formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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April 21, 2015 Busting myths one Pat answer at a time

The Liberty Gazette
April 21, 2015
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: As one who entered aviation mid-life I envy my wonderful husband and others who, like him, knew at an early age they wanted to fly. They were smitten with airplanes and flying; nothing else would satisfy, and they seemed to be born knowing that. But not I. Oh, aviation was around me, and I had opportunities, even occasional small bits of encouragement to learn to fly, but neither props nor jets could seduce me in my youth.

Until recently I’ve thought that there were basically these two groups of pilots – those who played airplane at recess instead of tag, and those who received a great awakening after years in the cave of unknowing. Then I considered Patrick Smith. He’s an airline pilot and writer who was attracted to a life of flying because he wanted to travel. That seems strange to me. I have never thought of people who fly for any other reason than that they become engulfed in this love for being in the air, and what it takes to be there – the knowledge, the machines, the glorious machines; the act of piloting, to any place or no place, just out and back, the where doesn’t matter.

Travel? Well, Patrick Smith is probably very different from Mike and me in a lot of ways. Neither flying a Piper Cub nor watching the Blue Angels perform impressed Smith as a kid – he’s even said those things bored him. But he liked maps, and geography, and different cultures, and so that’s what drove him to fly, and to write. He writes, he says, because he senses a mission to unite the means and ends, essentially, to inspire people who just want to get somewhere to appreciate the journey.

Patrick has written books and magazine columns, runs a blog,, and has offered his expertise on radio and television programs.

In one of his articles Patrick set out to debunk myths people believe about airline travel. Mike offers his own comments to a couple of the illusions aviators hear often.

Mike: This: "A co-pilot is less qualified than a captain to fly the airliner." First, I think what’s meant here is First Officer – by definition both pilots are co-pilots. Regardless, all pilots are trained to fly the aircraft and must pass standard testing. Both pilots can take over for each other and either is fully capable of landing the airplane safely without help from the other. However, with two, or three pilots the workload is distributed. A captain holds that rank by virtue of a seniority system within that particular airline. A co-pilot may have been a captain with another airline and just changed employers. Pilots at every level are always learning and refining their skills and knowledge.

And this: "Modern airliners have become so sophisticated they can fly themselves." Automation has become more complex but it is still just a tool to get the job done. Pilots spend an enormous amount of time training and retraining on these systems because as nifty as they are electronics still go haywire and anything mechanical can break. Yes, there are some aircraft that can auto-land but that only happens at specific airports, on specific runways, controlled by pilots with special qualification, and under specific conditions. While redundancy is available for almost everything on an airliner the ultimate safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained, onboard crew, whether that’s the Patrick Smiths of the air whose love of travel brought them there, or those whose passion is purely flying the plane.

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