These last few weeks, there’s been something weighing on my mind. More than my thoughts on ArkanSTOL, more than my most recent sunburn thanks to a lower latitude. Lately, I’ve been being reminded of a lacking number of entries in my logbook across the many backcountry airstrips across southern Utah. Thanks to a springtime of less than ideal weather and a summer stacked full of smoke, adventures in the Cub have been at an all time low. This fall, and specifically, this last weekend, an organization I’m proud to be a part of hosted their annual Fall Fly-in down south, and a few days of prepping the airplane, myself, and my gear for our triumphant return to adventure just turned south as I arrived at my hangar one morning and realized I forgot to bring some window cleaner.
Having arrived a few minutes later than planned, the morning breeze foretold a story that my unquenched thirst for adventure wasn’t quite ready to understand. Lenticular clouds, and active ones at that, danced above the Wasatch peaks while the clouds across the sky briskly moved through my field of view. Having kept a close eye on the weather models for the last week, the negatively trending forecasts and supporting observations brought me to one of those decision making points that a years worth of missed adventures and an overconfidence in my abilities as an aviator fought against this silly notion that I forgot a bottle of Meguiar’s to clean my windows.
What is it that drives our inner monologues? You may think an incessant requirement to wash my airplane down after a day of flying isn’t enough to substantiate a strong vote in the negative, but let me tell you about that magic bottle.
My brother in law, an aerial firefighter by trade, introduced me to the magic stuff. A mixture of water with a pleasing scent, Meguiar’s Quick Detail does a great job of washing windows, cleaning bugs, and serving as a ‘backcountry febreeze’ for those long trips where a shower isn’t the only thing missing. A clean plane is a happy plane, some will say, but cleaning a plane is a great opportunity for more than an aesthetic detail, but a mini-annual, per-se, and has proven to be worth the effort on a trip a few years back, where this supposed OCD tick helped discover a loose non-structural piece rattling around inside my elevator. Not knowing how much longer til the fabric would have torn, that magic bottle of Meguiar’s likely kept me out of trouble, and to this day I’ll never leave home without it.
Recently I learned about a superstition regarding bananas and boats. With many tall tales serving as origin stories, sport fisherman, who seem to pack as much superstition as beer on these recreational outings, will scoff at the mere sight, sound, or mention of the ill-fated fruit. Amidst the adventuring out around Southern Utah, a Kitfox with a brief history of brake issues spun a few blades through the soft ground below. When preparations to return to base were made and airlifts organized, the pilot grabbed what he deemed necessary out of his airplane, and a handful of headsets and two bananas brought this superstition to the front and center. Even the fine gentleman who flew in to rescue the pilot currently enjoying a little penalty box action scoffed at the sight of the bananas, and ordered them to be consumed prior to boarding his ride back to home base. “No bananas on this boat,” he said.
Distractions from our inner monologues are aplenty in our modern cockpits. Even a 70+ year old Cub like mine now comes standard with the iPhone I’m currently typing this on fighting for some of my attention. Kodak courage, likely the only phrase safe to search on Urban Dictionary, rings true to many who compete in the attention marketplace, thrusting pilots into those deep corners of the Vg diagram no horsepower or machismo can remedy. In the quest to prevent loss of control accidents, winners of the EAA Founder’s Innovation Prizes’ creations tend to revolve around a constant horn, instruments, or various doodads that remind me of something Langewiesche himself lamented. “We tend to pay attention to the wrong things; we miss the things that matter because we aren’t looking for them, because we do not know what they mean.”
When higher phases of task saturation come about, it’s no wonder we can’t process what our airplanes, our environments, or our bodies are trying to tell us. A recent mid-air collision between a Cirrus and a Metroliner leads many to believe an airplane with likely all the bells and whistles Garmin can thrust into a G1000 movie screen kept the pilot’s eyes from seeing the world’s toughest San Antonio Sewer Pipe in that lovely shade of key lime green from crossing those beautiful windows that Garmin has yet to fill.
In a world where we’re being bombarded from every angle with a myriad of shiny things vying for our attention, the abilities for aviators to discern which of these is worth our focus becomes more difficult. For some, it’s a thorough review of the weather. Others may use risk assessment calculators and worksheets. Some may even have personal limitations. Whatever serves as the genesis to wade through these waters, the impetus is on us to not only use these systems, methods, or common practices, but to take the results of those efforts, those words from our inner monologues, or our gut feelings, and respond to them. On this morning last week, I forgot my window cleaner and ended up driving to a fly-in, and having observed the weather along that beautiful drive, I’m glad I took a moment to listen to myself.