Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Acknowledging an uncommon skill

Pilots and non-flyers are reading differently the story of a pilot who crashed in his plane in Princeton yesterday.

Most of the news stories, like this one in the Star Tribune, hinted that the result pilot Barry Ramage, 33, of Princeton, encountered -- crawling out of wreckage after his plane lost power when taking off -- was primarily because of his inexperience.

Ramage was not immediately available to explain what happened, but one of his partners in a gymnasium floor installation business said that this was just his second solo flight.

"There were a lot of trees in the area" where he was trying to land, said Debbie Covlin, a former commercial pilot, who spoke with Ramage afterward and added that she got him interested in flying. "It was a small area to put it down in, with what training he had."


The reality? There are a lot of pilots with much more experience than Ramage who are dead because they couldn't resist the urge to do what Ramage was able to resist -- turning back toward the airport when an engine quits.

Pilots are taught from an early flying age to "land straight ahead" when an engine quits at such a low altitude. There's no way a plane without an engine could stay aloft long enough to make it, and pilots often die trying (like this, for example).

"Landing straight ahead," however, is no fun, even if it's the best alternative. That a pilot on only his second solo, with minimal training, was able to make the right decision not to turn back to the airport, and then survive the forced landing, is a significant tribute to his skill and his flight instructor.

It's the kind of decision and result that the best pilots make. Perhaps you remember one such pilot.

Acknowledging the pilot's considerable skill would have been a much more accurate story.