Flying magazine for pilots flying airplanes and helicopters in the Southwest
SW Aviator Magazine Aviation Magazine - Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah
General aviation flight magazine
current past airport classified events links contact
SW Aviator
SW Aviator Magazine is available in print free at FBOs and aviation-related businesses throughout the Southwest or by subscription.
- - - - - -
Airshows, Fly-ins, Seminars
2001 Aviation Events Calendar
The web's most comprehensive database of Southwest area aviation events.
- - - - - -
Site of the Minute
Featured Site:
A continuosly changing collection of links to our favorite aviation related web sites.
- - - - - -
Used Aircraft For Sale
- - - - - -

Wischful Thinking

by Jay Wischkaemper

It was only one of five crashes in Texas that week, but it struck close to home because he was a local. A high profile prominent businessman and his son from Lubbock were killed coming back from a weekend at the lake near Austin. The local media went into aviation crisis mode. One of the local TV stations interviewed the local flight school about the safety of “little airplanes.” The funeral was covered by the media. It wasn’t a banner week for general aviation.

I had met the pilot once about two years ago. He had just purchased his Cherokee 6. About a year later, I had seen the airplane, resplendent with new paint and a customized N number in the shop for maintenance. It was a nice airplane. Initial reports indicated that the plane “dropped off radar.” Further investigation revealed more details. He wasn’t instrument rated. A wing had been found a half mile from the main wreckage. Weather conditions near the crash site were 4,300 overcast, but witnesses reported seeing the aircraft coming out of the clouds. Even though he had owned the airplane for two years, he had received his private certificate 5 months earlier.

I read through the NTSB reports on all the crashes that week. The people involved ranged from our inexperienced Lubbock friend to probably the most high time Mooney pilot in the world. One was a charter pilot. In every instance, it appears they all did things that we are all taught not to do. Overload an airplane. Bank hard after overshooting a runway on final. Run out of gas. Fly into clouds without an instrument rating. Stall an airplane 150 feet off the ground.

These things aren’t rocket science. In many cases, the people involved likely preached to others not to do the very things they did that led to their own demise. Yet the seeming necessity of the moment took over, and they all committed the acts that took their lives.

Why do rational people do that? The answer is, they don’t. Rational people don’t commit irrational acts. Irrational people do. But what makes a person who under normal circumstances would never do such a thing take leave of his senses and commit the fatal mistake?

All of us have a built in sense of invincibility. It’s part of our innate survival instinct. That isn’t always bad, because the opposite of invincibility would be paranoia, which is probably worse. The word paranoid comes from two Greek words, which literally mean “alongside the mind.” In other words, paranoia is no less dysfunctional that a feeling of invincibility, but at least it doesn’t get you killed as fast. This feeling of invincibility exists in the subconscious and whispers to us that we can get by with something stupid in such a way that it overcomes the shouting of the conscious mind that is trying to convince us we can’t. In a battle between the conscious and the subconscious, the subconscious is almost always going to win. That’s why people smoke, and speed, and do drugs, and spend money they don’t have, and refuse to buy life insurance, and all sorts of other things that make no sense. It’s also why people fly airplanes into clouds that spit them out the bottom without their wings attached.

Five fatal accidents in a week notwithstanding, general aviation has always been, and will always be as safe as we choose to make it. There are limitations to general aviation flying, just as there is to airline flying, and for that matter, driving a car. Sometimes it is the fastest way to get there, but you had better recognize that there will be times when it is the slowest. You must be prepared to wait a few days for the weather to clear, or take the airlines home and come back later. You should be prepared to postpone a trip. You need always to honestly assess your skill level and comfort level, and respect both. Occasionally, you will exceed them, because if you don’t, your skills never grow, but there must be a point beyond which you never go. You don’t take off with less gas than it takes to get somewhere. You don’t overload an airplane just because your passengers brought a lot of luggage. You don’t fly into clouds unless you are trained to do it. You don’t shoot approaches to minimums with the ink still wet on your instrument ticket. You don’t challenge a thunderstorm. You don’t fly on the edge of a stall 150 feet off the ground.

All of us were taught these things. All of us are conscious of what is right. Our task is, when the subconscious tells us something different, to realize what’s happening and take charge of our fate. What’s right is usually obvious. Always doing it is the challenge.

Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas. He is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure.

Click here to return to the beginning of this article.
The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
SW Aviator Magazine • 3909 Central NE • Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031 • Fax: 505.256.3172 • e-mail:
©2001 Southwest Regional Publishing, Inc.