Concerned about your potential?


Here is something I would like to specifically address to builders new in flying, people without a license, ones who have not soloed, or may not even have more than an hour or two flying around in light aircraft.

What I want to directly say to these people is simple: It does not take any special talent, ability or IQ to safely fly a light aircraft, and do it well enough to enjoy yourself. Flying is enough of a challenge to require you to apply yourself, but it is certainly not reserved for ‘special’ people.

I am a safe pilot, and I know my limits and operate inside them, but I can easily and vividly remember when I didn’t know how to fly at all. Because many of my Fathers friends were military pilots that I was impressed with, I started off with the childhood perspective that all pilots were supermen. I never stopped to consider that it might take less skill and courage to be a good stick and rudder pilot than it took to attack the Thanh Hóa Bridge. Even though I knew better, some small element of self doubt lingered in the back of my brain well into my adult years.

I know how I got started thinking that way, but the things that reinforced it later were subtle; Think of how few times in your life a pilot has come up to you and said something like; “I am no where near as skilled as you are thinking” or “Airplanes have stability, and they do a lot of the flying by themselves.”  Pilots just don’t share that stuff with new comers, but it is true. It takes a lot of precision practice to be a really good aerobatic pilot or to be a really good instrument pilot. But, these are skills you can focus on much later, or never at all. I possess neither skill, yet I do have the skill set to be a very competent day-VFR pilot.

I can’t dance, I probably have a two digit IQ, I have 20/30 vision and I am not particularly physically agile. If I was a new pilot going to the front in WWI, I would be in trouble, but none of those extremes matter in regular recreation flying. The only four things that any person needs here are simple: 1) You need to be willing to learn,  2)You need to have good instruction, 3)You need to be alert and focused around planes, and after you are started, 4) You need to stay away from people who missed any of 1) through 3). That is all that is required to be a good pilot and have one of the most enriching experiences of being alive, all at very low risk.


Saw it on approach.  Looked like it still had towbar attached. Beechcraft Baron 58.

Above, My friend Gus Warren shot this photo at his home airport in Michigan yesterday. It is a twin engine Beechcraft with the nose gear collapsed and perhaps $50K in damage.  No one was hurt. A non-soloed pilot with some self doubt might look at this from afar and have an inner voice that says “That guy had a multi engine rating, probably was IFR rated and maybe had been flying for years, and he still has an accident…planes are dangerous and if that guy had trouble I must be at very high risk.” I understand that, I used to think that way.


 Here is reality: Gus got out his camera because when the plane was on final he could see that the pilot had left the gasoline powered tow tug attached to the nose gear of the plane before he took off. Yes, you read that correctly, this person taxied all the way to the runway, did his run up, and took off, never noticing that he had a, large, 80 pound object still clamped on to the nose gear of his plane. Would you bet that this guy pre-flighted the plane while talking on a cell phone? If we asked his neighbors at the airport, would they tell you he was always in a rush? My point is things like above do not happen out of the blue nor by random chance. They happen when people get stupidly complacent and bring bad habits like having the attention span on a gnat to the airport.

These are entirely avoidable, and if you are concerned about your own security and potential, I say Good, this means that you are alert and thinking. If you focus on the four factors above, you will do fine. There is no photo like the one above in your future.

I share a number of tragic stories under the topic of “Risk Management.” What makes them tragedies is they were preventable. I want people to learn from them, not be scared off from flying. In reality, if you are new and worried a bit, this is good. The people I am concerned about is any knew guy who isn’t concerned. It is far easier to teach you, the alert student, what you need to know, than it is to raise some sense of awareness in the complacent or distracted.

The stories I share reflect that I have lost a number of friends and acquaintances in planes. I have been in Aviation for 25 years, I do it for a living, and I travel and communicate a lot. I have met many people in flight.  Do not be put off because I speak of people I knew. I also know legions of pilots who have a fantastic time flying at very low risk. Many of the people in my stories did also, but on their day in question, they chose to do something that they knew was probably not smart. I want to share that with you so you always listen to the voice inside that says “This is dumb,” especially when others around you are saying “Come on, it will be alright.”

Read the stories and learn. If you have questions, write me an email, or come see me at an airshow and we will have a cup of coffee and talk.  Above all, know that it is good to be concerned, and that you have plenty of months to learn the things you need to know from good people, pilots with life-long habits of good risk management. You are not in a race, do not feel hurried in your learning. There is a lot to know, but you are going to take it one bite at a time, with a good instructor who will not advance you until you master the step. When you master enough basics, he will solo you. It is a building process, you don’t need to know everything at once.  If you operate inside the envelope of skills you have and exercise awareness and some judgment, you are at low risk. You will expand your personal envelope over time, but you will do this with good instruction, not by taking risks or being pressured by others to fly outside your skills.

There are a lifetime of adventures out there waiting for you. Do not discount your potential. If you have little experience, good, you are a clean slate and a thoroughbred. Just stick to the four principles and keep learning from others examples, both good and bad.  -ww

3 Replies to “Concerned about your potential?”

  1. William,

    Great story and message. I wonder how this one gets explained to the insurance company.

  2. Few people know their own potential. One valuable lesson we learned in Marine Corps boot camp is that we are capable of far more than we think we are…

    Patrick Hoyt

  3. A gentleman I am acquainted with owns and flies a medium sized business jet. He shared this story; Pre flight had been done, co-pilot and others had made visual checks. They were ready to taxi. He had an inner conviction to check whether or not the nose wheel lock pin had been set. Everyone said, yes, more than once. He reflected for a moment, and said, shut ‘er down, boys, I’ve just got to check myself. This is a man who travels quite frequently across the country to speak – a pilot that faces ‘get-there-itis’ multiple times per week. He got out and checked. The gear had not been locked – at least not after the last time. He said, you can imagine what would happen on the way to a 120 mph take off. Moral: Listen to your gut, follow procedure, see for yourself. No matter what. __|__

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