Continuing Crash Commentary of a Provocative Kind from One Professional Helo Pilot
Some days I wake up and have a lot to say. Today is one of those days. With an eye on poignancy, here goes.
One article collected and laid out the tragic history of sports figures and fatal aviation mishaps. Hmm. Who would we expect to be buzzing around Earth’s sky in heavier than air machines? The homeless? The destitute? Flying is and always will be an activity for the wealthy. There’s nothing surprising about aviation mishap victims having wealth or being renowned personalities.
The real catalyst for this post, however, is the report/advertisement that some Super Bowl commercial (please consider these words in their fullness–the “news” is about “advertising decisions”) has removed a scene with a helicopter from its Sunday ad. This has been done out of respect, they say. I say that they didn’t go far enough. I say that we all haven’t gone far enough.
Why not re-shoot all Super Bowl commercials involving helicopters in their productions? In fact, I do not think we should see an overhead shot of anything. Truly, we should just advertise using cartoons. But no sky shots! And for God’s sake, no clouds!
Additionally, the opening and closing of those super respectful commercials (they should be silent, since helicopters are noisy), should include the disclaimer, “No helicopters were used in the images, filming, or travel methods of any of the humans who had anything to do with this advertisement.” And I want a time stamp, too, like, “The last time a helicopter was used by anyone, including me, who had anything to do with this commercial was _______.” Let’s find out who really respects the victims of the tragedy.
Attention Professional Journalists: Let’s Chat About the Crash
My aim here is to give you the good stuff, the thoughts of a professional helicopter pilot who had to go to work the next day. Most of the following is criticism of your reporting of the crash, not my speculation about the crash. Listen up. You’ll learn a lot.
To begin, you journalists are doing a great disservice to language and how it works (not to mention your reputation) during your reporting. For example, the word “special” in, “He was on a special VFR clearance,” is nothing like “special” in, “Kobe was a special basketball superstar.” In other words, on any given day, every pilot in the sky could simultaneously be on a “special VFR clearance”.
Secondly, after completing every paragraph, reread it and ask yourself, “Is there anything in here which betrays that I have a complete misunderstanding of all things aviation?” If you answer affirmatively on any level, rewrite it. Specifically, pilots don’t ask for “flight following” because they are worried. When I’m worried, I hold my breath, I pace, I shake my head, I purse my lips, I mutter to myself, and I probably do a few other things of which I’m not even aware, too–no different than you. “Flight following” is meaningfully on the same level of flight safety as learning how to fly from someone else before flying solo. It’s absolutely unremarkable.
Thirdly, flying has so much drama inherent to it, or so much “organic” drama, that if you find yourself needing to add some, then you’re clearly not writing about flying. For instance, “Too low for flight following,” (Oooh!) has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the capabilities of the sending and receiving technologies which have been tasked with “following” the flight. In other words, in Iraq, we routinely flew at 100 ft above the ground. This is much lower than Kobe’s flight, and yet our Operations Centers knew exactly where we were every second we were there.
Fourthly, reread your articles for general common sense blunders. Particularly ridiculous are your claims about the differences between IFR and VFR flying. To be clear, whether flying under “Instrument Flight Rules” or “Visual Flight Rules”, whether flying in clouds (fog is just a cloud at the Earth’s surface), whether flying under clouds, whether flying over clouds, or whether flying in skies totally free of clouds, all pilots fly by eyesight.
Do you copy? You’re not doing your job responsibly when you’re not doing your research or using your brain. Admit when you don’t know what you’re writing about. You’re embarrassing yourself.
What caused the crash? Poor judgement. Bad decision making. At some level, once removed, the weather can be called a factor. But clouds are merely invisible gaseous water vapor that has condensed into visible liquid water. They cause daydreams; they are the outward cause of lightning and its thunder. The condensation can occur strongly enough to cause itself to fall to the earth as precipitation. But clouds do not cause pilots to crash.
Pilots cause pilots to crash.
We know that.
That’s why we’re so special.