Thursday, October 11, 2012


Jokers mock an airplane’s speed by noting the comfort of its seats. When the craft is fast the seats need not be nice, but slower craft demand a nicer seat, since occupied for so long.

Yet many slow craft have nasty seats, forcing the pilot to squirm and grimace for many hours. The pilot squanders personal essence in attempting to find comfort. None have measured the cost.


Sometimes the seat is not felt. With ceiling low and visibility minimal, the pilot focuses all essence on the task at hand. Pain and fatigue vanish as the ground comes close, the pilot straining every sensory and extrasensory perception looking for the runway. The craft does not extend behind the pilot’s eyes; all that is perceived is the dark or clouded air ahead, and the lack of apparent land.

Adrenaline is a particularly exquisite form of essence.

Once the craft is on the ground the pilot’s body returns and settles into the seat, unaware of all the fuss that just has passed. The body is tired and more drained of essence than its conscious efforts might be thought to require. Why so tired? Why so sore?

Why am I laughing out loud?


For craft that serve many missions, the seats must be removed. Seats by their nature must be difficult to remove, lest some minor incident knock one loose and turn a passenger into a missile.

Not the pilot’s seat, of course.

For most, a telephone call to maintenance brings someone for whom seat removal is a welcome break from harder work. The bill comes in the mail.

For those with Air Carrier certificates, the pilot is allowed to remove the seats. Unaccustomed to mechanical work, he loses chunks of skin.

Seats by their nature must be difficult to remove. Difficult to remove means difficult to install. Replacing seats does not replace the chunks of flesh; instead, more chunks are removed.

In charter work or public transport the usual rule is to arrive at the airport one hour before departure. The pilot arrives to find that the seats are not yet installed. While no tools are required, the pilot recalls those missing chunks of flesh and proceeds slowly. The mechanism is designed to pinch, and the seats are hard to locate in the back of the hangar. Seats by their nature must be light, but the size of something large enough to hold a person is close to the size of a person, and the pilot scuttles aross the empty ramp with arms forced to awkward angles by their rests. Distracted from the task, thinking that the fuel must be ordered, the flight plan filed, the manifest filed, the configuration log updated. The pilot rushes.

This way many charter operators extract a pound of flesh. The debt repaid? The expense of training.

Missing flesh and blood means missing essence. The bleeding hand robs the pilot of finesse.

Railing On.

Seats must be easy to adjust but hard to move. The pilot seated at unfamiliar height or depth sees the world differently, and may find it difficult to adjust. Better to adjust the seat itself than the pilot’s view.

In older craft the seats may not adjust. But then the pilot need not worry about being in the right place at the right time. There being only one place it is if no matter.

The seats should latch in place. Otherwise the raised nose may cause the seat to slide back. Desperate to stay in the right place, the pilot seizes the yoke, sending finesse to zero.

The latches appear strong but many years of careless sliding cause much wear and tear. Newer pilots who have not yet learned to caress the yoke have not yet learned to caress the seat latch.

As latches fail, and aircraft fail, more appliances are applied to keep the seats in place. Now to escape the pilot must find a tiny cam and twist the proper way. Easy enough at the end of a short flight on a sunny day, but perhaps requiring more essence than remains when upside down in a muddy field late at night as the craft begins to burn. 


At October 11, 2012 at 2:48 PM , Anonymous Shamim said...

I lucked out -- the Citabria has new seats -- very comfy, I never notice them.

The towplane (a Scout) usually has its rear seat out, but for the checkout it must be replaced. I have sacrificed a few ounces of flesh to the seat brackets. (It's remarkable how the anemic climb rate of a Scout towing a two-seater becomes truly pathetic when the towplane also has its rear seat occupied.)

At October 11, 2012 at 7:28 PM , Blogger On a Wing and a Whim said...

Being the smallest and least-trained person at the shop, I got to remove (and replace) more than a few seats, and then crawl backwards out of the plane, taking a handful of carefully marked ziplocks filled with inspection covers and screws, and leaving a lot of holes in the floor. (And a little flesh behind. Always a little flesh. If I had done it intentionally, I would have started worrying about my religion's absolute prohibition on idolatry and sacrifices to other spirits - but the unintended if inevitable way it happens safely kept that in the realm of jokes.)

As a year has passed since I spent days flying the airplane down and nights camping next to it, I start to forget the discomfort in the cushions' imperfections: rather, I remember the hardness or softness of the ground, grass, or FBO couch beneath the sleeping bag each night, measured against the relative standard of the seat's comfort. Each time I go up, even if it isn't much or far, I forget the seat in favor of the flight.

One of my youngest passengers, though, is very focused on the seat - and on if the latest growth spurt and his pillow have gotten him any closer to reaching the nirvana of the rudder pedals. Someday, full control of the plane will be his!

At November 1, 2012 at 8:58 AM , Anonymous sewa mobil jakarta said...

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