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 Despite the challenges, there is a dim light at the end of the tunnel as the MAX takes flight once again, orders for busi- ness aircraft may be turning around, and a COVID vaccine should accelerate the return to a new normal. Authorities warn, however, that an overall societal recovery will not be V-shaped. And while this economic forecast does not bode well for those paid to pilot planes (nor anyone else), many pilots have retired or taken varying amounts of leave to mitigate total disaster. Soon this will include me.
Being a pilot is not what I do;
Being a pilot is what I am.
On my birthday in September of 1990, I voluntarily aban- doned the mantle of fighter pilot. And 30 years later, this past September, I completed my final recurrent training event at my Part 121 carrier (in the B-737 MAX simulator – see last month’s story “MAX Effort”). After 49-plus years of flying, with over 30 of them at the airlines, at midnight on August 31 next year, I will lose the admirations of men, women, children and supermodels as I’m stripped of the Airline Captain title. The prospect is daunting. Although my psyche must suffer this psychological slap in the face, it’s not the most distressing part. The Social Security Administration forecasts me to live 18.8 years past retirement, but they don’t factor in the airline pilot “qualifier.”
According to friends that have recently retired from airline flying, the first couple of post-retirement years are traumatic. And statistics indicate that the probability of death is higher among recently retired airline pilots than that of the general population. About 25 years ago, as determined by pocket-protector wearing geeks (no malice intended if this was you) that calculate and compile mortality tables, about 78 percent of male, non-smoking airline pilots died by age 67 – seven years past the old, and two years past the new, mandatory retirement age. Fortunately, said geeks and our society’s healthy lifestyle changes coupled with medical advancements have calculated a new number for male, non-smoking airline pilots: 72 years old.
Coincidentally, seven years past retirement. Seven used to be my lucky number – not so much anymore. Ups and downs in the airline industry have been the only constant during my career, and 2020 has proven to be especially challenging. And just in case the pocket-protector’s actuarial forecast for male, non-smoking airline pilots is too optimis- tic, or if you hunger for my flying career anthology, I offer this semi-chronological compilation. You can find them at or, if your fellow readers don’t swamp me, I can email you a few:
“A Pilot’s Mom.” T&T May 2016. “There was just one student in our little town known for flying little airplanes, and everyone, including the Sheriff, knew that it was one of the Dingman boys.”
“Paper Airplanes.” T&T May 2011. “Looking out of the gold-tinted F-16 canopy, I watch as the airport drops below me at over 50,000 fpm.”
24 • TWIN & TURBINE / December 2020
“Passing Gas.” T&T January 2011. “Once we get close to the European continent, the second tanker departs and we fly the rest of the way to Italy as a twelve-ship formation.”
“The Van Ride.” T&T March 2014. “You’ve never been ribbed properly until you’ve been ribbed by a bar full of fighter pilots.”
“Issues.” T&T September 2010. “If we could see the chain of events often talked about in an accident scenario, wouldn’t we intervene? Do we not see the chain – or is it simply not there?”
“Mad Dog.” T&T June 2016. “I tell detractors that the Super-80 is one of the last real airliners. One that needs a pilot as badly as the pilot needs it.”
“Abducted.” T&T October 2016. “We were debriefing, CIA- style, after our once-in-a-career flight to this nefarious base. One thing was certain: our jet would never leave this place.”
“Retire Me Not.” T&T September 2016. “If you love the flying you do, and if you have a choice, don’t change a thing – enjoy what you have.”
“Guppy School.” T&T January 2017. “Learning the B737- 800 NG; Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
“In The Groove.” T&T June 2017. “Flight Attendant’s in-flight miles are like McDonald’s hamburgers: they’re in the billions. So, their experience-based critiques have legs. But take heed, they can be silky smooth or harsh and hairy.”
“All The Leaves Are Brown.” T&T November 2019. “As you evaluate and monitor your own flying ability and proficiency, remember that there is a balance between our overachiever obsessions with accuracy and efficiency and the emotional gratification of the art.”
A 2021 Mulligan
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end.
It is, perhaps, the beginning of
the beginning.
– Winston Churchill
According to the USGA (United States Golf Association), golfer David Bernard Mulligan hit a poor drive off the first tee and then simply re-teed and hit another. Ever since, if your drive from the first tee ends up off the fairway in the water, the woods or a prickly desert, the player who elects to take a mulligan avoids a two-stroke penalty and the nega- tive effect on their confidence. They say that confidence is what you feel inside and arrogance is what others perceive. The fearlessness given off by a pilot is projected onto oth- ers because we are entirely confident in our decisions, especially in an emergency. Whether it’s in the cockpit of a

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