Sunday, August 24, 2008

Red, Blue, and Grumpy

I am not a fan of the current style of political debate. The labels "Red" and "Blue" reduce complex issues to mere cartoons. This stifles thoughtful debate, which is rare these days. My rule about the columnists in my local paper is that I read until the first insult. I generally put the column aside before I finish the first paragraph.

I thought about my previous post while flying a 172 down to the glider club. It consisted of a lot of petty stories about other people trying to stretch or break aviation regulations. But pointing out the mistakes of others is a destructive act, and I want my contribution to be constructive. So I deleted it. I hope nobody read it.

So let's be constructive. Why was I flying a rented 172 instead of my beloved club Archer?

Today is the last day before school starts, and I was determined to spend as much of it in the air as possible. I reserved the Archer, and contacted my students and the tow pilot. In fact, a lot of my friends planned to fly today; it was bound to be fun.

I got out to the airport and preflighted the Archer, but I did not see the "ELT not installed" notice until I went to start it. The ELT is the Emergency Locator Transmitter, which is designed to activate in a crash and send out a rather distinctive signal on the emergency frequency, 121.5 mHz. A functioning ELT saved the life of the passenger in this accident guiding a helicopter to a dramatic nighttime on-the-ice rescue using night vision goggles. Or, think about the Learjet (jets were not required to have ELTs until recently) that disappeared in New Hampshire. Here is the accident report. Notice that it took three years to find the wreckage.

So as a rule I like ELTs.

And in fact the rules require an ELT: see 14CFR91.207. Actually, there is an exception to the requirement when the ELT has been removed for repair (I forgot about this, but did not have enough information to decide to launch without it, even if I had remembered), but remember that night vision goggle rescue. I prefer to have one.

So I did not take the Archer; I rented a 172 from the local flight school, which fortunately had one available for the day.

In aviation we spend a lot of effort avoiding things that may never happen. Sure, I could fly without an ELT, and it would probably be OK. But it would not definitely be OK. And if you're wrong? As Phillip Larkin wrote of death, "Most things may never happen: this one will."

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