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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Be like Bob

The pilot community, by and large, is a very good community of very good folks. The best of those was Bob Hoover; not just as a pilot but as a person. The way he lived his life, the way he stayed humble even though he was the best there ever was, and the way he shared his "secret" of success (which really was just finding something you wanted to do and busting your butt to get better and better at it every day) was a lifelong lesson on grace.

Unfortunately, not everyone is Bob Hoover. There is a sizable percentage out there that will comment negatively on almost any story, especially ones where the pilot admits a mistake or unfortunately isn't around to talk about a mistake that led to an accident. This is not something that is just a pilot thing; it exists in every single field of human endeavor. Nevertheless, since it does sometimes discourage people who would otherwise want to learn to fly and even chases some others away totally, it is something that needs to be addressed.

Different places are better or worse about this. For instance, the online magazine Air Facts tends to have a small number of negative commenters, and those are very quickly put in their place and corrected by a large contingent of commenters who are quite experienced pilots. This seems to have something to do with the make-up of their readership, which in general self-selects for people who want to spend the time reading quality articles that will help them become better pilots.

At the complete opposite of the spectrum are a few places who shall remain nameless, although if you have even a slight interest in flying you've almost certainly come across them. Due to their more popular interest, their forums or comment sections tend to have a lot more amateurs or non-pilots. As the infamous Dunning-Kruger Effect shows, the less you know, the better you think you are, since you're not good enough at it to know how bad you are.

The absolute worst is YouTube. Yes, I have a YouTube channel, but I do not comment on anything on the site. (Except for comments on my own videos, which even then I am unfortunately much slower at replying to than I'd like to be because I am always busy doing something.) I basically gave up after politely explaining the proper way to fly a DME arc to someone who demonstrated it incorrectly. Their intent was good, and they tried hard in the video, but you can't really teach something you don't actually do. I pointed out that their technique was incorrect and got the reply that their brother is a pilot so they know how to do it. Since I try to take my own advice, I don't drop the "I'm a 4000-hour type rated ATP/CFII" line on people unless severely provoked, so I just decided to stop commenting altogether. If you're trying to learn to fly, I highly recommend you don't even bother to look at the comments on flying videos. The great thing about the internet is that anyone can use it to become an expert on anything, given enough time and practice. The terrible thing about the internet is that everyone thinks they're an expert on everything.

In the non-electronic world, there are also people who will act like they're better than you. The pilot community is an exclusive one due to the barriers to entry: the cost, the time it takes for lessons, and the willpower to continue studying for however long it takes to achieve the goal of becoming a pilot does tend to shake out those without motivation. It is not particularly difficult to become a pilot—I've said many times and that almost anyone can (and should!) become a pilot. Nonetheless, 99% of people don't even try.

Unfortunately, there are people who enjoy being in that exclusive club and want to keep it exclusive. Some people think that if others join the club, then that makes them that much less special. Nothing could be further from the truth. A pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled, and flying is a pleasure that few people experience.

The more people who do get that experience, however, the better it is for all of us. A large community is a strong community, so the way to make aviation even better is to welcome even more people into it. There is no reason to look down on any other pilot, and there is especially no such thing as "just" a student pilot or "just" a private pilot or "just" a whatever. We are all pilots, and we should encourage all pilots.

In fact, if you do think you're the Ace of the Base, that means that you have more of a responsibility toward those who are learning or want to learn. The more experience you have, the more you can help mentor new pilots. Every hour in your logbook is an hour that you learned something that you can now teach to someone else.

My response to the question, "How many hours do you have?" has become just, "Hopefully not my last one!" I think Bob Hoover himself would approve of that answer, and I hope we all can learn from his example as not just the best pilot who ever lived, but as one of the finest gentlemen aviation has ever had as well.

Next week, I'll talk about another Bob we can all learn from. This one is not a pilot, and it is definitely not who you might expect. See you next Wednesday!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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