DAVE MATHENY COMMENTARY / LIGHT FLIGHT
Contemplating a world of water from an altitude of 1 foot
FEW THINGS STRIKE AS MUCH HORROR into the heart of an aviator as
the prospect of ditching, or making an unintended “water land-
ing,” to use its formal name; an oxymoron if ever there was one.
There are worse things—fire, catastrophic structural failure such
as losing a wing, and total loss of controls. Having to ditch would
come in very close behind those, because it means a forced landing
followed by the possibility of drowning or dying of hypothermia.
Or maybe the horror is all in the eye of this beholder. Maybe
it’s just the result of my having had more forced landings than
most pilots, largely because of the unreliable nature of ultralight
engines and powertrains in the early ultralight days. Those
experiences have produced in me an unwillingness to trust my
engine. I have also spent a lot of time on the water in boats—
sometimes looking over the side and contemplating what it
would be like in the water without a boat, even though I’m a
Well, I’m a worrier. I don’t fly over big bodies of water; I go
around them or cut the corner slightly so I can glide to land in
the unlikely event—yes, I know it’s a lot less likely these days—
of losing the engine.
If I seem to be going into a defensive
crouch here, it’s because I have known
this viewpoint to beget angry words. By
contrast, no pilot I know of has a problem
with acknowledging that taking off without enough fuel to reach your destination
is a bad idea, nor that flying in a thunderstorm is also a bad idea.
But when you mention taking the
long way around to avoid crossing a big
stretch of water in a single-engine airplane, there are some pilots who will get
right in your face and say, “Your engine
is not going to quit just because it’s over
water any more than it will over land.
Just shut up and fly.”
A MATTER OF BELIEF
I admit they are right about the engine
not knowing it’s over water and suddenly