now choose not to. I take all the panels off, pull the cowl and give a good look using the checklist, then my A&P/IA comes over for a few hours. He always finds something I missed. A few hundred bucks to have a professional look over my shoulder is money well spent by this former cube worm. My wife thinks so, too.
You guys were always higher up in the org chart than me and have fewer kids, so I know you can afford it.
An A&P/IA supervises (or does) all my FWF work
Itís the part of the build with the least amount of documentation (as you are finding out), and I am legally allowed to do 100% of it. However, Iím leaving that also to the professionals. I don't touch a thing, or button it back up, without the O.K. of my A&P/IA. "Hey, just changed the oil. Can you come over here for five minutes and give everything a look see before I button it up? Lunch is on me." Sometimes it's as simple as that.
Do I know more about aircraft engines than him? (No) Am I willing to bet my life on it? (No!) The lives of my wife and children? (No!!!)
A reliable engine is Ďlifeí, and I've had a couple go stupid on me in the last two decades. It will change your whole outlook when/if it happens. I donít skimp or get too Ďexperimentalí.
I donít fly in aircraft that have engines in them that they weren't designed for (i.e. car engines in RVs)
And I don't drive cars powered by aircraft engines, either. I admire those gearheads, but I'm not one. I know you aren't either. Please don't do it.
No long, solo direct legs without flight following
Steve Fossett. You remember surfing the news stories there at the office.
No listening to loud music in congested airspace.
If the airline guys get fired for doing it, I shouldnít be doing it either when PIC. Iím under the same Class B veil as them most of the time. If you want it on softly in the background, I'm not going to judge. Just make sure you can hear my radio call.
No Releasing the Seat Belt in Flight
Not to reach for something in the baggage area. Not to take a pee. Not for anything. Turbulence happens, and the consequences can be fatal.
30 minutes of VFR fuel is not enough
I flight plan for 60 minutes. You should too. These gauges aren't accurate enough to bet your life on it.
No massive, multi-element formations. No formation acro for me.
It both looks and sounds amazing, but gargantuan formations are too risky for my comfort level now. I am qualified - have a F.A.S.T. formation card in the wallet that I got through the Globe Swift gang located on my field. These days I stick to smaller 1-3 element formation flights for proficiency, with people whose flying skills I am completely familiar with. No impulsive formation flights without a proper and thorough briefing.
Absolutely no formation acro at all for me, thank you. You guys go have a blast though.
Why the turnaround? The answer came, for me, with a little research. Professional, full time, recognized-as-the-best-of-the-best military aerobatic teams like the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Snowbirds, with hand picked members, no propellers and sitting on ejection seats......bump and trade paint on a surprisingly regular basis. They practice their routines full time. Some have died over the years - more than you would think. Case in point: The link above lists (17) crash entries for the Snowbirds. Of those seventeen, twelve resulted in either ejection and/or death.
RVs don't 'bump and trade paint' very well at all (propellers / no ejection seat).
Color me impressed at the skill set, but politely passing on the offer. When I see the mass flights go over at air shows I'm whistling as loud as everybody else...but I'm also saying a quick prayer (and am positioned well away from the flight line).
9/1/12: Glenn Smith of 'The Hoppers' crashes L-39
2/3/12: Thunder Tigers AT-3 mid-air collision
1/27/12: Red Checkers suspend flying after an accident
12/21/11: Saudi Hawks plane crashed, pilot eject safely
I'm about 85% done with this rating, and can fly all day long in the sun behind a hood, shooting approach after approach down to minimums. Having said that, I may not ever finish it. My wuss factor has increased over the years, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable now in the soup in something wired up in my garage. I don't know all the interactions between the avionics, or how they were tested against wet/cold/hot/vibration. With unheated pitot. Or anti-ice hot plate on the glass.
My RV has spent exactly zero hours in anything similar to the McKinley Climatic Laboratory.
Texas is pretty flat with LOTS of farmland, and loosing an engine and all your avionics isn't necessarily a deal breaker in day VFR. All bets are off if it isn't day VFR. I plan on staying proficient behind the hood, because you never know what could form up on. I've seen our field fog over in the span of five minutes.
No more turning a blind eye: If I witness you blatantly breaking the FARs in the USA, I will tactfully bring it to your attention and ask you nicely to please not do it again. If I see you doing the same thing a second time I will report you to the authorities.
When you signed that pilot card in your wallet you agreed to fly by the rules. Do I care that you flew 400' from a cloud base instead of 500', or didn't enter a pattern precisely on a 45į angle, or any other number of perfectly honest, safe and innocent 'violations'? I honestly could not care one rat's @ss. Now, do I care that you made (6) 200mph low passes 12 inches over your friend's car parked on the taxiway (with people standing next to it) while giving folks on the ramp the finger each time? All while three student pilots were in the pattern? I'll let you decide.
Nearly everyone has a video camera on their phone now. The proof will be concrete, will show real endangerment to bystanders and will be indisputable.
If you post a video of yourself blatantly breaking the FARs somewhere and link to it in my forums, I will delete the post and call you on it (same promise as above).
When you post blatantly illegal flying on my site (and later crash) you put me and my family in the legal crosshairs of a grieving spouse. Google's cache feature is forever....deleted thread or not. When you broadcast it to the world instead of privately doing it over some private field in the sticks by yourself you've created a whole new animal.
BTW, I won't need to call anybody. Dozens of FAA I.P. addresses access these forums on a daily basis. The addresses resolve to Washington DC. I also have a couple of friends who work for the FAA (one at HQ in DC) and they tell me they visit the site every single day (one has a RV).
If you post videos of yourself violating FARs in the U.S.A. you are putting nails in your own coffin, dumbass. The feds will most likely see it before I do. With these hard-nose rules Iím trying to keep folks from INCRIMINATING THEMSELVES. But, like the comedian Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid."
Iíll go one further and make you a deal. If you wonít post videos of yourself blatantly violating the FARs in my place of business (while trying to guilt me into not reporting it)ÖÖthen I wonít put a TV showing a video loop of me robbing a liquor store in the lobby of your place of business, while asking you for the same leniency. Deal? Swell.
U.S.A. FAR violations I DO NOT want to see posted in my forums:
Video of acro with a passenger and no chutes
(I know it's a dumb reg with a tip up canopy, but it's the rule on the books right now and we have to live with it)
Dodging in and out of clouds when it's obvious you're VFR.
High speed, dangerously low low low passes
(Do you really think there is no difference between 5 inches vs 50 feet at 200mph on a crowded airport? Really?)
Acro where you can see dozens of houses in the shot.
FAA Regulations are online here: http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/faa_regulations/
You can probably tell by the bullet points above that I don't sell airplanes for a living. I don't spin this hobby as one where you can't get hurt. This sh*t can kill you in five seconds. It is the most amazing and satisfying hobby I've found. You have to try pretty hard to die on a golf course, or fishing. While flying small planes, it takes no effort at all with the wrong mindset.
With the right attitude, and admitting that you just might not know what you don't know, you can minimize that risk to a surprisingly small percentage. I'm taking steps, active steps that all can see, to hopefully fly safely into my late 70's or early 80's. I'd like you to do the same for me.
A link to this document now exists in my email auto-signature and in the profile of all the online boards I visit. I encourage you to create your own RV Safety Culture Document and link to it in everything you do online. We as a group need to spread the words 'RV Safety Culture' around a LOT more, and lead by example.
If I do something stupid or dangerous, I expect you to call me on it.
Friends for (hopefully a long) life,
RV-6 N617AR (first flight Sept. 2002).
Private pilot since 1996. ~1,500hrs TT.
Ed Hicks photo of me in 'Flash'.
In my inbox the day this page went live: