getting stupid. I admire their courage.
I am touched by their childlike faith in
their powerplants. I’m kind of jealous
of all those decades they must have
spent in their cockpits with their engines
purring along and never giving a hiccup.
And I even chortle along with them
when they are amused by those pilots
who experience “automatic rough”—
a term coined long ago, probably when
the Wrights or Glenn Curtiss or somebody first ventured over water—to
describe the mild auditory hallucination
you get when you can see nothing but
water in every direction and your engine
starts to sound not quite right.
But I still say, and this is the point of
this whole article, that flying over water
if you don’t have to is an unnecessary risk,
and one that you might not take if you
thought about the possible consequences.
Before looking at those consequences,
let’s acknowledge those times when
ditching can be the best thing to do. We
have the recent example of the “Miracle
on the Hudson.” In January of 2009, US
Airways Flight 1549, an Airbus A320, took
off from LaGuardia Airport in New York
City and shortly afterward struck a flight
of Canada geese, losing both engines.
The captain was Chesley B. “Sully”
Sullenberger, and the copilot was Jeffrey
Skiles (who now writes for this magazine
and is vice president of chapters and
youth organizations for EAA). Faced with
total loss of power and no airport within
immediate reach, Sullenberger elected to
ditch in the Hudson River rather than
attempt to land in the extremely con-
gested dry-land areas of Manhattan or
New Jersey. It was clearly the best
choice. All 155 aboard survived.
Ditching can even be a heroic choice.
In October 1944, two groups of 13th Air
Force B- 24 Liberators were preparing
to launch from their field on the island
of Morotai, in the North Molucca islands,
for a second attack on the Japanese-
held base at Balikpapan, Indonesia,
according to Winged Victory: The Army Air
Forces in World War II, by Geoffrey Perret.
Before looking at those
acknowledge those times
when ditching can be the
best thing to do.
The missions were well more than 1,600
miles long. Balikpapan was fiercely
defended, with 40 Japanese fighters having flown through their own flak to attack
the B-24s on the previous raid. The