Coping: With The Risks of Flying

Actor Harrison Ford is in the hospital – doing fine – after having to land his Ryan PT-22 trainer on a golf course near the Santa Monica Airport due to engine failure on takeoff. 

Ford, who’s quite expert at the flying game (including a helicopter/ rotorcraft endorsement if I recall correctly) is not the first fellow to lose an engine. 

The plane he was flying, a WW II vintage PT-22 is a very seriously collectible airplane according to Wikipedia:

In 1941, as the natural development of the earlier ST series, the PT-20 and PT-21 was the military production version of ST-3 with a total of 100 built as the U.S.A.A.C.’s first ab initio monoplane trainer. The rapid expansion of wartime aircrew training required new trainers, and the Ryan PT-22, essentially similar to the PT-21, was ordered in large numbers.[3] Named the “Recruit”, it entered operational service with the U.S. Orders also were placed by the Netherlands, but were never realized as the nation capitulated to Axis forces. The small order of 25 ST-3s was redirected to the United States and redesignated as the PT-22A. Another order also came from the U.S. Navy for 100 examples. The PT series was in heavy use throughout the war years with both military and civil schools, but with the end of the war, was retired from the U.S.A.A.F.[4]

As a pilot, I tend to look at stories – like the Ford landing – a little more closely than most.

Back in 1999, Ford as a close brush, too.  That was when a Bell Jet Ranger 206 he was practicing emergency landings in (with an instructor, the landing process for engine out in a helo is called autorotation) back in 1999.

What’s missing in the media reports of Thursday’s event is just where Ford was when his engine conked-out.  If the engine failed when his plane was very low (300-feet, or less) then he would have been trained to fly to the closest thing to land on that was roughly straight ahead.

On the other hand, if he had taken off, was well past the golf course, had more altitude, he would have been inbound attempting the return to land and, seeing he wouldn’t make the field, would have chosen the next best thing – a golf course.

The media reports aren’t very specific as to his in-flight location.  The words “Immediate return” suggest he was past the field, but believed he had enough airspeed, altitude, and ideas to make the field.

He’s also a frequent enough pilot out of Santa Monica to know that there was a golf course just in case he came in short short, which is what appears to have happened here.  Expert flying.

The problem with a close-in engine loss is that while the airplane might be able to climb at a good clip, say 800 feet to per minute, or so, and glide about that speed, there is a critical loss of altitude and time in making the required turn for “immediate return.”  With an engine out, there is no second chancing on this stuff.

Another danger is stalling the aircraft.  What happens in a stall is the aircraft (often quite suddenly) loses lift.  When that happens, it’s simultaneous with a loss of control authority because without air going over control surfaces,  control is lost.  In extreme cases, you can go into a spin and “buy the farm.”  That’s a saying from WW I when pilots who were killed in action where covered by government life insurance that just about covered the mortgage due on a modest farm in the Midwest.

Judging by the position of the aircraft, I’m just guessing that Ford lost the engine, attempted to return to the airport, calculated that he didn’t have the altitude to glide that far.  So then it comes down to a choice of where to set down. 

Old aircraft are more challenging in this kind of situation because some don’t have flaps.  So to lose altitude quickly, you “slip” the aircraft;  dipping (for example) the left wing while applying opposite rudder.  (In other words, cross-controlled from the normal turning coordination between rudder (pedals) and yoke (hands).  Slips are fun and in the days before flaps, it was how landings were fine-tuned.

With flaps and aggressive slips, you can drop 2,000 feet a minute, or more, in some planes.

What you’re trying to do is fly the airplane sort of sideways, in a slip.  The big increase in frontal area slows the aircraft down, so you drop the nose and keep up airspeed and prevent a stall.  And on a golf course landing, there might be last minute adjustments in order not to hit players.  And, a hard bounce (into a stall) becomes possible if you don’t find level ground.

The definitive book on flying safety is  The Next Hour: The most important hour in your logbook. Highly recommended.

Flying isn’t much more dangerous than driving a car, but it is a discipline and Ford’s an expert pilot.  Yes, things go wrong.   Properly handled, the airplane gets bent up, the pilot is loaded down with lots of paperwork from the FAA and NTSB, and life goes on.

OK, why do people fly small planes? Besides not going through the group-grope in the TSA lines to go somewhere? 

Let me see if I can explain it: I’ve owned Porsches (including the old 930) and motorcycles, but even when being rung out on a track, none of these even begin to approach the exhilaration of life in three dimensions, instead of two.

When I was learning to fly in the early 1970’s I remember getting on my Honda 350 XL, popping a wheelie as I left Boeing Field in Seattle to grab the freeway and thinking “You know, this dirt bike stuff is pretty boring compared to flying.”  So is everything else. 

If you’re an adult and you’ve never spent the $100-bucks, or so to take an “introduction to flying” lesson with a good instructor, it’s more than worth your time to do.  People can fly at any age from 16-up (going from memory of the regs).

Give it a try and you’ll develop a deeper appreciation for Ford’s most excellent handling of an awkward situation which is what engine outage is:  an inconvenience he trained for..

A nickel side-bet says he’s is back up flying in a month or less..

Publishing Schedule

OH, boy, what a load of comments.  I’ll be going through the comments this weekend and trying to make sense of them. 

You may find the chart off to the right useful, too.  that’s how this website’s traffic is distributed over time presently.

As you can see, the peak server time is 9 AM, which makes sense when you consider the server time is Eastern and we live and write in Central.

The good news is, most of our readers seem to get sleep from 11 PM to 6-AM, or so.

Another thing I neglected to mention is what happens if/when Elaine and I ever sell the Texas joint and move to somewhere like Ellensburg or Wenatchee – maybe even Spokane – to be closer to the kids?

The problem there is we will automatically lose another hour due to time zones.  In order to be on the desktop at 9 AM on the East Coast, as we are now, the writing on the West Coast would need to be posted at 6 AM and to do that, now we’re talking about a 3 AM wake-up call.  And that simply is not in the cards.

The last data point worth mentioning (there’s always something to mention) is that I don’t want to reduce the number of days published, really.

Reason?  People come to websites for reliable, fresh content.  Given a site with 4-day per week content, instead of 3, everything else equal, the 4-day a week site (even if not spell-checked…ahem…) will always build traffic.  5-days a week is even better.  And 6 or 7 is better than that…

More things to think about…

Friday at Management School

We’ve been having lots of fun working on “management” thinking around here. 

As an example, Elaine’s starting to use Outlook for task management and appointments (like doctor and such).  She’s been mostly an email and web person, but computers can do so much more.

With the SSD on the Big Box here, I’ve been working on the tuning process for
Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 13.0, English and sooner, or later, I will attempt to use it to “right a call-em.” 

Still, for dashing off emails and such, I’m a huge fan of voice recognition and have been ever since saying these words I immortalized on one of the world’s first automated outback telemarketing computers in (how long ago was…) 19854.

“Please hold.  I have an important call for this number….”

Yeah….I was the original that guy.

Computers are continuing to weasel their way more and more into life.  Siri isn’t much of a conversationalist, but my Consigliore tells me that it would be a legit biz expense for me to upgrade all of my computer screens to 4K…which I’m thinking of, since the whole world is skipping 2K like it doesn’t exist.

Personal Time Management

You don’t get Digital Musician, do you?   Great magazine which I get because of our audio engineering school which is in development over at

The back-page article this month is a discussion about prioritizing workflow in the Studio, but it’s such a grand and simple system, that if you haven’t run across it yet, it’s a great tool.

The idea is you nail everything in your life into one of three categories:

Must Do:  This is the stuff that absolutely HAS TO BE DONE.

Should Do:  (Elaine hates the word “should” by the way, it’s one of the banned words around here since one secret to a happy marriage is learning to never utter the word “should” to your partner…)

These are things you are expected to do, but could slide if you are stuck for time on MUST DO items.

Could Do:  These are the things it would be “nice” to do – and while they might get you some points with the spousal unit, or other recipient, they are really optional and thus disposable.

The definitive books on personal time management are Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.

Or, if you want to go back to when Gaye at and I were coming up in management (early 1970’s) Bill Oncken was the time management guru of the era with his book  Managing Management Time.

I’m bound to get some feedback from a couple of crotchety trolls who will say “I’m retired, don’t waste pixels on BS like time management books…”

The fact is,  the older I get and the closer to permanent underground housing we all move, the more apparent and important time management becomes.

The way I have it figured, Ure’s truly only has about 30-years left on the genetic clock.  That’s OK and fine with me except for one tiny detail:  I have 50-years worth of stuff on my MUST and SHOULD list with perhaps another 30-years worth on the COULD list.

So being stingy with our time as we age becomes really important.  Things we must do with the kids before check-out time, things we want to do with our spouses, and then there’s the “shoulds” list.

A number of readers have mentioned in their scheduled publishing time discussions, a concern that I will “burn out.”

Sorry, I’m not worried about “burn out” – never have been, and never will.

Reason:  There’s a big clock running in Life whether people want to acknowledge it, or not.  People who stop to smell the roses may receive blissful sensory inputs, but rose smelling gets old in about 30-seconds.

Meantime, experience has taught me that when you stop to smell the roses, some other damn fool behind you will run you over.  So stopping too long is not an option.

It doesn’t me that a vacation or trip can’t be on the MUST list, but prioritizing it as part of the “whole life” and “total income” MUST list has to be included.

Smelling roses doesn’t pay worth a damn…but paradoxically, doing what you love does.

Which leaves us on Friday morning, confounded again by the point to life.

But maybe it will all come into focus on Monday. 

In the meantime, weekends are when we can convert “smell roses” time into “personal accomplishments” time and I bet you’ll never guess which one I habitually opt for…as the poster-boy for defective wiring.

See you Monday (a great personal health story from reader “Red” coming up) and write when you break-even.


9 thoughts on “Coping: With The Risks of Flying”

  1. I heard there were 2 doctors on the course who helped with Ford’s care immediately following the crash. He was lucky it was mid-afternoon on a weekday, virtually assuring there’d be doctors playing golf at the time.

  2. Morning , didn’t comment yesterday but as far as content for me would just be any important new info on the economy ( alerts) and world events the rest is just fluff that i just skim over . Some interesting enough to read fully most just looking for highlights. But I’m just a Freeloader so probably not a good source of input .. Thanks for the info you do provide.

  3. George
    On the time management subject:
    You may want to check out
    Kelly’s Critical Path Method
    It is one of the text which formed the basis for
    Gantt Charts
    Primevera Software
    Microsoft Project
    And similar resource management tools. I played with it back in the day when I started out in construction project management. Not sure if the name spelling or the title are exactly correct.
    Have Fun

  4. Hi George,

    I agree completely that Han Solo did an excellent job of dead-stick landing his old trainer. It does seem to have flaps though, according to the pictures I saw.

    I can remember landing old rag-wing aircraft in a full slip dropping 2k feet per minute, straightening out on runway heading, and dumping flaps on contact to stay down and make the brakes work.

    I’d still like to see small aircraft with spoilers for additional control on short field and other challenging landings.

    • Totally agree, Mike. Yep, I’d have fowler flaps and leading edge slats on the Musketeer if anyone made them.

      (Or, I’d buy a Carbon Cub set up for Bush and be done with it, but then I wouldn’t have a home to live in…)

  5. “Listen closely….. hear it? Air escaping from a bubble is what it sounds like…or is it?”
    Or is it.. water flowing off the table drying up what the noodle is floating on…. Hmmm only time will tell.. my predictions still stands for the noodle to tear apart 2016 – 2017 after the new administration is tagged into office ( I actually look forward to the picture that every administration puts out on the wire of the outgoing president patting the incoming president on the back congratulating him on his success or tag your it).. I also am betting on the party that keeps saying lets go to war..or we need boots on the ground .. thinking this will save our economy..coming to full swing the same time getting their momentum in hopes that the old status quot will work. Not even in my dim mind realize that ooops we outsourced our industrialization and have basically become a consumption or service economy.

  6. Thoughts on Publishing Schedule”

    >”In order to be on the desktop at 9 AM on the East Coast, as we are >now, the writing on the West Coast would need to be posted at 6 AM and >to do that, now we’re talking about a 3 AM wake-up call. And that >simply is not in the cards.”

    Have you thought of publishing in the late evening instead of early AM? You’d get all the days juicy stories, in depth, to report upon plus your esteemed work would turn into an after dinner exercise rather than an early morning chore.

    Keep up the great work!

  7. Louise Hay, “remove should from your personal dictionary because the word itself leads to a life of regret.”

    I would comment futher, but you know. I already have a full, time and a half type life style. Stuff that “normal” people do like watch teeeveee everyday is beyond me, who has time for that! I’m like my father in that way, 9 out of 10 times when I sit down to watch movie I only make it 20 min into the show before I fall asleep.


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