Editor's Log

April 2004 Issue




Death to Gadgets

Spare us, please, from the inclination to stuff our flight bags with frivolous flying flotsam

Iím sick of gadgets. Iím sick of browsing through the Sportyís catalog and seeing 500,000 things that every pilot needs in his or her flight bag. Iím sick of looking in the local pilot shop and seeing office supplies with a pair of wings silkscreened on them and the price quadrupled.

I get tired of student pilots asking what handheld transceiver they should buy, when what they really need is another hour of crosswind landing practice. But what bugs me most is the apparent conviction pilots seem to exhibit that one more gadget will somehow guarantee their safe flight.

The assets a pilot can carry that enhance the potential for a safe flight are three legs of a stool: information, skill and judgment. It seems like curmudgeonly pilots emphasize skill and judgment, while the whippersnappers focus on information, with a passing nod toward skill.

Gross generalizations, sure, but how else do you explain the popularity of handhelds among renter pilots who canít use the thing outside the traffic pattern anyway because thereís no external antenna? This is a safety item?

Before latching onto any gadget, you have to ask yourself if itís going to enhance the safety or comfort or convenience of the flight in a realistic way. Too often they address the perception of safety rather than a bona fide safety issue.

Take portable traffic detectors, for example. Buyers genuflect in front of them with credit card outstretched, without stopping to realize that midair collisions are virtually non-existent outside of traffic patterns, and in traffic patterns the darn things are squawking so much you canít get any useful information out of them anyway.

But yet, when youíre cruising along you will occasionally get notification of an airplane you didnít see Ė but that wouldnít have required any action on your part anyway. Whew. Thatís a relief.

Now there are some gadgets that represent a safety advance, in my opinion. Iíd count handheld GPS units and quality headsets among them. But little wheels that tell you what kind of entry to a holding pattern or a level to tell you if youíll be in that cloud ahead? Please.

Iíd like to see pilots take the weight they devote to gadgets and put that much more fuel in the tanks. Iíd like them to spend the money they devote to gadgets on training or airplane maintenance or introducing a potential new pilot to the world of flying.

Iíd like to see them concentrating on the airplane and the instruments or the view out the window instead of being heads-down trying to figure out how to turn on the gizmo that will add useless nuggets of data to their already-occupied brains.

As air show season approaches and you find yourself gravitating to those big vendor-filled hangars to get respite from the sun (or rain), ask yourself if not buying anything might give you the time and motivation to prop up those other legs on the stool.


-Ken Ibold