Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Armstrong: The Old and the Bold

There’s a saying that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots


May 29, 2007
By Ken Armstrong

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There’s a saying that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but there
are no old, bold pilots. Although this isn’t necessarily a truism, it’s
easy to assess which type of pilot the marketplace respects and desires
as companies scour the country looking for the grey-haired,
crispycritters who know their steeds and tasks as well as they know
their limitations. Is this a diatribe against young pilots? Not at all.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses and it’s wise to be cognizant
of them all.

The
young, less experienced pilot is wide-eyed with the industry’s
challenges and excitement. He (or she) is like a willow, prepared to
bend with the challenges, face the ravages of weather and snap back for
the next attack. In the same metaphor, the older, experienced pilot
delays the operation till the weather improves and the wind abates. In
some respects, the young pilot’s launching into somewhat dangerous
situations is what eventually allows him to have refined judgment and
become experienced, and with any luck at all eventually progress into
an experienced, older pilot.

Young pilots have an attribute best
described as resilience. Put me in a shared bunkhouse room with a heavy
snorer and a late night party in the next room and I will wake up
totally spent, grouchy and essentially impaired. Conversely, the young
jocks generally transition to the land of nod when their heads hit the
hay and are generally oblivious to distractions or interruption of
their sleep. Thus, they generally wake up alert and ready for their
next life lesson.

Once, I was a young fling-wing driver and no
task seemed too daunting for my growing skills. The flights that
provided challenges that taxed my abilities taught me invaluable
lessons; however, virtually all of the close calls (and there were
many) were results of my errors in judgment. Now, flights tend to be
relatively mundane with few surprises or scares. Superior skills and
experience? No, not necessarily. The older, high-time pilot doesn’t
need to continually push the envelope to gain peer respect. Perhaps the
reduction in testosterone takes away the urgent need to prove one’s
manhood with the helicopter. For, truth to tell, our masculinity has
nothing to do with flying. For that matter, if we want to see artistic
flying that might be considered an aerial ballet, one might want to
watch women guide aircraft with delicate touch and refined motor
skills. No, flying is not a masculine extension of oneself.

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So
why do many of the less experienced drivers have a tendency to show how
little they know as often as possible? My pet peeve is the “pull full
power and rocket upwards as deeply into the dead man’s curve as
possible” procedure. This is bad enough solo, but reprehensible with
passengers. (We simply don’t have the right to jeopardize our
customers’ lives!)

Behavioural experts often chalk these
displays up to immaturity, low self esteem and cancellation of the
school milk program. (OK, the last was my addition!)

Are you a
low-time pilot looking for a tip to get ahead in this industry? It’s
better to have clients wonder if your skills are adequate rather than
create a foolhardy incident which proves your incompetence. In other
words, fly with maturity that implies in-depth experience. Even if you
don’t have a bald pate and hairs sprouting in your ears, show
sophistication in your decision making and you will appear to be a
highly experienced pilot.

For the elderly crop of helicopter
pilots, there is much we can do too. It would be best to leave behind
any attitude issues or complaints of pains, illnesses, poor pay or
other issues. Customers are paying for service and the challenge is for
us to provide not only superior flying skills but also a winning
attitude. Many of us also need to improve our physical fitness levels.
Personal weight problems, emotional issues and other health challenges
should not be allowed to develop as they can prematurely terminate our
flying careers. Too many aging pilots develop sedentary lifestyles and
this not only leads to disease that can terminate our licence/medical
qualifications but can also impair our judgment for decision making and
our ability to put in a full flying day without fatigue or pain. We owe
it to ourselves to keep fit.

Regardless of age, we all have our
physical, emotional and intellectual challenges. I’ve loved every
aspect of 40+ years of professional flying and think the biggest secret
to success in the industry is adapting our individual skills,
experience and maturity into a package that reduces risks and provides
high levels of customer satisfaction.


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