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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Never-Ending Pursuit of ‘Numbers’

By Mike Redmon

Back in 1971, Harry Reasoner eloquently discussed why helicopter and airplane pilots can display such differences in outlook. There is one thing that pilots, regardless of category aircraft flown, will always have a keen interest in. That one thing is “numbers.” From the moment a person decides to pursue flying, the numbers are always at play.

As a student pilot the number of flight hours accumulated will always be present as a barrier in one form or another. As a civilian pilot you need 40 hours of flight time to be eligible for a private pilot’s license. Doesn’t matter if you are a reincarnated Igor Sikorsky and can perform autorotations by just reading a book. The number that is paramount in your student pilot life is 40. Contrary to FAR Part 1, you will log Hobbs time but your CFI won’t care because he is also in his own little pursuit of a different number. In the CFI’s case he needs to get to at least 500 hours to be eligible for Part 135 employment. At some point you will be flying with a CFI and he will be logging PIC time and you will also be logging PIC time. You will be well-schooled in the differences between logging PIC and acting as the PIC, which you will log with excellent penmanship and detailed of descriptions of what the flight entailed. You will also log simulator time as flight time in a never-ending pursuit of the numbers. Again, you will read FAR Part 1 but decide to ignore it because some other pilot says it is OK since its a Level D sim.

The military trained aviator isn’t immune from this pursuit of the flight time number. I remember wasting entire days as a WO1 because I would volunteer to be some maintenance test pilot’s sandbag co-pilot. I might log 0.3 hours of high quality flight time reading the maintenance checklist while some MTP tried to smooth the rotors on an Apache. I wasn’t going to make PIC or get senior wings unless I got some more numbers in my logbook.

I made PIC on May 17, 1995 with a grand total of 530.2 hours of total flight time. I can think back and remember how knowledgeable and skilled I felt as a genuine Pilot in Command. I will think about that feeling when I read some accident blurb where a 500-hour pilot crashed a perfectly good helicopter.

Your number goal will change as your career progresses. Instead of being all about total flight time it will morph into being about time in type, mountain time, IMC time, offshore time, EMS time or glass cockpit time. All numbers on a piece of paper that will you will still pursue. Eventually, when you are finally settled into a long-term position, your logbook will slowly become dusty. You will go weeks without logging time. If you do log time it might be a monthly summary of hours flown from your Part 135 crew endurance spreadsheet. The remarks section of your logbook will be blank. At this point in your career it may appear that the pursuit of the numbers has ended but in reality it has only shifted.

The numbers that start to matter are the numbers on your paycheck or the number of zeros in your 401K. It is still a pursuit of numbers written on paper.

The final number pilots will be worried about is the age number. As a young pilot you only think about the race to your next destination. You never think about how the race is going to end because at 30 years old the end of flying is inconceivable. I am currently in my mid-40’s and recently had the enjoyment of seeing some retired pilots during a social occasion. These retirees were great pilots in their day—great pilots who I looked up to and admired. Those great pilots are now retired and I got a glimpse of life after aviation/work. I think the journey and the pursuit of numbers is better than the destination and the dread of numbers. Enjoy the journey and your own little pursuit of numbers while it lasts.

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