Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Friday, 11 March 2011

Do you have the moxie to sit here?

Novels can improve on nature. My hero, Jana, is more civilised, more sympathetic and speaks better French than me. Since I am spending a year in her company I wouldn’t have it any other way. But she’s superior elsewhere: she flies planes.

Piloting requires technical skills. On the Cessna 172 dashboard about twenty sources of information must be checked and – more demandingly - interpreted. Some are more important and may be ignored only for a minute. As I construct take-offs, flights and landings I imagine I could manage this.

It’s the other side I worry about. Unlike cars and boats planes operate in three dimensions but it would be fatal to imagine this as simply a sequence of two-dimensional equivalents of roads and waterways. To gain height you climb; climb inadvisedly and you stall (ie, lose normal control of the plane); fail to correct a stall and you spin; spin… well, you can guess.

Ironically, in the perfect landing you flirt with the stall. You approach the runway slowly and it’s dangerous to fly slowly. The exterior of the plane is “dirty” with flaps and undercarriage down; the controls are less responsive. At the right moment you cut the power and the plane stalls into touchdown.

I might even manage this. But have I the capacity to be observant – all the time? This is what distinguishes flying from driving a car. Remember those lapses on the motorway? They mustn’t happen in the air. There are routines that help but do I have the temperament? Happily my age makes the question irrelevant.


Sir Hugh said...

Some years ago, using my thirteen year old son as an excuse, we built and attempted to fly radio controlled model aircraft. I was harking back to my boyhood when I built and flew less sophisticated versions (not radio controlled). We never mastered flying solo (the club we joined had instructors). It is easier when the plane is flying away from you, but when it approaches you have to mentally reverse your concept of the controls. My solution was to imagine myself sat in the pilot’s seat - it is good job I was not able to do this for real because we nearly always crashed.

The Crow said...

I have the moxie to sit in the cockpit, maybe even do a pre-flight check list, but that's as far as it goes. I wanted to learn to fly until I had a free lesson and turned the plane into too steep a turn, which scared the pilot more than it did me. Ignorance is bliss, sometimes.

I look forward to reading Jana's story.

Plutarch said...

The pilot of a small passenger plane on which I was a passenger ( a facility trip to France, as I recall) said to me, alarmingly, as we approached Biggin Hill (I was sitting next to him) could you keep and eye out for other planes. They come in from all directions here!" It was the closest I ever came to a Biggles experience.

Rouchswalwe said...

Hmm. Vigilance is my middle name when it comes to brewing. Since I am as blind as a bat without my spectacles, I go with feel as often as not (especially since my lenses have been known to fog whilst engaging with the brew kettle). If you'd have the moxie to sit in the cockpit with me, I'd give it a whirl!

Anne said...

I read this to Jerry, who started flying airplanes when he was 14 and flew small planes commercially in Alaska for many years. He gave up flying at 70. His comment was that in a 172 you don't necessarily have to stall when landing. The airplane is still in control, you bring the nose up and cut power. You use power to control the descent, when you touch down you cut the throttle and you settle on the runway. If you cut the power when you are too high you may settle too fast and make a hard landing. With a tail wheel airplane you do it differently. You actually hold the airplane off the runway until it stalls. Then it settles.

He says this is rather like trying to describe how to ride a bicycle. Once you learn how to do it you feel it without really thinking.

He says flying is a lot easier than driving. You can just sit there and look around. He has told me about how all sorts of things look from the air, like wolves running or geological features.

He says one could write pages on this. I think I have gone on too long.

Barrett Bonden said...

All: Didn't expect too much response on this one and very much appreciate what I've got. I am embroiled in the subject and can hardly bear to be aware from the novel with character, environment (SW France), main character (woman), and general background (flying) all coming together. I've already written almost a third of the book. Grrr - for pleasure.

Sir Hugh: Thanks God I don't have to come to terms with reversed controls. The great thing about writing is that you don't have to tell the whole story as if from an instruction manual, it's possible to choose details selectively. And the Delete button allows me to go back and rectify a crash before it happens.

The Crow: I've just broken off from Jana taking up a rank amateur for a lesson and I intend to use something like your too steep turn to get across the fact that he has lots to learn. Thanks.

Plutarch: A useful anecdote but I need controlled skies for the moment. Assume less traffic in SW France than at Biggin Hill.

RW (zS): I think if we're ever going to do this together it had better be with Microsoft Flight Simulator (which I have). All you need is to fly over to Hereford (by commercial airline I would say).

Anne: Lots to consider, there. Would Alaskan skies be fairly free from other planes (hence the ability to relax) or are they more crowded given that planes are the only mode of transport in some places. The flirting-with-stall landing details came from Microsoft Flight Simulator but I acknowledge there may differences in the way different pilots land and how they describe how they land. Babble on, by the way. I need the dialogue.