– Steve Hitchen
Picture, if you will, a small terminal building at one of the very few Victorian airports that get an RPT service. The flight to Melbourne has gone, but there is standing room only in the main lounge area, all seats filled with aviators, waiting, as aviators so often have to do. Outside a man shrouded in a waterproof jacket is fueling a Bonanza, water dripping liberally from his hood. All around, raindrops splatter into rapidly-forming puddles on the tarmac. Pilots indoors tap frantically on iPads, getting progressively confused. The BOM radar, you see, shows no rain at this location. Has someone told that Bonanza pilot he's not really getting wet? The situation creates consternation: the rain radar is one of VFR pilots' go-to tools when it comes to decision making. In this case, it was a no-brainer not to attempt to fly; something clearly wasn't working right. But often VFR pilots go to the radar in flight to try to work a way through the weather, as if they believe the radar images are real-time and accurate to very co-ordinates. Radar images should, at best, be used as a big-picture guide to confirm what your primary rain sensors, your eyes, are telling you. Even then, you need to take into account the time lapsed between when the image was created and when you saw it. Weather moves with the wind, in real time, and often a radar image is a window into the past, not an accurate recreation of the present. Then sometimes they are just plain wrong, as that Bonanza pilot and his colleagues found out.
This week the aviation community specifically celebrates the roles of women in aviation. As pilots, as engineers, as managers, as people. Our industry is still dominated by men, which is somewhat of an anomaly given that women seem a more natural fit. From the very early days of aviation over 100 years ago, inherent misogyny and entrenched conservatism discouraged and disapproved of women flying, usually accompanied by excuses long since proven nefarious: women can't fly, it's not lady-like, it's too dangerous for a woman. That general discouragement meant there was no substantial movement of women towards aviation. The few that did enter the ledgers of the pioneers did so generally because of an overwhelming determination not to let the naysayers carry the day. Their achievements exposed the lies, but still no groundswell of women occurred. And that was to aviation's detriment. Today we need celebrations like International Women in Aviation Week to try to overcome the damage done in the pioneering days. The future of general aviation in particular may depend on luring more women to our ranks, and we have to make up for a lot of years of blindness and deliberate obstruction.
There is an old, trusted saying that in aviation you start out with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience; the trick is to fill the bag of experience before the bag of luck runs out. A wise saying, but one that tends to enshrine experience as the primary cause of safety. This week, the ATSB released an accident report that doused that theory in icy water. For all his 6500 of experience, a Deputy Chief Pilot couldn't see the potential for disaster. His experience didn't protect him. Sometimes, we aviators are guilty of holding up our own experience like its an impenetrable shield that will thwart misfortune. It's a very good protector, but only in conjunction with ongoing diligence and a recognition that experience is only as good as the way you use it. Misfortune doesn't care how many hours you have in your logbook, and will rush quickly through the cracks created by complacency.
There's only three weeks now until Easter! That's the time when most of us are lured by the irresistable pull of too much chocolate and Easter buns. The good news is that Easter also brings the traditional Australian Flying subscription offer. This year we're offering a one-year subscription (six issues) with the digital version thrown in free for $41.00. That's a saving of 30% off the normal price. And it won't add inches to your waistline! Go on the Great Magazines website and get yourself a guilt-free way of celebrating Easter.
May your gauges always be in the green,