AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 18

PROFICIENT PILOT

Anatomy of a pilot report

BY BARRY SCHIFF

Being an aviation writer opens some wonderful doors

BARRY SCHIFF

has flown 344
different types of
aircraft in his 62
years of flying.

18 | AOPA PILOT January 2015

WHEN I BEGAN WRITING for AOPA Pilot in 1963, my
articles were strictly technical. They involved such
subjects as pressure-pattern navigation, desert-flying procedures, and coping with optical illusions in
flight. Changing pace, I later began to write about aerial adventures that included a flying safari in East Africa
and taking my first wife and another couple in a Piper
Comanche to a fly-in at the edge of the Arctic Ocean.
Eventually, the editors entrusted me to write pilot
reports about flying different types of aircraft. My first
appeared in July 1974, and featured my experiences in
Australia with one of the most unusual airplanes I have
ever flown, a Transavia Airtruk.
The challenge in writing an interesting pilot report
is discovering and then highlighting the unusual aspects
of an airplane, items most likely to pique the reader's
interest. In some cases, discussing these features can
be expanded to teach lessons of lasting value. Writing
an interesting pilot report about a plain-vanilla airplane
such as a Cessna 172, however, can be tough. Is there
anything that can be said about this airplane that everyone doesn't already know? In the case of the Airtruk, it
is such a weird machine that almost everything about it
is noteworthy. The article almost writes itself.
Those reading pilot reports usually are unaware of
how much effort is spent behind the scenes. The process begins when the editor assigns the subject airplane
to one of his writers. Or it might be when one of the
writers suggests a subject aircraft to the editor, usually
one that the writer has a particular urge to fly. In my
case, this has resulted in reports about some special aircraft. These include a Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady, a
B-29 Superfortress, a P-51 Mustang, EAA's replica of
the Spirit of St. Louis, and receiving dual instruction
in NASA's space-shuttle simulator from then-Chief
Astronaut Charlie Precourt. Being an aviation writer
opens some wonderful doors.
Much planning precedes the flying. This begins with
coordinating the availability of those involved and gathering them together at a specific time and place. It is
most difficult when air-to-air photography is required.
Locating and providing a suitable airplane that can be
used as a photo platform can be difficult. The airplane
must provide needed camera angles (without having to
shoot through a window), have performance compatible with the subject airplane, and be flown by a skillful
formation pilot.

Sometimes, though, the best laid plans go awry. For
the air-to-air photography of a beautifully restored,
open-cockpit 1930 Lincoln PT-K in 2001, John Deakin
believed that his STOL-equipped Bonanza could be
flown slowly enough to match the speed of the biplane.
As we joined over the searing desert north of Las Vegas,
Nevada, I had to coax every bit of power from that old
100-horsepower Kinner just to keep up with the nearstalling Bonanza, and that caused the ancient radial to
begin overheating. In the meantime, Deakin had to fly
so slowly and so far behind the power curve that he,
too, needed full power from his engine-and without
much airspeed, it, too, began overheating. Conditions
were approaching the point where we would soon have
to call off the photo shoot. AOPA Senior Photographer
Mike Fizer, however, had sensed the developing drama
and shot fast. By the time conditions required breaking
off and heading for the barn, Fizer yelled over the radio,
"Hey, guys. I got it. It's a wrap."
Unforeseen mechanical failures obviously create
logistical nightmares. An example involved a B-24
Liberator belonging to the Commemorative Air Force.
After everyone had gathered on the long-awaited day,
the nosewheel of the big bomber failed. Everyone had
to return home, resulting in lost time, lost airfare, and
renewed planning.
Weather also is a potential threat to completing an
assignment. You can wind up waiting days for ceilings to
lift or strong Texas winds to subside. Postponement and
rescheduling is always an expensive and disappointing
option. Many pilot reports have interesting back stories,
some that can be openly discussed and others that probably shouldn't. These assignments seldom go exactly
as planned.
After the field work is done, this writer is then confronted by his worst enemy, the dreaded blinking cursor
on his monitor. He wonders how he can say all that is
required in the limited space available.
There is one airplane that I have longed to fly ever
since soloing in 1954, an exciting aircraft that I never
thought I would have the opportunity to experience. But
guess what? Against all odds, it happened, and a most
special pilot report will appear in these pages in a future
edition. I only hope that my words will do justice to my
attempt to share this exciting adventure with you. AOPA
WEB

www.barryschiff.com


http://www.barryschiff.com

AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 3
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover4
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