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Lest We Forget

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Those of you who follow news in Britain might be aware that within the last few days a Cessna 152 and an undisclosed helicopter collided over Buckinghamshire causing the deaths of all four people aboard the aircraft. Witnesses report a loud bang and debris spiralling down over a wide area.


Until half an hour ago that was merely another tragic news headline. Flying is inherently risky. The skies unforgiving when something goes wrong. I already knew that. Having flown as a private pilot I was well aware of the risks and indeed I'd experienced a few close calls myself, though like aviators tend to do, I made light of the potential consequences. To do otherwise would harm my self confidence as a pilot. But there, on the television screen, one casualty of the incident was named and his picture displayed. Someone I had known.


I'm not normally given to tributes or emotionalism on the internet. The facile nature of many personalities and exchanges mitigates against it, but there is something important to be said here. Captain Mike Green ran the company in whose hands I learned to fly. He was a genial and energetic personality, one who was always encouraging toward students and I remember also the trust he placed in me once I had qualified. Once he asked me about the weather. He was due to make a charter flight and knowing I had driven down from the direction he would be heading, he was keen to know how low the cloud base was. I told him that Liddington Hill was obscured, and with a characteristic chuckle, a roll of the eyes, he told me he'd be calling that flight off.


I am of course personally saddened to learn he'd been killed. It worth remembering however that people do die in aviation related incidents. We're not designed to fly by nature. Our machines enable us to cheat gravity but machines can and do go wrong. For that matter, sometimes human beings behave like human beings and fail to see the danger they're in. As much as I enjoy flight simulators, making that stupid landing or failing to notice the enemy air ace behind me results only in a few expletives and with a shake of the head, setting up the sim to respawn again. That won't change. My circumstances are such that real flight is probably behind me now. So be it. I can enjoy flight in a virtual manner and indeed extend the experience way beyond what I was able to access in reality. Nonetheless, I am moved to comment that as much as we enjoy the hobby, the activity it's based on can very dangerous, ever more so when we let our human flaws intervene.


For those seeking to learn to fly, whether to serve their country or as part of a transport career, remember always that most of the time it's what you don't see that will get you. Never believe a machine is faultless. Never believe the world can't harm you. Never forget to look, observe, and see danger before it happens. But enjoy your time in the cockpit. At the controls you're not just in charge of your machine but your fate as well. Truly flying is one of those experiences that for a short while sets you free.

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