Today’s Flight Plan
Recently I picked up a book called “The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual: Or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It“. This ended up being an absolutely fantastic read! Why? Because it was real. Real conversations about real aviation topics that not a lot of people want to/dare to talk about.
Rick Durden, the author, isn’t new to aviation, however. He’s been around the hangar block a few times, and knows a thing or two. His career is speckled with and painted with many unique experiences and many interesting paths.
For example, at one time he was a lawyer for Cessna. As a company perk, he got to learn to fly basically everything they had.
Rick is down to earth, fun to talk to, and a guy that is worth listening to. I know you’ll really enjoy this episode, and learn a whole lot from it.
- How you fell in love with aviation
Your history as a pilot:
- Basic overview of how you got started
- How things progressed over the years
- Over 7,000 hours of flight experience in more than 200 types of aircraft
Who were your role models?
- Pilots Lounge
- Aviation Lawyer
- Author of many things (still writing today)
— AOPA Pilot Magazine, IFR Magazine, Plane and Pilot Magazine and Pilot Magazine
— Aviation Consumer Magazine
— IFR Refresher Magazine
- Safety- FAAST Team Member
- Public Benefit Pilot
The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual: Or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It
If you could do any type of work full time in aviation, what would it be? (particularly one of the jobs you’re doing now or have done, but you only get to pick one)
Say that I’m a new student pilot and you were my instructor. How would you handle me as a student? What tools would you give me? What technique would we use? What is your approach to instructing?
What are our biggest challenges in aviation safety?
Where do you see aviation going in the future, especially in training?
- Rick’s Website
- The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual
- The Pilots Lounge
- AvWeb Directory
- IFR Refresher Magazine
A big high five and thank you to Rick for coming on the show and gracing us with his presence and passion. Much appreciated, certainly inspiring, and of course, a grand ol’ time. Thanks a million, Rick!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Chris: Carb heat, gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop, switches and seatbelts. This is AviatorCast episode 18!
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff! Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. For me, flying an airplane is a symphony of connected magical moments that culminate in another flight, a flight where I love to learn something new and admire the blessing and opportunity it is to be aloft. I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight simulation training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility, and a commitment to excellence. Each episode of AviatorCast will have real flight training and flight simulation topics or an interview with an inspirational and influential aviator. Our desire and mission is not only to create awesome aviators, but also bridge the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Show notes, transcript, community discussion, and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So thank you for joining us on this, the 18th episode of AviatorCast. It is our pleasure to have you with us today on what is no doubt going to be a great episode. We have an awesome guest lined up for you, and it’s very kind of him to come on the show. But before we get to that, we have a review all the way from iTunes and from right here in the United States. This comes from Nicks, and he says “A niche gone unnoticed no longer. Five stars. AviatorCast takes the unique stance that pilots and flight simmers are the same type of person and that each can benefit from the other’s perspective. It backs this stance up with a real flight training segment and a flight simulation segment as the episode format, as well as special hangar talk episodes that anyone interested in aviation will appreciate. In this, AviatorCast has found an important niche that it executes on very well.”
So thank you from Nicks, really appreciate that, and I think you’ve nailed it. We really bring it together with the flight training and the flight simulation topics, and then from there, especially recently you’ve noticed that we just had some incredible guests on that really anyone in Aviation, whether you’re in simulation or real flight training, no matter kind of your hours ends up being a fascinating discussion, and we’re very grateful to have had some of these guests on the show. We have another one today. A really, really great guest. I’m so honored to have him on the show and so grateful that he took the time away from his busy schedule to be with us. This guest is Rick Durden. Rick is a big wig in the aviation community. He’s been doing a lot of work seemingly behind the scenes for the most part, but he’s also done a lot of great, great writing, and that’s how I came to know of him through a book called “The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual: Or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It.” Now, one of the big reasons I really loved this particular book and why I really enjoy Rick’s writing and perspective, is he talks about topics that perhaps we wouldn’t talk about before. Some of those being how to survive an aircraft crash, ski flying, taildragger flying, float plane flying. He talks about stupid pilots, people that should do way better than they’re doing now because it’s killing people, and so that’s a very interesting topic in this particular book.
This particular book was derived from one of his columns called The Pilot’s Lounger which you can easily find by just googling that term. All of these will be in the show notes though, and Rick just has such a wide body of experience. We’ve only talked about what he’s done as an author. He’s also a very accomplished pilot. Over 7000 hours of flight experience, but he’s not the type of pilot where he’s an airplane captain and building hours that way. He’s flown over 200 types of different airplanes. He’s worked with Cessna as a lawyer, and a lot of different, just amazing roles kind of in the aviation community which gives him a very unique perspective. So I think with all that said, you’re really going to enjoy this hangar talk episode with Rick Durden and the information that he shares with us. This was a really enjoyable time and I know that you will feel the same away. So here is hangar talk with Rick Durden.
Now, a special hangar talk segment.
Chris: Welcome everybody. We are very honored today to have Rick Durden with us. How are you doing Rick?
Rick: I’m doing real well Chris, how about you?
Chris: I’m doing well, doing well. You just got back from a really busy week at Sun ‘n Fun. I know you were doing quite a bit of work there too so you must be exhausted and excited with some of the stuff you saw, so thank you so much for being on our show. We really, really appreciate that. So, just as an introduction, I’d like our listeners to get to know you a little better and who you are. I learned about you through one of your books, and then it started to unfold this large history that you have as a pilot and as a contributor to the aviation community. So tell us first a little bit about just what you do in general in aviation which is actually quite a bit.
Rick: Well currently Chris, I’m sort of splitting my time as an aviation lawyer, primarily working in the areas of airport access and pilot representation when the FAA comes after them, and then, you take that, I often put on the aviation writing hat and like the senior editor for Aviation Consumer, and a feature news editor for AVweb, the internet aviation magazine, and then still contribute a couple of articles for some other aviation magazines, as well as working on finishing up the second volume of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual.
Chris: Oh wow, I’m excited about that.
Rick: I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a weary soldier on the war on boredom, always looking for something to do.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. So tell us, this is a question I always ask our guests on this show, but tell us how you fell in love with aviation.
Rick: It just always seem to be something that I thought was really cool from the time I was a little kid. I run outside in the backyard and yell “Air-pane! Air-pane!” My brother says I was 13 while I was doing that, it could be true. My father had been a naval aviator in World War II. He had stopped flying after the war because all he could afford to ramp was a 55-horsepower cub and he’d be flying 400-knot airplanes, so it wasn’t as fun. But there was always stuff about aviation around the house, and my aunt had learned to fly and her son who was a cousin who was just a little older when he had his primary rating and he was always talking about it. So it just always seem like something I wanted to do if I possibly could.
Chris: Definitely. What were your beginning training days like? What would that process like?
Rick: Oh man, I locked out. In ninth grade, I got to know a guy that was an explorer scout post, this is in Des Moines, Iowa. This craft which is still on Des Moines Airport sponsored the Explorer Post along with the Flying Club that was there, and every Thursday, we’d go out to Elliot Beechcraft. Instructors from the Flying Club would go to ground school. We got a free ground school, the old Sanderson film strips every Thursday night, and then on Saturday mornings, three of us would get to take a lesson in the Beech Musketeer. We would fly for half an hour and watch for an hour. The instructor donated his time, I think it was $4.50 for half an hour in the airplane, and I got to job working in a shirt laundry so I could make enough money to start taking lessons. It was great, having free ground school, and then the flying club members that were supporting the teenagers and starting to get some flying time out of it.
Chris: Yeah, at that age too when you’re so moldable and so impressionable. Definitely a huge impact even just from that perspective.
Rick: That’s right. You fall into a bad crowd at a young age and you’re just out of luck for the rest of your life.
Chris: Right. So how do things progress from there? When did you get really serious about this, because I know that you have over 7000 hours of flight experience it says on your website and you’ve flown 200 types of airplanes, so there’s a lot of history in between the explorer program and that number.
Rick: There was a craft tester at the small Iowa town where I had relatives, my grandparents and some aunts. Jefferson Iowa, about 16 hours northwest of Des Moines. So I started going up there and taking lessons because I couldn’t solo the airplane that was being used by the Explorer Post, and so I started taking lessons at the little airport in Jefferson and got hired right after I turned 16 last summer, to work round trip for the craft testers and it paid really well. You wave flags and eventually I get to where I mix the chemicals as well, and it paid enough over the course of the summer, working some very, very long hours that that fall, while I was able to fly in the school year, just taking my pay on account at the little FBO. So I was able to take my private checkride on my 17 birthday, and then I wasn’t able to get my commercial done by the time I turned 18 but I did get it done just after I graduated from high school. And then, as a freshman in college, I got my flight instructor rating. That was back, you didn’t have to have a [inaudible-00:11:45] back then to be a flight instructor, so I started instructing at various locations and just kept adding ratings. I scared myself very badly, take off one night. We all thought it was clear, we could the see the stars, and when we got about 100 feet in the air, we flew in the fog, it was over a river at the end of the runway and went zero-zero.
Rick: Yeah. So I finished my instrument rating where I got filled out and got my double I. Coming out of college, I had most of my ratings in a fair amount of flying time, but that was also a time when the airlines required 20:20 vision so there was no hope for me, I had corrected lenses. So I went to law school, trying to come up with some sort of a fallback, and then again I locked out there. I was at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and there still is a large student-owned flying club Delta machine flyers where I instructed and then we got a lot of instructors there wound up, getting pulled over little run airport, having forced airport to rebuild between forests in World War II and this should become a freight hub for the auto parts for the Detroit area. So I hold freight in various different types of airplanes while I was going to school. Somewhat in time, I got my ATP before I graduated from law school and then sat around there for a while, flying single and twin Cessnas and got a pilot job in inner jets hauling free all around the country, and having a great time until the recession of ’78 and all then all the free hauling stopped and everybody went broke, so I had to look for a real job as a lawyer.
Chris: Gotcha. And that’s when you got into kind of the aviation lawyer end of things? Is that what you always intended or did that just kind of happened by chance?
Rick: Well that’s what I wanted to do. I had clerked one summer during law school for a law firm and which started aviation law and got to know some of the people in the area. Cessna’s legal department had two lawyers and I got to know them. Well, about the time that things were collapsing in Michigan, one of the two attorneys at Cessna has decided he wanted to go do something else, and so there was a job opening. I applied for it and got it which was one of the best jobs I could ever imagine. Because there were just two of us, we were very, very busy because at that time there were a lot more lawsuits being filed than there are now [inaudible-00:14:45] but I was also told that for product knowledge, it was required that I stay current in everything that Cessna built. Don’t throw me in that briar patch. So once a week, I was expected to go over the transportation department and choose one of the airplanes and go fly for a couple of hours.
Rick: They sent me to flight safety, and so I got tuckered in citation and with a turbo prop, I generally just ride along on flight tests and so I got time in those.
Chris: Wow. That’s quite a big step. And what age were you when you started that process?
Rick: I was 24, 25 when I started at Cessna.
Chris: Wow, that’s amazing.
Rick: I was there for seven years and at that time, they had added a third lawyer by then in the department, but it was doing the same thing. I mean, you were constantly just defending lawsuits from people who were telling you that you are horrible people and building terrible airplanes, and I wanted to fight back a little more effectively. I got to know some of the aviation law firms in the country that actually has an in-house council; you don’t go into the courtroom generally. You hire attorneys that are trial lawyers, and I thought I decided is actually go into the court room and walked inside an aviation law firm in Chicago. Did aviation and then wound up doing some of the very first space law cases.
Chris: So, tell the listeners a little about that, and I don’t know too much about that either but there is a period there in the 80s where from my understanding that there were so many law suits that some of these manufacturers actually started pulling back on simply just manufacturing certain kinds of airplanes because of the liability. So tell us the repercussions there as far as what that meant to general aviation or even from the corporate stuff.
Rick: There wasn’t a lot of hard data but the biggest year for general aviation was 1978, and there were a lot of law suits but they weren’t driving decision-making and in terms of the amount of money involved, it wasn’t terribly out-of-hand, but then they did ramp up. There would be occasionally a high profile one, whether it be one against the manufacturer, but at the same time, some of the investment tax credits that we had went away, and sales started down from a high in ’78. The manufacturers reacted by raising the prices of the airplanes. While they were selling fewer, they were making more money. And the aircraft prices went up really fast in the early 80s. By 83, they’d gone up substantially. There had been cost increases on the law suits although they want the major driver. There was a recession going on in the country. There were problems with airport access. More and more airports were closing, there were more communities that were putting pressure on airports from noise. They were a combination of things that were driving sales down. The price to manufacture a Cessna-152 was almost as much as it was to manufacture a 172, so it was hard to price them to make a profit and still have some money set aside for after-sale service and for the potential of a law suit. One law suit on 152 could wipe out the profits for the entire line for one year, so that was the concern.
In ’85-’86, Cessna made the decision to stop building piston engine airplanes. They said they would start again when there was some sort of a [inaudible-00:19:07] primarily a big whole statue of repose that said “after X number of years, a service in the field in airplane is considered to be safe and you can’t sue on it anymore.” Cessna said they’d go back and the production of something like that was past, and that did happen and Cessna went back into production. But the cost of defending lawsuits was one of the factors that drove down general aviation, although I have not seen hard data on it.
Chris: Yeah, just your gut instinct from what you experienced it sounds like.
Rick: Primarily, and seeing that it costs a lot of money to defend a lawsuit whether win, lose, or draw. It’s very expensive.
Chris: Yeah. So tell us a little about, well maybe more than a little bit, but about your writing because this is something that’s been obviously public for you as well. I came to know about you through reading your book called “The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual: Or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It.” It was a really great book. It opened my eyes to kind of who you are and your writing style because you have a very different writing style which I enjoy. It’s more of almost a fiction-based novel but with all of these factual stuff behind, and I really enjoyed it, and that kind of comes from I think probably one of your biggest contributions to writing which is The Pilot’s Lounge, so can you kind of tell us, or rather tell the listeners, kind of I guess the premise behind The Pilot’s Lounge and what it means.
Rick: That came about in the late 90s. I’ve been writing articles for AOP Pilot Magazine on classic airplanes because I like antique aircraft, I like flying and I’ve been lucky enough to have an opportunity to fly a lot of different ones. Then I was trying to make them as accurate as possible, just essentially as a historical artifact. I was approached by one of the editors of AVweb to do a column monthly with essentially a lot of leeway as to what I wrote about, so I created The Pilot’s Lounge in what we called a virtual airport. It was a mythical airport. It’s actually based on a combination of Jefferson Iowa and Michigan Fliers in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it’s a little airport. It’s got a number of different airplanes at the FBO. There’s a pilot’s lounge where people hang out and talk and I brought in people I looked up to in aviation and made them characters in this Pilot’s Lounge. People that I have learned a great deal from, and so each month, the topic is very alive but often times, I start with, I was always getting questions about flying with babies and kids and I had some very good experience with it and I had some doctor friends that have given me some advice. So we put together a column about that subject, about hearing protection for babies and restraining them appropriately, and even down to the airplane selection.
And then looking at subjects that people don’t really talk about, that they talk about when they’re putting the checks in the boxes to go through a rating. They say “Well okay, if the weather is below 1500-foot overcast and 4-mile visibility, don’t fly.” Well, that’s like telling teenagers not to have sex, it doesn’t work. Because every month, we kill people in scud running. Alright, so let’s talk about. I was very lucky and I got trained how to do it by somebody who was very good at it, and then I stopped doing it because there are too many towers now. So let’s do an honest article about scud running. And if you’re going into a subject that could be very dangerous, the more knowledge you get I think allows you to make a better set of decisions as to whether you’re going to do it or under what condition you’d like to do it or under what condition you’d like to do it, and maybe stay alive.
Chris: Right, exactly.
Rick: When I was in high school, I was deeply impressed when I person I knew was killed on a bad weather day. I went to funeral and it was clear and a million. So talking about it I think openly, honestly is important for flight safety, and so I put some of that sort of things into the Pilot’s Lounge column at AVweb, and had some pretty good responses and now the first volume book came out two years ago and the second one, trying to wrap up here, Rod Machado was kind enough to write the foreword for it, so I’ve got to get the rest of it done. Everything is written, it’s just a matter of working with my editor to get cover on, some picture in it.
Chris: Great. Well, I’m excited for now. You know, you explained exactly what my draw to it was and it was these controversial or less talked subjects like scud running for example. One of the most interesting parts of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual for me was a the section on Oshkosh where you were reproving the pilots that were just acting stupid I guess you could call it, and potentially calling the death of other people. It’s essentially just saying why aren’t we doing better than we’re doing. That one actually had a great impact on me and just made me realize that yeah, we really do have to stay on top of this.
Rick: I wrote that one in the heat of battle so to speak. I lost a friend at Oshkosh that year. When I was camping, I looked off to the west and there was that awful pillar of smoke not far off beyond the runway and it turned out to be a friend of mine. It appears that it was caused by a combination of events and it was also, people were landing the wrong way on the runway so they couldn’t hold out to the airspeed building up the railroad tracks and VFR arrival. I’ve watched way too many stupid pilot tricks and I came home and wrote about it, and without pulling any punches and that’s one of the nice things about AVweb, is that there, I could be absolutely honest and not worry about somebody that oh my goodness, you’ll offend an advertiser or something. So it has been an excellent vehicle for being able to talk about some hard truths in aviation.
Chris: Which is something we need more of, because it seems like we’re getting the same old information over and over again, and the kind of information that you have to share, stories like this, are things that younger pilots don’t really even hear about unless it’s written or said obviously, and so those are things that absolutely need to be said no matter how difficult they are. We need to having those difficult discussions about particularly aviation safety.
Rick: I agree with you and I think it has to be, I was so tired of reading the preaching that is done so many places and used to be done. The FAA would have a safety seminar 30 years ago and the speakers would compete with each other to who could be more boring and preach more. So you turn off your audience, they don’t listen. I of course was a young pilot, thought that I could walk on water, and I would fly anything. I’ve had five engine failures because of that. Your flight junk, you can get away with it for a while, but if there’s a way to talk about it in a fashion that reaches someone, then I think maybe I’ve accomplished something and maybe kept somebody alive.
Chris: Definitely. Yeah. The interesting thing about I guess being an author kind of in your position is maybe in some cases you realize the impact you’ve made on other people. I hope that some people have reached out to you and told you different stories about how your articles have helped them, but there are a great many people that have read that stuff and will have that in mind when those situations come up potentially which is a great thing. What kind of feedback have you gotten from your writing that kind of validates the things you’re saying?
Rick: Well, it rangers from what kind of idiot are you to a couple of emails of “Holy smoke, this column saved my life,” and it feels incredibly good.
Chris: Yeah, because it’s a true impact, very personal and makes it all worth it I suppose.
Rick: I would speak as one of the things that I learned early on is that aviation writing isn’t ever going to make me wealthy, and you do it because it becomes a passion and you hope that you can leave a little something for the future and help somebody out.
Chris: Definitely. So you already mentioned that you do work for AOPA or have done some contributions rather to AOPA pilot magazine, what other magazines or outlets have you contributed to as well just for informational purposes for the listeners?
Rick: Aviation Consumer Magazine, I’m still the senior editor there and so I have at least one or two articles a month. I was the editor of IFR Refresher Magazine for a period of time. I do Aviation Safety and IFR magazines from time to time. The editors are panicking and scraping the bottom of the barrel, call me up and asked if I can do something. So that’s pretty much it.
Chris: Good. Well, still a lot of work and now you’re doing the AVweb stuff. I looked on your AVweb feed if you well and noticed that you were doing a lot of work while you were just down there in Florida doing articles on some of the newer technologies coming out and just things you were seeing, so you’re still very, very active. I can definitely see that.
Rick: I write two features a month for AVweb and then also do some news coverage.
Chris: What are the features you do each month for AVweb?
Rick: They vary a great deal. I just did one that came out today about the oldest flying DC3 in the world, and others what might be of interest. I had something in a chat with the editorial director, it may be an opportunity to rekindle The Pilot’s Lounge column, because sometimes opinion pieces are sometimes straightened in those pieces.
Chris: Right. I noticed that The Pilot’s Lounge stopped in 2009 if I’m not mistaken.
Rick: I think that was the last one. They sort of phased out all of their columns a little before that, and then they kept me around the longest, and then said “Now, we got to stop the columns.” But if you go in there, there’s a fascinating collection of columns by a lot of very, very smart people that I have relied on over the years. John Deacon’s material on engine operation. Mike Bush’s material on maintenance with some actual stuff.
Chris: Great. So I guess that’s a question that I actually forgot to mention or rather ask you earlier is if you could name just a few or whoever your most influential mentors were, who would those types of people be in your career?
Rick: Oh that’s a good one. As I started flying, my primary instructors were hugely impressive. And then my dad had stopped flying after the war but there were times he flew with me. All those experience, and he made some just passing remarks that like “Gee, I wish I would’ve thought of that,” type thing that made a difference for me. When I was worrying about being a ground crewman for a ground crewman for craft tester, there was a kid that was just out of college that was hired to work around crew and then fly sprayers [inaudible-00:33:18] and he was a huge influence and I stayed in touch with him to this day. Then as time went on, I started instructing at FBOs and I would fly with the sharper pilots that were thoughtful and would have conversations with me about weather and “yes, I’m not going, I’m cancelling this flight today because of this and that,” or they’d gone out and approach to minimums and couldn’t get in and they went down another 300 feet to try to get in and they went down at 400 feet and they never hit a radio tower. So these guys I listen to because they were thoughtful and smart and I learned. When I was at Cessna, the test pilots were huge influence on me. Bruce Barrett who was the head of flight test for the pony division single engine airplanes and they have done thousands of spins in the 150 and 152 and had written a pamphlet at Cessna Post about that. Tremendously thoughtful guy.
In defending lawsuits, we would occasionally hire professional pilots and I got to know Al White who had been the chief test pilot on the XP-7, the only person that got out after that midair, and I flew with him one time in the Cessna 402 and I watched him make a 45-degree bank, 720 to the left, and then rolling 212 to the right, and after three complete circles, the altometer in side hadn’t moved. I thought it was stuck, I tapped it. I wasn’t stuck. He was that smooth and that accurate, and that was a huge influence on me on a way that I flew the airplane. When I was technically checking him out for insurance purposes so he could fly the airplane and do some demonstration flights. So during the preflight, it took an hour. He wanted to know everything he could about that airplane. How are the ailerons retained? What control surfaces have counterweights? How are those weights retained? How do I tell if they’re there? And for everyone, he had the name of a test pilot that had died because an aileron came off the airplane, or a counterweight wasn’t installed right. He wanted to know what to look for on the preflight and he wanted to know what could go wrong in flight that he could fix and how to fix it. I wound up getting some the project engineer for the 402 involved in that preflight because Al was asking a lot more about the airplane than I knew and I called [inaudible-00:36:16]. So I learned from that preflight than Al did because I learned a lot about how to do a preflight.
Chris: Yeah definitely. And admittedly for people that have their own airplane and just go out and pull it out of their hangar and kind of go, preflight is one of those things that’s just forgotten or rather just, it seems like it’s routine right so they just kind of let it go.
Rick: I agree. And probably rightfully so because we know the airplane, we put it away. We open up the hangar and the wind hadn’t fallen off, so we have reason to believe that it’s going to be in the same shape as we’d left it. Especially if we’re to [inaudible-00:37:04] does maintenance check just before letdown after cruise to check to see if something has gone wrong, chances are the airplane is going to be in pretty good show. But by the same token, one of the things that Al White taught me was that you get rid of distractions on that preflight. Okay now, it’s time to focus on the airplane. I learned that from a guy named Randy Sollen who was the retired Northwest 747 captain but he’s the guy that flew a B29 out of the boneyard for the CAF and was their chief check airman for years and flew everything in their inventory. I worked with him on some matters and one of the things he would was once he got into the airplane, he insisted on absolute quiet, no interruptions for five minutes, and that was one of his ways of making sure that he was focused. I watched Al White do that at preflight. When he walks up to the airplane, he looked at it from a distance to see, this started out with “Okay, now here’s an airplane I’m going to fly it.” It’s almost eastern meditation type thing. I’m putting myself into that zone and I’m going to go fly and now I’m looking at the overall view of this airplane. Is it sitting level? Is anything obviously wrong? Is the antenna broken? I mean, how many times have we flown an airplane with the antenna gone? We hadn’t known it for a couple of flights. It’s something I’ve tried to do even though I’ve fallen to the trap that we all do of “Gee, it’s ready to go. C’mon hurry up, we got to get going.”
Chris: And recognizing that those things are there is the first step to doing the counter to that which is taking a few minutes at least to go through and do things correctly.
Rick: And accepting that something can go wrong. I’ve worked with pilots who, most of them are freight pilots. They operate under the mindset that I know something is wrong, I better just find it. And when you’re flying some of the junk that they were, they were right.
Chris: Definitely, yeah. That’s a pretty good mindset actually. Okay, so we’ve talked a bit about your mentors. Is there anyone else that you want to mention about the mentors there before we move on?
Rick: Those are the ones that came to mind. I’ve been quite lucky in meeting them and becoming acquainted with a lot of very, very good pilots, and I have shamelessly stolen everything from them I possibly could because they had good ideas.
Chris: Right. And that’s kind of an unwritten rule in aviation anyway is that anything that can help us and help us be better pilots, we take that and we pass it on sort of thing.
Rick: Agree, yeah.
Chris: Especially that tribal knowledge that’s so important.
Chris: Okay. So you and I were talking before the show here. I have a question here listed. If you could any type of full time job in aviation, what would it be, but we’ve all agreed that you’ve done so many great and wonderful things that potentially that isn’t a very great question, so I kind of had one that is related to it as far as kind of the core I guess I’m trying to get to there is maybe what’s one of the your favorite memories that you’ve had, one of those magical moments as a pilot where everything just kind of made sense and it was almost a spiritual experience, does that make sense? What’s an experience like that you’ve had?
Rick: There are two that just popped into my mind as you mentioned that. One was I was flying an Aeronca Sedan, it’s a four-place Aeronca built after World War II from Syracuse New York to Des Moinse Iowa. Made my first top for fuel at Palmyra New York which is in the old Erie Canal. I didn’t know this airplane at all. I was flying an airplane at 145-horsepower, but that was it, I was teaching myself the airplane as best I could. And landing on this grassy runway, it’s still covered with dew, and I working on trying to three point the airplane and not roll into a ball, and it was one of the those landings where I couldn’t tell exactly when the wheel started rolling in the grass. It’s one of those rare moments, like Richard Bach would write about where he sort of touched perfection. And taxiing back out and working at the time remarks and seeing that it sort of just got lighter and lighter until they were gone so it wasn’t some touchdown. And then a few years later, I was with a friend of mine where we’re flying a Piper Apache on a kidney for a transplant. We’re heading for Ann Arbor. The sun is coming up and we’re flying between layers of clouds. So it’s a world that is black, turning gray progressively lighter, and then all of a sudden the sun came up between the layers and turned the world into technicolor. And I looked out, I looked over at my friend and said “Tell me Dan, why do you fly?” And he look out and he says “You know, imagine trying to explain this to somebody at a cocktail party who says, why do you fly with slow airplanes?” So there are magical moments that I was going to look up. Flying a seaplane and just that moment as the water starts to kiss off the bottom of the floats on touchdown is wonderful.
Chris: Yeah. Great, great. I liked that a lot. Okay. So kind of another question I had is it comes from, say that I was your student and you were my instructor and we were starting off new today. Where would we start, what will we do, how would you train me as a pilot, and I guess what I’m getting at here is I believe there’s a separation, this is just one of my own personal beliefs. I believe there is this separation between how we used to be trained as aviators really, the Charles Lindberg mentality and it very much stayed alive I believe through even the 60s and 70s so I kind of feel like you’re in that bracket, but now it feels like, let’s just go get our rating, let’s try to get it at the minimum hours. We don’t necessarily need to be competent in IFR, let’s just get our rating and kind of move one sort of thing, so I feel like that’s the mentality now rather than the core aviating skills and the decision-making and everything. So that’s what I’m getting out with that question. How would you approach me, with all your years of experience, and what would our training be like?
Rick: Well first I’m going to do I just give a plaque from Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here,” and we’ll go from that. But my approach is that we’re going to start out with a syllabus that is well thought out and there are very good ones. But we’re going to flesh it out so that you will learn them and judgment as we go along. A number of the schools that are trying to have initial students put them into community airlines, they never landed in a crosswind more than 7 knots, and your touchdown point is always 1500 feet from the end of the runway. Well that stuff of course we’re going to learn how to fly the airplane precisely and if you are interested in becoming a professional pilot, we’re going the learn the things you need to know, but we’re also going to spend some time over the local grass airport shooting touch and go’s and then shutting the airplane off sitting aside and watching other people land. Talking about how to land the airplane best at a crosswind and keep the aileron on deflection and during rollout. From time to time we’re going to look at accident reports and say okay, what are our risks? So going forward as a pilot, what are my risks? How do I assess them correctly? Because often times humans worry about the wrong things. We spend thousands and thousands of dollars on traffic information and alerting systems in our airplanes, yet only 1% to 2% of the accidents are midair collisions and over a half of those are not fatal, so every time there’s a midair, people survive. Yet, the most common accident is loss of control on landing and running off the runway.
I think we get a lot more bang for the buck spending a hundred bucks with an instructor every six months for a recurrent training. So going in, what do we need, let’s take the private pilot syllabus and yes it costs a lot money and yes going through to meet the minimum standards is acceptable but in my mind, ethically for me, I can’t train to the minimum standards, and by law the FAA regulations are minimum standards and that’s all. So what else do we need to know and my [inaudible-00:47:11] is we’re going to go into a short runways, we’re going to go into narrow runways. We’re going to make a cross country where you’re going to have [inaudible-00:47:20] in the map without a GPS, without radio receivers. We’re also going to do one where we’re going to get lost and then you’re going to use every bit of information you have in that airplane to find yourself. And if that information is GPS, that’s wonderful. We’ll make use of the technology. And then one of the things that I’ve done, it’s been a while since I’ve had a primary student, is after the checkride, we go out and do a lesson that may involve something that aren’t covered in the normal syllabus, flying the airplane in a fashion that the weather’s coming down. How can I divert and get into an airport. How do I look over a field, why would I want to try to go to an airport if suddenly the weather’s gone lousy on me, and trying to go the next few 10 miles and then kill me, how do I land in a field? When I touchdown, how do we look it over and set up for landing up with minimal damage? Alright, we’re at this airport and now we have a single runway and the wind’s blowing [inaudible-00:48:38] crosswind, what are our options? It’s legal to land on a taxi way. There’s nothing illegal about that. We may be at risk of wrecking the airplane landing on that runway, the safest thing to do maybe land it on a taxiway [inaudible-00:48:55] What are the standards? What’s our judgment here? The better might be to do to go that airport 10 miles away. So looking at that sort thing I think is how we would be doing it. I also, after you take your checkride, you and I are going to make a point where you have to fly again in six months. Because right now you’re using to taking dual, and the minimum standards after you get your rating is one bit of dual instruction from the instructor every two years. That isn’t good enough. Professional pilots take recurrent training every six months and their actual rate is tiny, maybe they know something. So let’s get you in a habit of every six months, do a little dual with me. Something that’s fun and you’re going to feel like you learned something and you scrape some rust off.
Chris: Right. You pointed it out, a lot of different things that came from your book, those practical things that happen after you get your license and the six-month recurring, scraping the rust off, and having a plan of action for that particular dual ride with your instructor, knowing that you have particular weak points as a pilot yourself, being honest about those weak points and then going and working on those and working on some of the I guess less popular things right, in an biannual flight review, you got up and it’s generally kind of an aircraft checkout and a small checkride if you will. But it may not be things that you have challenges with and there is one chapter in your book where you talked about crosswind landings and you were basically demonstrating that a particular gentleman was doing it way too fast and that’s why he essentially almost lost control on the runway and went off the runway. In fact, maybe he did in that particular story. All these different things, that pilot’s intention was to fly safer. He wanted to keep the airspeed higher and get away from some of these base to final accidents or whatever it was but he was actually making the whole process so much more dangerous because the real loss of control was on the runway, so I practicing those I guess those unpopular things.
Rick: Practice sometimes that make you uncomfortable. Let’s go outside of your comfort zone while you got somebody in the other seat that will catch you if you fall off the tightrope, and let’s talk about what those are, and let’s also practice the stuff you don’t do everyday, because as pilots, it’s the stuff we don’t practice where we get into trouble. So in our normal operations, we don’t do very much slow flight except immediately before landing. Let’s find ourselves at the airplanes fully controlled. It feels a little mushy, but those controls respond very well to modern airplane. Let’s go practice some crosswind landings because just sure as there’s Murphy Law, that you intend to get out, take your family on a trip and get everybody noon, you get delayed leaving and by the time you get there it’s midafternoon and the wind’s come up and you’re going to have a crosswind that’s maybe a little higher than you’re comfortable with, so maybe it will be a good idea to have practice at least.
Chris: Right. Definitely. We’re kind of winding down here in these topics. What is your take on aviation safety today, what are the big challenges? Where do you see that going? It seem like you have a lot of experience to kind of speak to a question like that.
Rick: Absolutely, I’ll say about the same for the last 10 years. So we’re making the same mistakes over and over. I think the most common accidents are runway loss of control in all types of airplanes. The challenge I think there is to work on making sure we fly the airplane and [inaudible-00:52:58]. The cliché has been there for years, it’s true. Try single gear airplanes. We have [inaudible-00:53:08] You have gust or you have aileron correction and you’re off to the side of the runway. We still are going out in god awful weather and fly in a VFR out and I don’t know, you look at those accidents and sometimes there are some psychological reconstructions of the pilots who absolutely refuse to listen to anybody and I’m going to go no matter what. I’m not sure how we approach that. The people, I noticed that the folks who are in tight clubs, the Cessna-150 club or the Beech that are on these and they are thinking about and talking about aviation in between the times where they fly, tend not to be the ones who crash. You looked at the folks who’ve been accidents, often times they don’t subscribe to aviation magazines. They’re not on tight forums. Their thought process don’t include aviation and are not around airplanes. I’ve watched that with [inaduble-00:54:23], those who taught about flying in between lessons, they do a lot better than those who compartmentalize everything and didn’t think about their next lessons and walk in and or go to the FBO.
Chris: Yeah. And that’s a big point I drew from your book and was comforted by knowing that I was already kind of doing that is that I was getting a lot of information in between and staying involved, and I do think that that’s very, very essential to any pilot to just continue to grow because there’s so much more out there to learn and really the learning process never really stops. Your hour range, how many aircraft you’ve flown, all the experience you have. Do you feel like you’ve stopped learning?
Rick: No. Constantly trying to pick up something new because you never know what it is that you need to know that may save you the next time. Plus it’s fun. One of the things I’ve enjoyed is adding a radio on, learning to play sequence. It doesn’t take long. It’s a ball and you pick so much that transfers over to the flying into the day to day, not the least of which is just a better ability to read the wind. So there’s so much to learn and so many fascinating people to learn form. That’s one of the things I like this and one of the reasons I actively socialize with other pilots and throw gatherings to get interesting pilots together and do something.
Rick: Twice I year I invite folks to Cadillac Michigan where we fly cubs in the summer on floats and the winter on skis.
Chris: Sounds like a blast.
Rick: It is. And everytime I do it, I learn something because there are some really sharp people around doing that sort of thing.
Chris: Yeah. Actually, through that same vein, you actually inspired me to go out and do the ski-flying stuff which is actually pretty prevalent in my area in Alaska so that’s something I’m going to do too, because you made it just sound I guess challenging but also just very rewarding right. It just sounds like it’s a really good idea.
Rick: It’s just a ball. So many things you can do. It’s something new and it’s by yourself you learn something, and it winds up carrying over to other areas when you least expect it.
Chris: Great. So, I think we’ve covered a lot here. We’re kind of up to hour hour mark. I really appreciate you coming on the show. Is there any last advice for pilots just starting out, pilots that are building hours, even experienced pilots that you have, any advice for them?
Rick: Give up now, it’s not worth it. No, I wish I were smart enough to give advice like that. Mine is just look for what’s new and have fun doing it.
Chris: Great. Great advice. Well Rick, I really appreciate you coming on the show. I know that you have a whole lot going on for yourself, but I know that the knowledge that you’ve shared here with us today and the thoughts and ideas will definitely help someone become a better pilot and that’s what we’re all about here, so I appreciate it and we’ll keep in touch.
Rick: Okay Chris. Thank you very much. I’ve been honored.
Chris: Thank you Rick, see ya.
As I step back and think about what Rick and I talked about on this particular episode of hangar talk, I can’t help but notice that there is something to be gained from these aviators that have been around the block a few times. Rick certainly has an amazing amount of experience and knowledge under his belt. Just by being a lawyer with Cessna, with having all of that flight experience that he has with all different those types of airplanes, and with his writing, Rick really offers a very unique perspective. And in that same idea, I want to give you a bit of caution. Now, let me do that with sort of an analogy here which will make perfect sense to you. So in today’s world, we are seeing that World War II vets for example are becoming few and far between just because of the age gap there and really just how long it’s been since that time frame. So without having personal experience with a World War II vet, we’ll never truly know what World War II was like or how that era was or how that era was and what it was like to be alive during that time, and what it meant, this World War that pretty much everyone was involved in, what it meant to be living in that time. So those people are going away.
Now, I think Rick in a certain sense is one of those people but in the aviation sense. There is this time frame in aviation where aviation was born and it really became what it was, and Rick was very much part of that era and we can learn so much from people like Rick and we shouldn’t discount that kind of knowledge. Now, today you can go out and you can get any number of training courses out there. You can have many people teach you how to be a private pilot, teach you how to get your instrument training, and you can do all that through online videos, online courses, DVD courses. You can sit down with an actual instructor. You’re many times going to have a pretty new CFI that’s doing that training for you. There are a lot of different places you can get this information. I guess my word of caution and also what we can learn from someone like Rick is that we should not let go of those core things that make us aviators. We should not forget that we are inevitably in control of our airplane and that there are so many things that go into this experience, not just those little bits of knowledge, and they are in matters of importance, little bits of knowledge that you learn while you’re going through the little bitty details in the private pilot course.
Really what we learn from people like Rick is the decision making and the airmanship and the safety and going above and beyond what we’re already doing and also questioning where we are currently and questioning different things that we’ve been taught over the years, and actually putting ourselves in those situations where we gain experience and learn things but we do so in a safe way. Much of that comes from simply learning from these mentors and from these people that have done it before. And so I guess my encouragement to you is take Rick’s words to heart not only from this particular podcast. I wouldn’t suggest that you forget about Rick after this podcast. Go out, get his book. Go read his columns on AVweb. This guy is a wealth of knowledge. I want to say too that Rick isn’t the only guy like this. There are so many people out there that have so much to share, and we’ve seen that through other episodes of AviatorCast as well, speaking to Paul Craig and Bruce Williams. Those are two other great guys that have done a lot in the industry. So there’s just so much to learn. I digress, Rick, thank you so much for being on the show, it is very much appreciated. I do how that all of the people listening will come away with a more engaged mind and a more greater commitment to become better aviators and to be safer aviators as a result of some of the things you shared with us and also from the things that they will learn from your writing. So again I encourage all of you to go out there and pick up some of Rick’s stuff. Really amazing stuff. Really, really enjoyed his book and I can’t wait for version two to come out. So again Rick, thank you so much for being on this show.
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