Some great lonely moments for the pilots

Nick of Time. A British pilot exits his crash-landing Harrier jump jet at Kandahar, Afghanistan, in May 2009.  (Martin-Baker)
Nick of Time. A British pilot exits his crash-landing Harrier jump jet at Kandahar, Afghanistan, in May 2009. (Martin-Baker)

Who hasn’t been confronted in one’ s life with an unpleasant situation called “undergone”, during which there is nothing more you can do to change the course of things. All you have to do then is to wait, hoping for a happy ending, in a “great moment of loneliness”. But let’s start with a definition:

A lonely moment in a pilot’s life is not a moment when he gnaws his brake on the ground while waiting to go flying, it’s a moment when he regrets having gone flying!

These moments, during which we would rather be elsewhere, appear in very diverse contexts. Here are a few examples:

  • During the pre-departure briefing, the examiner, after listening carefully to you, says dryly: “You don’t understand anything”.
  • You have just passed your check-up, and you know that this is not the day that the Patrouille de France will open its doors to you. You put your things away while the examiner, who hasn’t said a word, leaves the plane to go and wait for you in the briefing room.
  • The crew is taxiing, getting ready to take off with their passengers when the standard departure is given to them. It is impossible to find the departure record in the documentation.
  • Now, it’s obvious, no matter how much you’re standing on the brakes, the end of your flight is going to end beyond the end of the runway.
  • Your student, who has left for his first solo navigation, is really late to return… You are very worried. Finally, he had decided to stop on his outside field to have a coffee…

The intensity of these moments is thus variable, let us look at their temporal dimension, with moments of solitude that can be, very short, or very long. Let’s start with a few brief moments.

  • Mmt SolitudeYou’re bouncing around on the track and you know that your machine, whose trajectory is now at its peak, is going to crash like an old pancake on the asphalt (a very brief, but very intense moment).
  • You arrive at the final on track 28 which is in use, once aligned on the axis you see a big number 10 at the entrance of the track.
  • Here are some other moments when the time seems to run out in slow motion.  These are the times when you ask yourself, “Why did I want to learn how to fly this aircraft? »
  • You got trapped above the layer, and no way to find a hole to climb back down..
  • Le bas niveau carburant clignote depuis un moment alors qu’il vous reste encore une bonne quinzaine de minutes pour rejoindre votre terrain.

We can extend these moments of loneliness to situations that were not completely suffered, but the loneliness was there.

  • The pioneers of aviation must have experienced these special moments more often than today, like Jean Mermoz who found himself landing in the middle of the Andes with his mechanic and his plane broken down, without anyone being able to help them.
  • No one was spared, like the crew of the Air Transat 236 (Airbus A330) which, out of fuel following a breakdown, made a 20-minute flight without engines before landing (successfully) on an island in the middle of the Atlantic.
  • “Houston we had a problem”. The crew of Apollo 13, who found themselves in some kind of big pressure cooker in the middle of space, must have felt very lonely.
  • One of the most important moments of loneliness was probably the one experienced by the crew of a commercial airliner flying from Detroit to Frankfurt.
  • Following a completely improbable series of unfortunate accidents, mistakes… the pilots landed in Brussels believing they were landing in Frankfurt, their destination.

We can also evoke the ejection, the third (!), of Denis Turina, whose story follows.

To avoid falling into the trap of the situation you are in : anticipate everything that can be anticipated, remove doubts, always have a plan B. More generally, avoid being on first-name terms with your limits and keep yourself within the room for manoeuvre that will allow you to deal with the unexpected.

Safe flights !