The flying monkeys got me...

Helis and fixed wing

AMA 957918
IRCHA 4345
AMA Intro Pilot Instructor

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"If you don't want to crash, don't fly."

Its been a rough couple of months. I have had 3 crashes, 3 resets of my "Time since my last crash" clock (scroll down). Two were pilot error, both loss of orientation when I flew into poor visual conditions (one sun, one poor contrast sky), and one was structural, the plane simply folded up and died. All were complete losses. I got to thinking, I don't have many planes that I haven't had to repair, minor or major. Most have been victims of my flying skill, or lack thereof. For those others, there is plenty of time...

The first Twinstar was inverted as I crossed the sun line, too low under a tree line. I lost her orientation as I was turning and banking out of an inverted flight path and threw her into the ground so hard she literally became toothpicks and powder. I managed to recover the important parts, and quickly bought a new one. The price is too good, and she is fun to fly. I have only flown the new one once or twice.  (Twinstar links on my blog).

The Twinstar disaster.

A couple of weeks ago, my beloved but much abused Eflite Ultimate 20-300 was flipping around, when I thought I was too close to another plane and in the gray skies over the woods I lost orientation and could not figure out where she was going, until she arrived at the scene of the crash... An ambitious man might have rebuilt her, but honestly, she had been through enough. It was time to let her go. I won't replace her... can't, they don't make her anymore, and right now I can't afford the Precision Aerobatics Ultimate, a long time dream of mine.

The Ultimate FU.

And lastly, I am sure not my last crash, my fourth Eflite Pulse XT 25e simply folded up in mid flight and died an ignoble death falling into the trees and mud between the Merrimack River, and our flightline. Simply. Fucking. Folded. In. Half. At $200 a pop just for the airframe, I have spent almost $1500 on that model of airplane. The first three I admit I killed, but this last one... damn., just broke my heart.

The end of a legend.

I have lost planes. Everyone who flies has. Paul Verger, an AMA hall of fame pattern flyer I am sure, once told me, as we watched the confetti that was once a multi-thousand dollar 100cc plane he had been flying a moment before flutter to the ground, "If you don't want to crash, don't fly."  I get bummed when I crash, but I really don't see the point of getting angry. If you don't crash, you aren't trying hard enough. But its not cheap, and there is a lot of time and effort put into the building. Nothing, for sure, like a kit builder who puts his or her soul into each frame member they glue together, but its still a lot of time, and effort. 

So why am I having this run of bad luck? Have I always been a marginal pilot? WTF is my problem?

Most of my early crashes, or really, all of them, were due to learning where the flight envelope ended, either exceeding the capabilities of the model through ignorance, or just losing control. None of this required skill, I was just a talented member of The Society for Aircraft Demolishers, SAD for short. I am literally a sticker carrying member. It took me while to learn, for example, that even if the Eflite Stearman can twist a tight turn, aerodynamically she can't pull it off and will instantly enter The Spin of Death. I had to learn that several times. Its one of the reasons I am such a good MacGyver builder: I could and needed to fix those bonehead crashes, and I gave myself plenty of practice. I tore landing gear off more times than I can remember, broke engine boxes, crushed wings, broke the underside of frames. put holes in wings, wings in trees, grass and brush fields, crashed in roads, snapped props in half and clean off. Given enough CA, epoxy and wood, I can rebuild anything. Most of the time it was coming in too hot, coming in too low and landing in the trees, practicing the art of the 3-in-1 landings (a Bouncing Betty). failing to flare, or flaring too soon, ran out of gas in the wrong place, learning how not to spin, and that not all stalls are recoverable, and that depth perception matters.  Flying is costly, in time, money and energy. But like any addict, I keep going despite the pain.

Now my crashes are usually mid-flight loss of orientation. I can land anything eventually, and generally intact. But I think my depth perception, which has always been an issue, is getting worse. I also can't always see clearly in my contacts, or even sometimes my glasses, sometimes getting a floating contact while on final. Older eyes. Contrast is a problem: in dark gray skies, even with amber/yellow lenses, I am flying a black silhouette. I have watched a lot of my older flying buddies give up the hobby because they can't see well enough...

I also haven't been on my A game. I have noticed of late I have trouble finding the right DR and expo for my planes, even ones I have flown for a while. I am sometimes heavy handed, other times too light on the controls. Sometimes I watch my aircraft start to stall and am a bit slow to react. Or I do a an aerobatic maneuver too far away in the line of the sun... Its like sometimes when I fly lately, I am not paying attention to flying, and am worried about the tree lines, or the wind. I think a big part of it is that I am not flying nearly the hours I used to, back when I really could fly anything, focused.

But that's changing. I am flying with a club again, and enjoying the friends I am making at the field. I enjoy watching others fly well, poorly or not at all and enjoying it. I like seeing other mortals make mistakes, and marvel as Tommy tosses a plane around in a planned frenetic dance that shows his intuitive flying skills. I love watching the arrogant guys fly and ignore others less worthy around them, a clique of there own, and I love watching Dennis, the new guy, cursing with joy as a plane is taken through its paces, a grown up kid. Everyday that I am working, I wish I was flying. Every day I am flying, I am wishing it wouldn't end.

That's the real change. I am enjoying flying again. I don't think I realized that in the past couple of years where I wan't flying with others or at a club, it wasn't fun. I wasn't flying the hours I usually did. I wasn't sharing this experience with others, and I missed that. I miss Kenny Chandler, and my friends at MCRCC, where I would spend 12-14 hrs a day flying.

So I am trying not to take these crashes too seriously. I am sure I am responsible for 2 out of the last 3.  But that is just the way it is. I am learning, every day I fly, I learn. I need to let these lessons sink in, and become a better pilot, and not get discouraged.

And I am loving every minute of it.  If you don't want to crash, don't fly.

And come on... every pilot knows a crash is just an opportunity to get a new plane.

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