In When to Give Up, an article from several years ago, I recommended giving serious thought before every takeoff about how to handle an emergency. Rather than trying for a “miracle save,” it was usually better to accept the unpleasant certainty of bending some metal but probably surviving.
The classic example is losing an engine on takeoff in a light twin at max gross weight at a high- density altitude airport. While the book says it’ll fly, you aren’t the uber-proficient test pilot who generated those numbers—and your airplane ain’t what it used to be when it came off the assembly line. So, it’s statistically better to chop the good engine and put it down off the end of the runway but into relatively benign terrain. In a single, the decision involves—depending on your altitude—landing ahead after loss of power instead of attempting the “impossible turn” back to that temptingly safe piece of concrete behind you. But you have to consciously remind yourself about these possibilities and your reaction—in advance.
Here I’m thinking about another time to “give up.” Knowing when it’s time to recognize, accept and deal with aging—yours, not your airplane’s—and deciding if and when it’s time to gracefully hang it up, has to be one of the most difficult challenges in a flying career. I’m becoming something of an expert here, which is hard to believe because everything still works, and in my head and my heart, I feel the same as I did 50-some years ago. OK, I do seem to be shrinking, and my hands—well, I’ve always admired weathered, gnarled hands adjusting throttles and props, and now I’ve got ’em.
Anyway, if you’re blessed with a love of airplanes and also blessed with a long life, you’re eventually going to be faced with the dilemma of when to stop flying airplanes…at least, flying them alone.
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