From the Flight Deck: When It Rains

From the Flight Deck: When It Rains

It never rains in California, it pours, man it pours.

– Albert Hammond, 1973

Proverb: It never rains, but it pours.

Misfortunes or difficult situations tend to follow each other in rapid succession or to arrive all at the same time. We sometimes cite proverbs, myths, nursery rhymes, even superstitions in our search for excuses, explanations and sometimes inspiration. Singer songwriter Albert Hammond used the proverb in his hit song.

Colloquially, we say that if something bad happens, it’s likely that more bad things will happen: it will really “pour” bad things once they start to rain down on us. Bad things come in threes, for example. Of course, it’s not the proverb coming true. When several bad things have happened consecutively, we’re simply reminded of the proverb.

And so, it has been for me this spring. A run-in with pneumonia caused two consecutive back strains from coughing. That was followed by a bout with the famed Norovirus. And just recently, three critical letters from readers. Judging by health and creativity, you’d think I’m falling apart! Darned proverb.

Have you ever wondered why the paper canister of Morton Salt shows a girl holding an umbrella? The proverb gained popularity in modern society because of her and a slogan. In the olden days, there was an issue with moisture getting into everything. Metal rusted more easily, clothing would develop a musty smell if not hung on the clothesline promptly and our food stuffs were problematic. Baking materials and spices were subject to clotting in their containers, including salt.

In 1911, Morton Salt Company started adding magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent, to their salt; this allowed it to pour freely. Today, they use calcium silicate. The original pitch was “Even in rainy weather, it flows freely.” A bit too wordy. Then they tried the proverb, “It never rains, but it pours.” Better, but not specific to the product. Finally, they settled on “When it rains, it pours.” The “it” being their now iconic and enduring brand of table salt. While the slogan is no longer printed next to the umbrella girl, your Morton Salt will still pour smoothly from its canister. No clumps, clots or clogged salt shakers

Coffee Please

Occasionally, my Twin & Turbine articles fail to flow freely. And calcium carbonate sprinkled on the keypad only makes the computer fix-it guy scowl. Not to get all artsy-fartsy, but writing creative nonfiction often requires inspiration. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Picture me at a small oak desk in a converted warehouse loft, wearing pointy, lavender shoes. And like Papa Hemingway, an ice-cold gin martini at the ready.

Not really, it’s usually a cup of coffee; sometimes at the hangar; and what exactly would be wrong with pointy, lavender shoes? Missteps in writing can be like an embarrassing photo. And because of the internet, the things we print have longevity like the scrolls from the Great Library of Alexandria. Once on the web, it’s there forever.

So, accuracy and a thorough review are critical. When I write, did I mean to say it the way I did? Yes. Did I intend for an emotional response? You bet. On the other hand, did I mean to say yolk instead of yoke? Well, no. Or holly instead of holy? Hanger instead of hangar? The publishing process is fraught with multiple airplanes in the pattern at different airspeeds, all vying for the same runway. Even so, I’m grateful for the many people along the way that make my column better. First there is what I write, then a couple of proofreaders, next the editor and finally the graphics and typesetting folks at the publisher. But the buck stops here (President Truman) and I’m the PIC of my writing when it wanders off course.

I usually get very positive comments from readers. Hundreds actually, which tells me that I’m in tune with what you like to read. That’s the best article ever, they’ll say, one for my aviation scrapbook. Bullseye, I feel the same thing or, I worry about the same things; I read your column every time. And I thank you for your encouragement and praise.

Naturally, on occasion, someone disagrees with something I’ve said. I’m not sure why a couple of negative emails clog my creative salt shaker so. Maybe it’s the contrast from the average letter, an insecure confidence level or just the stubborn, “Type A, pilot-y, captain” personality that wants to be correct every time. Probably some arrogance, too. But constructive criticism is always good. So, lay it on me when you see something askew, and good-on-ya for holding my feet to the fire.

Call ATC After You Land

We’ve all learned to not dwell on negative things during a check ride or an everyday flight. A good example is when you are told by ATC: Standby to copy a phone number. Or, call us after you land.

That’s not good, and can clog your salt shaker quite thoroughly. When we mess up, which we all do, we must move on with a clear head. We need a “when it rains” worry-wiper, an anti-clogging agent and to compartmentalize our tasks to not mess up even more. The critical letters I received were from a couple of my longtime readers, you could even say that they’re fans, each having written me several times in the past with very nice comments. My response to one of them was concise, but misinterpreted as defensive because he said he wouldn’t “bother” me again.

Your comments are taken to heart, your opinions matter and I’ve answered every letter. But remember, even after research, proofreading, editing and rewrites, mistakes get by us and you are correct in pointing them out. Sometimes I will incorrectly wordsmith the prose or fail to make my point clear. The most efficient way to improve any skillset is to have resistance: an incline, a workout, a forging. So, with grateful acknowledgment, the critical reviews from our readers are a welcome workout. Like making a mistake in the airplane, they are something from which to learn. I will then continue, after cleaning out the salt shaker.

Proficiency

There’s one proverb that needs revision: practice makes better, it doesn’t make perfect. And as your broker discloses: past results are no guarantee of future performance. With thousands of hours in the air and many articles written, we are only as good as the current flight in progress or magazine article under construction. My good friend, retired airline captain and Beechcraft Duke Flyers Association president Bob Hoffman and I have discussed total flying time and experience many times. He has more than 40,000 hours while I’m in the 23,000 range. We agree that those totals mean much less than how often you fly and how recent the last flight was in that type of aircraft, such as switching back and forth from a modern jet to a complex general aviation piston, for example. Currency and proficiency are paramount. We also agree that, like owning a house, eventually one of everything that can go wrong or break, will go wrong or break.

As you accumulate flying time, the odds of experiencing an event increase. Not because you become a less capable pilot, but because that’s simply the way probability and statistics work. Bob has had more than a dozen engine failures for example, while I’m at four. He had an inflight cabin fire while I had a lightning strike cause an engine compressor to stall. He almost lost the tail of a V-tail Bonanza inflight, and I had an F-16 go out of control during a test flight (Paper Airplanes, T&T May 2011). Of course, we both have had dozens of misbehaving or sick passengers and mechanical issues that caused a diversion, as well as hundreds of approaches to minimums. Though often painful, these experiences have contributed to making us better pilots.

Zero Airspeed

The distractions and trepidations we encounter may be seasonal: dreading wintertime flying, summer thunderstorms or an upcoming flight physical or check ride, for example. Perhaps it’s remembering an inflight emergency or poorly flown approach or a bad landing at a particular airport that affects our focus.
As a writer, it may be a reader’s complaint over a misunderstood premise or an off-topic article that can clog creativity.

In any endeavor, it takes courage to recognize anxieties, accept criticism, recover from mistakes, to learn from them and to move forward. When distractions rain down on us, we need to keep our salt shakers flowing freely. In the air and on the ground.

We can review our airborne mistakes once we are back on the ground at zero airspeed. And with a coffee in hand, or a little help from Papa H’s martini, this writer will use artsy-fartsy brain cells and your critiques to improve writing skills and to create stories that are entertaining, instructional and occasionally worthy of a scrapbook. If those types of articles happen more often, maybe I’ll get a lucrative book deal and buy that MU-2. I should go measure the hangar, just in case. 

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