Four Dimensions

Pay attention to your airplane and your skills along all the dimensions in which they exist


Faster, slower. Higher, lower. Bigger, smaller. Expensive, cheaper. Like the four dimensions physicists use to describe the universe, these four dimensions describe the universe of general aviation airplanes.

The speed, altitude and size of the airplane you fly determines the kinds and levels of risk to which you expose yourself. The most extreme example is one of a military pilot skimming the treetops at attack speed, who is in a decidedly riskier spot than that same pilot ferrying that same aircraft from one base to another in the flight levels.

The same could be said for general aviation airplanes, though perhaps the extremes are closer together. Flying a J-3 Cub at 1,500 feet agl and 65 knots is far different from flying a Malibu Meridian at 29,000 feet and 230 knots. Weather patterns are different, stresses on the airplane are different and the pilots proficiency is taxed in different ways.

You may be comfortable dealing with ice, but how about your forward slips into a short soft field? What about flight planning? Do your avionics all work? Checked the hoses around your turbocharger lately?

The point is this: A pilot may put a lot of emphasis on instrument training at medium altitudes because he or she perceives the greatest risk to come during long cross-country flights. Many of those skills, however, are negated when the same pilot opts to spend a morning flying a vintage taildragger out of a grass strip. The converse, of course, is also true.

But there is also a wildcard, and that is money. As any aircraft owner knows, buying an airplane is just entry to the club. Maintenance and continuing training are also part of the mix. Skimp on any one of the three and youre asking for trouble.

Spring is the time of year when many pilots get into trouble. Skills atrophy over the winter. Pilots who limited their flying to local flights on nice winter days now are faced with blustery spring winds and the arrival of thunderstorm season. Those who blasted cross-country in de-iced twins may be itching for some nice-weather low-and-slow.

Airplanes that have been tied down outside over the winter may have hidden damage from animals, water, ice or wind. Many of these airplanes will be for sale as the owners try to capture the aerial lust of others or sate their own. Those that were annualled last spring may need more than a good preflight before lighting the fires.

The universe of airplanes, just like the skills of pilots or the checkbooks of owners, is subject to limitations. Knowing yours – in all dimensions – is crucial to keeping the metal away from the pavement.

-Ken Ibold


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