Posted by: harrisonjones | June 20, 2011

What if…

How many times have you asked yourself; “What if?” Pilots asked themselves this question constantly when  planning or conducting a flight. What if the weather changes? What if I have mechanical problems? What if I lose communications? What if someone on board becomes ill or has a heart attack? What if I lose my Nav system? 

A professional pilot will try to solve as many questions as possible before strapping into the airplane and then   re-evaluate as the flight progresses. I use the term professional pilot to define an attitude, not one’s status in the industry. I have known private pilots who are just as professional as airline captains. Student pilots learn early on that pre-flight is not just walking around the airplane and kicking tires. It involves answering the, “What ifs?” Sometimes a pre-flight becomes a no-flight and that’s a good thing. 

The answer to many problems in flight is to simply land the airplane at the nearest suitable airport. If you’re  flying a J-3 Cub, that would be any airport. If you’re flying anything that begins with Boeing, you’re going to have to be more selective. Off schedule landings are bound to happen if you fly on a regular basis and I’ve had my  share. The first such occasion was while flying a charter in a Cessna. After dropping my passenger off, I was flying through the Confederacy and returning to Georgia when I encountered the infamous afternoon and evening thunderstorms that the south is famous for. I happened to be over the arm-pit of the nation at the time and I won’t identify the state that I assign that distinction, but the airport I retreated to was Anniston. By the time I re-fueled the airplane and myself, the storms had moved beyond my destination and once again  discretion triumphed over valor. 

All my diverts in Boeings were due to medical emergencies or doing circles in a holding pattern until the fuel gauges told us it was time to visit the alternate. All my fuel diverts were successful, but unfortunately some of the medical emergencies did not end as I had hoped. Perhaps a blog for another day. 

The question, “What if,” is also the basis of writing fiction. As an author, I ask myself that question and then develop a plot that answers it in what I hope is a suspenseful and entertaining way. The questions I ask myself as an author are some of the same ones I asked myself as a pilot. What if I had an emergency at the equal time point of an ocean crossing? What if I had an emergency in a non-radar environment with no way to communicate? What if I was forced to use my aviation skills in a way that would vilify my reputation as a pilot? It’s much more fun answering those questions sitting at a laptop than it was sitting in the left seat. It’s also nice to know that if I don’t like the outcome or I’m not happy with my performance, I just use my delete option and start over. The only “do overs” you get in the real world are in the simulator and you’ll probably get very few before receiving the, “Do not pass Go. Do not collect a pay check,” notice. 

The good thing about solving problems at my laptop is that the FARs do not apply. What if…

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