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Jan 31, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Awesome ongoing requirements for private pilots! I was spared such possible rigor, when I scored zero on a depth perception test after two years in the AFROTC. I am thankful that, so far, I’m not required to take an eye test for my driver’s license.

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Jan 31, 2023·edited Jan 31, 2023Author

!! Love the detail on depth perception. Though presumably it can't be *that* bad, if you got a driver's license in the first place....

One thing that's interesting about depth perception is what I think of as a visual counterpart to the Doppler effect. Nearly everyone deals with depth perception when driving: Do I have room to pass this car in front of me, before the oncoming truck gets too close. Can I make a left turn, without the oncoming SUV ramming into me. Etc. In the piloting world, it's involved most of all during landing.

I think of these as the Doppler effect because they crucially involve *movement.* With sound, you can tell whether the train or the ambulance is getting closer or moving away, by how the pitch goes up or down. Instantaneous assessment of *movement* is also crucial to depth perception.

In a car, it's the second-by-second assessment of how quickly the gap between you and the other traffic is growing or shrinking. When you're landing a plane, it's how the "sight picture" of the runway is changing as you get closer to it in all 3 dimensions at once.

My point: all of these judgments would be much harder to make in a purely static environment. (Which might have been what the AF was testing?) In real life it's the Doppler-style assessment of *change* in depth that comes into play. (It's an obvious point, but it's one that has struck me.)

BONUS POINT: When driving I hate, hate, hate making left turns from a low-visibility intersection. Once I interviewed the guy who was in charge of automated routing systems for all the UPS delivery trucks in the US. He said that the algorithms had as more or less their first principle, "No left turns." Sometimes you have no choice, but I'll take multiple right turns over a left turn any time.

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Jim, Nice job on the IPC. For those who aren't pilots, I can them that the exercises you went through take a high degree of skill and are mentally and physically draining. I'm sure you slept well, but were justifiably satisfied in completing the Instrument Proficiency Check.

Also, you've done your typically superlative job of making all this understandable to non-pilots. There is so much beauty in what we do - not just in the act of piloting, but in the commitment to lifelong learning, proficiency, focused decision-making and so forth.

I love the quotes from Sully and St. Exupéry. I have his book "Wind, Sand & Stars" on my night table.

So, I thought I'd share my favorite aviation quote. The author is unknown to me, but I love this sentiment:

"The ultimate responsibility of the pilot is to fulfill
 the dreams of the countless millions of earthbound
 ancestors who could only stare skyward ...and wish."

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Dan, thank you so much.

So few of our fellow citizens know first-hand about the part of life you and I have seen. (As you know, well under 1/2 of 1% of adult Americans have any kind of pilot certificate.) It seems worth trying to share what is engrossing and valuable about the experience.

Thanks for that favorite quote. I hadn't seen it before, and it really is great.

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I greatly enjoy all the aviation posts, this one perhaps the most. With respect though, I truly don't understand the "doubt" about the imminence of fully self-driving cars. Are you aware of the data demonstrating ZERO deaths or injuries in millions of miles driven with Tesla's FSD? It seems illogical to presume that, within the next 1-2 years this technology won't be vastly superior to the best human driver in virtually all situations. In fact, I think your very next anecdote demonstrates the opposite of self-driving skepticism. Allowing the tower to remotely control the aircraft in the most congested and dangerous part of the flight is the equivalent wanting FSD to be in control in those situations. Dismiss me as a member of the cult of Musk, the data is becoming overwhelming that Tesla has solved the self-driving car. Thanks again for the whole Substack - it's always educational!

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Thanks very much. I appreciate your attention and kind words.

On the self-driving cars: I hope to be proven wrong! I was mainly saying that it seemed a fundamentally harder challenge than auto-land airliners, even though the cars are (usually) operating only in two dimensions rather than three. That is because of the chaotic randomness of what can occur on the normal street, as opposed to the (comparatively) uncrowded situation of most of the skies. But I've been wrong in other such predictions — I never thought there would be speaker-independent transcription as effective as what Otter.ai has produced — and I hope this is another case.

Again my thanks.

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Thank you for sharing your happy day with us!

Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters (goodreads quotes) :

“Not every situation can be foreseen or anticipated. There isn’t a checklist for everything.”

“We all have heard about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. They act courageously or responsibly, and their efforts are described as if they opted to act that way on the spur of the moment... I believe many people in those situations actually have made descisions years before.”

“Everyone’s reputation is made on a daily basis. There are little incremental things—worthwhile efforts, moments you were helpful to others—and after a lifetime, they can add up to something. You can feel as if you lived and it mattered.”

“The transcripts of our conversation also show how Patrick’s choice of phrasing was helpful to me. Rather than telling me what airport I had to aim for, he asked me what airport I wanted. His words let me know that he understood that these hard choices were mine to make, and it wasn’t going to help if he tried to dictate a plan to me.”

“From everything I saw, knew, and felt, my decision had been made: LaGuardia was out. Wishing or hoping otherwise wasn’t going to help.”

“....all of us have to find the courage to leave the shore. That means leaving the crutch of our lifelong complaints and resentments, or our unhappiness over our upbringing or our bodies or whatever. It means no longer focusing negative energy on things beyond our control. It means looking beyond the safety of the familiar.”

“In so many areas of life, you need to be a long-term optimist”

“People had been losing their jobs in large numbers. Home foreclosures were up. Life savings had been decimated. A lot of people felt like they had been hit by a double bird strike in their own lives. But Flight 1549 had shown people that there are always further actions you can take. There are ways out of the tightest spots. We as individuals, and as a society, can find them.”

“My mom wore white gloves and a hat. I was in a sport coat and slacks. That’s how people traveled then. In their Sunday best.”

“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.”

― Chesley B. Sullenberger

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Jan 28, 2023·edited Jan 28, 2023Author

Wow. I had not seen that. Very insightful.

And of course that landing in the Hudson exemplifies the kind of emergency that professional pilots train for (general engine-failure emergency, not this specific outlier circumstance), even though they're not likely ever to encounter it in real life.

But if they do ...

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thanks for that kind reply!

I remember so many different responses to the event at the time, everyone was second-guessing Sully, did he have to do that, and so on.

Everything about this pilot is interesting, and he has a very lengthy academic and service record, he is very accomplished. Not just anyone.

Have fun soaring above the world of men and women!

fly in to the beautiful White Mountains, 4 season fun, outstanding mountain views! :

https://www.mountwashingtonairport.com

"Mount Washington Regional Airport is a public airport located 3 miles east of downtown Whitefield in Coos County, New Hampshire, USA. The Civil Air Patrol maintains a composite squadron at this location."

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I have my doubts about self driving cars. Like nuclear fusion, it's a promise that never arrives. And if it does, I fear the main thing it would accomplish would be to allow silicon valley to monetize automotive transportation, as described by Shoshana Zuboff of the Harvard Business School. And at huge cost in carbon emissions

https://techxplore.com/news/2023-01-power-self-driving-cars-huge-driver.html

and greatly increased cost of getting around

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Agree.

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Jan 28, 2023·edited Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Great explainer for the general public and excellent for instrument pilots both actual and aspirational (like me). Speaking of the landscape making sense from 2,500 feet, I'll post some time about how one flight over Northern Virginia had an instantaneous and profound effect on my work as the artistic director of a theater company. Coming attractions...

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Thank you! I look forward to that.

And I didn't quote, on "enough already!" principles, my paeans in these previous books to what you understand about patterns of settlement, of compactness versus sprawl, about places where forests are spreading or ailing, and all the rest.

So I look forward to getting your testimony !

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Very enjoyable piece! For years, I’ve explained to non-pilot friends that 80% of my flying is to remain proficient for the other 20%. That ratio is getting more favorable since I moved from renting to ownership (SR22T) but no matter what the actual “mission” is for a given flight, the constant background objective (and much of the appeal) for me is to feel like a better, smarter, and safer pilot upon landing than than when I took off. Sometimes its only “smarter”, and “better” is the job for the next flight :)

Incidentally, I keep my copy of Our Towns handy as a go-to list of places to fly with my wife & we have crossed off a few already!

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Thank you!

And, yes, I hadn't heard that 80% / 20% maxim, perhaps because it is original to you. Two of the maxims we do very frequently use, mainly when making go/no-go decisions about flights, are "How would it look in the NTSB report?", and the old chestnut, "You'd rather be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than vice versa."

So in "real life" I have never done a "back-course" instrument approach, just as I have never done the NDB approach that was part of my original instrument-rating check ride in Seattle back in the 1990s. But I'm glad to have seen what a back-course approach is like, so it would not come as a surprise.

And, in real life, a surprisingly long list of other "didn't see that coming!" challenges occured. With our very early model SR20, one of the first off the line in 2000, we had at least four in-flight ALT1 failures, one of them at night over swampland Georgia, all of which required finding the nearest airport to get safely on the ground — in hopes that the alternator could be repaired. (This was a known problem with those early planes and alternators. Knock wood, we've had none of those with our SR22.)

I've had the PFD go totally blank during a flight. The MFD. GPS failures. Flap-relay failures. Oil pressure failures. Fortunately all of those were in clear weather and benign conditions. A landing-light that went out while on short-final to land at the downtown Detroit airport, at night. (Fortunately the new lights are way more reliable.) And instrument conditions not quite as forecast, or a remote small airport where you stop for gas but doesn't have any. And that forgot to say on ATIS or NOTAM that they were out. (This happened in China, too, as I describe in the beginning of 'China Airborne.')

Ah general aviation!

My point is to circle back to yours: The virtue of these training flights is getting you accustomed to *something* unforeseen happening, and trying your best to think "what if....?"

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Jan 29, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Just one personal example of Pareto‘s 80:20 rule 😁

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founding
Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

James, if you ever get that beautiful Cirrus near KHND (hint, you already are) I'll buy lunch.

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Thanks, will be in touch!

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

Thanks for this, Jim. It brings back happy reminders of when you and Deb flew into the Chester International Airport. Jake and I will not forget meeting you there, nor will Patty ever forget the visit.

I passed this on to my friend, Tom Cordingley, who flies his plane over our house almost every morning. His brother is Bill, a member of our class.

Thanks, too, for a definition of “under the hood” that’s new to me. I’ll add it to the other meanings for inspiration when I play my tune of the same name!

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Phil, thanks! Deb and I had the most vivid and pleasant memories of visiting your family in Chester. And flying in!

For onlookers: to land at the drolly named "Chester International Airport," you essentially fly right over the main street of the little community and continue onto the immediately adjoining runway. It's very convenient for visiting! And the most beautiful setting in Montana.

Phil is of course a renowned composer, pianist, and performer. Here is the Spotify link for his 'Under the Hood' https://open.spotify.com/track/1RLQqrLTPkuYtj236w6pmD (Phil, I had forgotten this connection.)

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

I really envy your flying James. You may recall I was, at one time, an instrument flight instructor with aspirations, and abandoned it for law school. Family and lack of funds prevented me from getting back into it. And the hurdles now of proving fitness from detached retina procedure, and prostate cancer, and a history of anxiety/depression are just too large to surmount.

So I vicariously fly with you. Thanks for sharing.

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Thanks very much for your gracious note. I am sorry for the various medical challenges, but that you've *ever* been an instrument flight instructor is of course very impressive to me. Thanks for reading and weighing in.

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

This is fascinating, James. Thanks for sharing! I remember a day we flew into Chicago (commercial) and looking out the window counting the planes I could see either coming or taking off––out my window, I saw 7 and was amazed.

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Thanks, yes, the coordination of this whole complex process, and the astonishing *safety* record of modern developed-world aviation, is important to bear in mind — as a counter to everything that is grueling about the experience of being an airline customer / passenger these days.

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The Northeast has TEC routes as well, listed by destination in the AF.D. But they aren't really managed by communicating with towers only, leaving the regional ATC to talk to the airliners, which was the original idea. As you know from the Washington area, ATC takes control fairly quickly when you leave the hands of even a medium-sized airport's tower. I think this is a result of cutbacks in the support available at the smaller airports' towers, but anyway, keeping up with all of this is one of the reasons for the emphasis on constant training. There are parts of flying that are "just like riding a bicycle," but that's not all of it. Congratulations on staying ahead of the game.

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Scott, thank you.

On the Northeastern TEC routes: Yes, thanks, I was too quick in saying that they didn't exist in that part of the country. As you know, they're a much more routinized (and effective) part of aviation life in Cailfornia, especially.

Most of the IFR flights I've made have been in and around the Northeast — northward from the DC area to PA, NY, New England, etc, or southward (around Dulles and the nearby military space) to the Carolinas, FL, etc. In my experience, the routing has generally been the complex and cumbersome multi-waypoint set of Airways and VORs, as opposed to the highly streamlined TEC routes like the one I got from SBA to SBD.

Yes, I agree that there are parts of the process are "bicycle"-like — mainly, getting used to the idea of how a runway looks when you're descending toward it — and a lot that aren't.

Thanks for your interest and guidance

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by James Fallows

wow!

great picture of the happy pilot!

thanks for sharing your fun day!

“The airplane has unveiled for us the true face of the earth. For centuries, highways had been deceiving us. They shape themselves to man’s needs and run from stream to stream.”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French writer and aviator, 1900-1944.

"This quote comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1939 book Terre des Hommes, which was subsequently published in English under the name Wind, Sand and Stars. The book is a meditation on flight and the nature of humankind, and in this quote he is describing the new perspective one gets after lifting off the ground in an airplane. For Saint-Exupéry, traveling on the surface involves pre-worn paths, including roads, that don’t expose us to the places on earth untouched by the influence of humankind. When we fly in an airplane, we break free from these pre-worn paths and we can move in any direction and over almost any terrain. It’s part of a longer passage, which follows " (Written By Christopher James Botham) :

The airplane has unveiled for us the true face of the earth. For centuries, highways had been deceiving us. We were like that queen who determined to move among her subjects so that she might learn for herself whether or not they rejoiced in her reign. Her courtiers took advantage of her innocence to garland the road she traveled and set dancers in her path. Led forward on their halter, she saw nothing of her kingdom and could not know that over the countryside the famished were cursing her. Even so have we been making our way along the winding roads. Roads avoid the barren lands, the rocks, the sands. They shape themselves to man’s needs and run from stream to stream.


Passage taken from de Saint-Exupéry, Antione. Wind, Sand and Stars. Translated by Lewis Galantiere. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1992. 63.

What is On Verticality?
On Verticality is a blog that explores the human need to escape the surface of the earth through vertical means, and our complex relationship with verticality throughout our history. From our first vertical act of standing upright to our conquering of the skies through flight and skyscraper construction, much of our efforts through history have been to escape the surface we exist on. The human struggle with verticality is eternal, ubiquitous, and has been fought by every member of our species who has ever lived. https://www.onverticality.com/about

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Thank you for the great St-Ex quote!

As you know, in the early days of flying, when it really was a life-and-death risk every time a pilot took off, the assumption was that artists, poets, philosophers would all want to become pilots, because of the uniquely inspiring view of Earth it offered.

Things still look very different from that perspective. (Even when you're "under the hood" and mainly looking at the gauges.)

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Thanks for your kind words! Happy flying!

something similar happens with the astronaut effect: when astronauts can see the earth from space, it changes their whole perception, that we are on a tiny planet

tbh I used to love everything about flying before covid: the airport, the food, the flight, even the delays

something about being in motion is really fun

“During my thirty-three hours on the Eiger I seemed to have been in a dreamland; not a dreamland of rich enjoyment, but a much more beautiful land where burning desires were translated into deeds.” -Jürgen Wellenkamp, German mountaineer, 1930-1956.

https://onverticality.squarespace.com/about

About this Blog

What is On Verticality?

On Verticality is a blog that explores the human need to escape the surface of the earth through vertical means, and our complex relationship with verticality throughout our history. From our first vertical act of standing upright to our conquering of the skies through flight and skyscraper construction, much of our efforts through history have been to escape the surface we exist on. The human struggle with verticality is eternal, ubiquitous, and has been fought by every member of our species who has ever lived.

I use the term verticality to mean our vertical relationship to our surroundings. This is a combination of our upright, bipedal bodies and our connection to the axis-mundi, which is an imaginary axis pointing towards the center of the earth. Gravity acts along this axis and pulls us down, confining us to the surface. This is the root of all our angst over escaping the surface, and lays the groundwork for a constant struggle throughout our history.

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