A rose by any other name? Quirks in rental aircraft inspire nicknames

There is a learning curve that must take place when you go from being an aircraft owner to a renter.

A number of my clients are learning this. Some of them are between airplanes. Others decided that it is a better financial decision to rent airplanes than to own them at this time. They all have to adjust.

There are things you can do and things you can’t do when you rent aircraft. For starters, you can’t leave your headset in the airplane when you are not using it. Okay, you could but you’d probably never see it again. And you really need to be sure that the trim and radios are set the way you like them before takeoff. Then there is the whole “seat position” issue.

When there is a problem with the airplane, you just write it up and submit it to the proper person, who is supposed to take care of it. You don’t have to follow up on it and usually you don’t pay for repairs directly out of your pocket unless you do something stupid like whacking a wing into a light stand. Your insurance needs most likely will change as well.

I just started working at a new FBO, so I have to learn the airplanes too. They are all 172s, so it’s not the performance numbers that I must commit to memory. It is the quirks of each airplane. One has adjustable seats so I don’t need a cushion. Another has the headset jacks over here. This one has rudder trim, that one doesn’t. You get the idea.

As a renter pilot you’ll develop a list of your favorite and not so favorite airplanes to fly. Instructors have this list as well.

At my last job there was a C-172 that I did not like to fly because it seemed that every time I flew it something malfunctioned. After the third time I joked with the dispatcher that I had named the airplane “Christine” after the demonic Plymouth Fury in the Stephen King novel, because every time I flew it, it bit me. If you haven’t read the novel or seen the movie, spoiler alert: a hostile automobile attacks anyone that it doesn’t like.

Like the car, that airplane was sneaky. It would check out just fine during the preflight inspection, then develop a problem while you were in the air. Once the number one radio croaked while we were on downwind. The number two radio wasn’t working real well either. My student got very excited (in a good way) when we were brought in with the light gun signals. “Aren’t you glad you memorized those?” I asked. Then there was another time when the transponder went tango uniform during the flight and the tower advised us that our altitude readout was 10,000 feet when in reality we were at 800 feet agl. Little things, to be sure, but just annoying enough that you remember them.

Then one day I was signed up for a Young Eagles rally. The organizers carefully computed weight and balance of pilots and kids and used a list of company aircraft to make assignments. “Oh, don’t put Meg in that plane,” the dispatcher cautioned. “That’s Christine! Meg HATES Christine!” This statement was greeted with looks of confusion. She quickly explained the origin of the name. It was decided that the name fit, as apparently I was not the only person to have issues with that particular aircraft. Other pilots took up the joke, admonishing each other to “Beware of Christine.” The mechanics picked it up too. “Christine is due for her phase inspection,” the chief mechanic told me. “I’ll be in the hangar with a crucifix and a vial of Holy water. Be a good girl and go fetch me a stake to pound through her heart.”

“She doesn’t have a heart,” one of the instructors quipped, sounding appropriately ominous. “Or a soul.”

“Or a functioning transponder,” the mechanic groused.

The jokes continued until a memo went out telling the pilots not to name the airplanes, not even in jest. This was a great disappointment to one client who fancied himself an artist and talked about creating proof-of-concept sketches for nose art he wanted to do on the 172s. He had a Seven Dwarfs theme in mind as there were seven airplanes that he deemed worthy of renaming. I am sure the lawyers for Disney would have had something to say about that, so it’s probably good that the idea was shot down, but the hangar flying based around those names would have been fun to listen to: “Are you flying Sneezy today? Can I switch with you? I need a plane with DME and they put me in Dopey.”

I’ll let you know if any of the airplanes I am flying now inspire monikers.

Meg Godlewski is GAN’s staff reporter and a Master CFI.

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