Talking myself down … or up, rather.
I’ll admit it—I get a little nervous flying.
I’m not scared of flying per se, but every time a plane I’m on starts to make its descent, I start going over everything I know about physics (which is not much)—thinking about how fast we are going, how high we are, and what it would look like for me to be flattened across the tarmac like Wile E. Coyote.
A few years ago, I was on a flight from Edinburgh to Dublin with a bunch of Scots and Irishmen. The plane took a weird turn right before touching down and proceeded to bounce a few times. It was probably nothing out of the ordinary, but I’ll admit my heart leapt up to my throat just a little. I heard a woman a few rows behind me yell in a thick Irish lilt “Oh! Saints preserve us!” after the first bounce.
The plane quickly straightened out and started taxiing in amid a raucous round of Celtic cheering, laughing and singing.
At times like this, it is helpful for me to return to this scene from Dumb and Dumber and remind myself how much safer it is to fly than even drive to the airport.
Next week I will be sitting in on a few MAF training classes—classes with comforting titles like: “Aborts and Brakes” and “Terrain and Drops.” A few days after these classes I will be flying up into the Idaho backcountry as these new MAF-ers practice what they have learned.
Drops, aborts… no big deal. Right?
Now, the planes I typically fly in land on paved runways with a cadre of professional air traffic controllers at their beck and call. The runways MAF planes land on not only aren’t paved—they are surrounded by cliffs, jungles, rivers, and cows that may or may not always know to get out of the way.
(As I write this, I might be talking myself out of getting in that little plane in two weeks …)
So in preparation for my upcoming flight, I spoke with Rolland Trempert of MAF’s Safety Department and he helped set my mind at ease.
– Because of the conditions of these remote runways, MAF needs to do the best maintenance possible—which includes special plane inspections every 1,000 flight hours in addition to all the ones normally required.
– MAF requires pilots and mechanics (who are often the same people) to have regular maintenance training and testing so they stay up on their skills. (In other places mechanics are often only tested and trained once.)
– This emphasis on safety has meant MAF has seen a steady decline in accidents of any kind in the last several years.
– MAF’s “culture of safety” has inspired pilots and mechanics (who are often the same people) to report even the smallest problems so they can be corrected before they become big ones.
I’ll try to keep these things in mind as I squeeze my 6’4 frame into a small Cessna 206 and cruise up to the backcountry rather than thinking about physics (at least my version of physics) or Wile E. Coyote.