With all the emphasis on GA’s accident record, especially the experimental segment, I wanted to discuss “reckless” flying – I put reckless in quotes because it means different things to different people.
Merriam-Webster defines reckless as: marked by a lack of proper caution : careless of consequences.
In my opinion, that definition appropriately frames the issue. It’s also important that we acknowledge the spectrum of reckless behavior that needs to be considered.
If flying is an exercise in risk management, recklessness is intentionally introducing an inordinate amount of risk that otherwise could be mitigated or eliminated.
I know, this is very subjective, but let me give you some examples.
A crop duster spends the vast majority of their life flying in close proximity to the ground. This is a known and necessary risk that is mitigated as much as possible, by training, experience, and the equipment. It might be more risk than many pilots are willing to accept, but no one should consider it “reckless.”
Contrast that to a flight I flew as a much younger man in Central Oklahoma. I was on a cross-country in a C-152 droning along somewhere between Durant and Norman. I spied an unpopulated section of river bisecting my route below. I impulsively chopped the throttle and headed for the deck. I thought flying down the river would be a good way to break up the boredom of my trip. I went ever lower, feeling the sensation of speed. That ‘s when I saw the wires go beneath me by a matter of feet. I reflexively pulled up and out of the river bed and shook most of the way home. Those wire were virtually invisible to me as I skimmed the river at 75′. My logbook shows I had 175 hours total time.
Flying low wasn’t really the reckless act, it was the impulsive nature in which it was executed. Doing it without forethought and no mitigation plan at all (like surveying the river for obstacles prior dropping in).
Another example was provided by a lady airshow pilot I met on Twitter. Her airshow routine requires maximum performance very near the ground. Again this is a calculated, managed risk and when you juxtapose that against a buzz job by a low-time pilot in his hotrod homebuilt, you can see that both are riskier than setting at home surfing the internet, but the airshow pilot manages the risk.
- Carelessly pressing into bad weather
- Flying outside of proficiency
- Being at the controls fatigued or sick
- Knowing you are low on fuel and ignoring it
- Launching with serious mechanical defects
These are all reckless acts – in my opinion. There’s an insidious side to recklessness as well; it becomes an enabler – the more you get away with it, the more you are numb to the risks and potential consequences.
I have known pilots that are at both ends of the spectrum. Some are fearless and only by their skill and luck do they survive. Others are afraid of their own shadow, being so risk averse that they seldom fly and probably are never relax enough to actually have fun.
My personal goal is to accept and manage risk appropriately and still enjoy the ride.
It might be important to ask yourself, “Where are you on the spectrum?”
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