On Final Just Along for the Ride

On Final Just Along for the Ride

The term “Pilot in Command” or PIC is pretty special to most of us. It connotes someone who knows what they are doing, ready in an instant to make crucial lifesaving decisions. It describes everything we do in the cockpit. But what about those times when we have no earthly idea what is going on? When we are just “along for the ride?”
In my flying career, there have been several.
One of note was my very first takeoff from the left seat in a Falcon 50, N50TX . The 50 is quite an amazing airplane. Three engines, an APU, and a potty with a door. This one even had dual autopilots. I was about to start my type rating in the simulator after owning a Falcon 10, so I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
I advanced all three power levers and prepared to rotate as the training captain called out the numbers. Then a strange thing happened. The airplane took off by itself. It just rotated like a large blimp taking to the air, seemingly with no input from me. With all that power and light weight, the mighty Falcon just decided it wanted to fly. And, no, the trim was not misplaced. I just wasn’t ready. I was just along for the ride.
Several times in clear air, I have been a bystander when enveloped in severe turbulence. Once in a Comanche in the 70’s, while getting just a tad too close to an overhang of a thunderstorm. Another, in a Duke, descending at 14,000 feet over the Allegheny mountains on a clear, perfectly calm night, when WHAM! the airplane became uncontrollable. Again, I was along for the ride, for what seemed like an eternity as we traversed the mountain wave. I certainly was not pilot in command.
But my favorite story was from years earlier. I was a freshly-minted multi-rated private pilot. A banker friend asked if I wanted to ride in a Lear Jet. A LEAR JET! It flew a daily round trip from Dallas to Chicago transporting cancelled checks. I could ride in the back and watch how real pilots flew. It took less than two seconds for me to accept.
This Lear was a model 25. A gas guzzling rocket ship. I was in awe. I think we levelled at 450 just minutes after takeoff. The owner PIC, who I later learned was known to occasionally “flirt” with rules and has long since passed away, asked me if I wanted to occupy the left seat.
“Are you kidding? Absolutely”, I said.
There I was. At FL 450 in a Lear 25. Certainly the highlight of my brief career. I looked over at the co-pilot who appeared to be right out of high school.
“Have you ever been in a Lear Jet?” he asked. “Heck no, this is my first time,” I replied. “What about you?”
My memory is slightly fuzzy about his exact response. But he either said, “My first time too,” or “just once.”
In spite of my total lack of experience, my immediate thought was, “Who in the hell is “pilot in command?” It certainly wasn’t me. Was it the autopilot? Was it the high school kid next to me? Does he know enough to save my butt?
I sat for a few minutes contemplating these questions. Soon, the real PIC returned to the cockpit and made a normal landing.
I have thought about that flight a lot over the years.
Fly safe.

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2 Comments

  • Avatar
    Rob Scholl February 4, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Good food for thought! Thanks for sharing.

  • Avatar
    mike brown-cestero December 20, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Happy to hear none of these incidents involved a flight where I was aboard lol….cheers, Mike BC

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