By STEVE BILL HANSHEW, For General Aviation News
A psychologist would have a field day with most pilots hanging around the lounge. Pilots are goofy when they’re bored. I suppose it’s a mental safety valve of sorts where, after hours of being serious, they fill the urge to cut loose with a sophomoric little Johnny joke. This invariably leads non-pilots to question the mental skill required to get a pilot’s license, especially when you’re acting like Rodney Dangerfield at the Improv. Unfortunately, the joke’s on them. Psychologically, it’s a way of blowing off steam and venting some of that pent-up energy, although some pilots are so pipe-down professional that you wonder when they have time to rhythmically breath.
I’m sure you know the type. In fact, students of psychology call them Type A personalities or borderline obsessive-compulsives. These focused automatons are so professional that they starch their sectionals and alphabetize their approach plates. You’ll see them constantly executing precision time hacks on a Breitling Navigator in accordance with the Atomic Clock. They sleep with pillow microphones droning King tapes concerning METAR and TAF interpretation. They’ve managed to lower flying to a masochistic task of epic proportions, creating a challenge worthy of their skills. Schopenhaur would tell them, “Get a life.” These deadpans are often seen hanging out at the FBO bearing the face of Rameses, nose down in the latest FAR revision double-checking for printing errors. To them flying is so serious that no one should draw pleasure from it. Real pilots don’t laugh, don’t cry, and don’t make obscene noises with their armpits. They are so busy being professional they’ve lost contact with how fun flying is.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Jerk. He’s such a spastic that his name seems destined for the NTSB Reporter. He constantly plays to an audience on the ground or in the air. He must have been yanked from the teat early, because he’s so starved for attention that his shtick begins in the lounge and continues right on out the door to the ramp. This is the proverbial “watch this” guy. He’s an unpaid stunt pilot with an inferiority complex. He has to crack wise to cover the fact that he’s scared witless and probably in over his skills. To prove to you he’s not, he pulls stunts only recently seen on the Red Bull Race Channel. Everyone calls him a card and students think he’s a hot pilot. He’s a card all right, soon to be found in an FAA accident folder. If he had real skill he’d be on the air show circuit with the likes of Sean Tucker. Freud would somehow link him to cigars and classic Pitot envy.
That takes us to Dour Dave the fatalist. He serves to balance out the Jerk by assuming the role of dead meat on a hook. He doesn’t assess risk because he’s convinced his number is next on the catastrophe lotto and holds the conviction that he’s merely a fugitive from the law of averages. Cautious to the point that he inadvertently brings trouble upon himself, he agonizes over the most simple of decisions and then resigns his fate to, “I knew that would happen.” He lives a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. We call such individuals accident-prone, although that’s a misnomer. They in fact create the conditions leading up to error while appearing so desperate to avoid it and then willingly surrender to it as another stroke of the mythical fates arrayed against them. They are Prophets of Failure: “I just knew I’d screw that up. I just knew it.” Descartes would have said of them, “I am doomed, therefore I am.” Sometimes you wonder why Dour flies at all and you’ll find that most pilots don’t want to fly with him. His cockpit is silent, anxiety-racked and about as fun as a mortician’s bachelor party. The FAA, however, loves this guy because he makes a great safety advisor.
Another bird haunting airport lounges is the Pontificator. This one has a Doctorate of the Universe. He reminds you of the well-known aspirin ad, “I’m not a pilot, but I play one on TV.” He has extensive book knowledge and can theoretically define a crosswind landing down to vectors of mass and momentum, although he rarely does one. His time in the lounge chair exceeds his logbook total time and he’s the only one in the place who can describe the finite difference between Adiabatic and Katabatic lapse rates. He would make a fine contestant on Jeopardy: “Alex, I’ll take ‘Pilot Induced Oscillation’ for 300.” He knows it all and has no qualms about sharing his vast wealth of knowledge. What can be said in three words is stretched to an hour-long dissertation. The Pontificator prattles on about his extensive aeronautical knowledge, except he never seems to find time to apply it in a practical manner, such as flying an actual airplane. If it weren’t for a BFR he would hardly fly at all, although you’ll often find him at home behind a PC flying a MS B747-400 into Kuala Lumpur for the thousandth time. Except for those who haven’t caught on yet, he can clear out a pilot’s lounge faster than a rabid skunk thrown through the window. The sad fact is that he’s the safest pilot in the building because he talks more than he flies.
As for the rest of us, we’re normal Joes and Jills who occasionally exhibit the quirks of the aforementioned sample cases. Sometimes we’re the ardent professional, other times the Jerk, a few times a fatalist and, on occasion, we like to pontificate. We enjoy flying, have fun with it, but take it serious enough to stay out of harm’s way. We enjoy a good gag, but don’t risk federal violation or do stunts subtracting years off our life.
Thankfully, we predominate and outnumber the other mental oddities present in the lounge, although there is one more deviant personality that every pilot should avoid like the plague. He hides in the shadows, pretending to read General Aviation News, watching and taking mental notes. He is a shifty sort and quite the character in his own right. He has a line of bull a mile wide but never lets you in on his little joke. He’s probably the most irritating of all couch subjects since he feels compelled to assimilate his acquaintances into finely woven tales of mayhem, fantasy and malarkey. Then he retires to his desk at home with a shot glass of his favorite bourbon and graphically records their adventures and travails for the entertainment of readers like you. He is a hard case that no credible psychologist would dare take on. Watch out for him because his pen has no conscience.
Hanshew has worked in aviation for more than 35 years, including his current stint in the Flight Standards department of a Part 121 airline. His wife, Donna, is a CFII and a professor of aviation technologies at a large community college in Dayton, Ohio. Together they have owned numerous aircraft. They currently own a Nanchang CJ-6A (The Green Dragon) based at their home strip of Donner Field.