While American Flyers celebrates 75 years of supporting pilots and passing out commercial pilot certificates, I celebrate 50 years of being one… And although I have been dedicated to teaching flying, it has always been interesting to learn from some of my professional pilot friends. “Flying by the book” was an obligation, but they added that respecting the comfort of their passengers was a really important responsibility as well.
Here are examples of what I learned from them, plus one on my own…
- “Bumps in the Night”
Flying midnight on an IFR flight plan, we were level at 6,000 feet skirting the tops of the clouds. It was uncomfortably bumpy, not so much for us upfront in the cockpit, but there were grumblings from our passengers. It was then that one of my airline buddies said, “Don, there’s no traffic and the air only a hundred feet above us is out of the clouds, why not take advantage of it?” It was one of those “why didn’t I have a V8” moments as I confirmed with ATC my intentions and climbed to the smooth air at 6,100…
- “Stay on Top of It”
There are some approaches away from the big cities that are interminably long, perhaps thirty miles in this learning experience. The cloud tops were about 3,000 and the procedure turn altitude around 2,300. Adhering to the approach plate, I descended into the clouds and spent about 15 minutes accumulating ice. (Anyone familiar with flying anywhere near big water in the winter knows what happens.) There was no problem, after all, we were landing anyway, so I activated the boots a couple of times and landed. After the flight, another airline buddy of mine commented, “Don, there was no reason to descend into that ice, why didn’t you perform the procedure turn above the clouds and after the final fix inbound, make your descent?”
- “No More Ice”
The experiences above remind me of the landing when the airplane was carrying a great deal of ice. As I was flaring, I was in fact relieved that nothing serious had come of it, so I sure wasn’t prepared for what happened. As the wheels touched down, the airplane jumped back into the air like we had just ignited rockets. The lesson, the plane was reacting to the fact that several hundred pounds of weight had just been eliminated.