Safety, real and imag­ined

Pilot - - Preflight - Philip White­man, Ed­i­tor

Turn­ing away from avi­a­tion for a mo­ment, one of the things that pro­vided un­in­tended en­ter­tain­ment dur­ing a fam­ily hol­i­day in Malaga was the num­ber of id­iots tour­ing the his­toric city cen­tre on Seg­ways – those two-wheel jobs upon which you stand high, be­ing trans­ported at walk­ing pace. One of the rea­sons the Seg­way is such a stupid de­vice is that it gives peo­ple who should be walk­ing yet another op­por­tu­nity to ride – at much the same speed they'd make on foot. It also af­fords the op­por­tu­nity to fall from an el­e­vated po­si­tion, so the Seg­way tour op­er­a­tors kit out their vic­tims in hel­mets and – you will not be sur­prised to learn – hi-viz jack­ets. But the pre­cau­tions don’t stop there. As yet another train of Seg­way-ists rolled past, we spot­ted one last bit of health and safety fi­nesse: these peo­ple were wear­ing pa­per hair pro­tec­tors un­der their hel­mets! You may have baulked at me call­ing them id­iots, but re­ally – what other per­son would go for an ex­er­cise-free city cen­tre ‘walk’ in thirty-de­gree heat wear­ing a sweaty day­glo vest, hel­met and nit-net? Has any means of trans­port of­fered so lit­tle ex­cite­ment while de­mand­ing so many safety pre­cau­tions?

Then again, maybe we pri­vate pilots – es­pe­cially those of us op­er­at­ing seventy-year-old Piper Cubs – are a bit too cav­a­lier about the whole health and safety thing. Thoughts along these lines came to me while I was pre­par­ing the aero­plane for its an­nual Per­mit in­spec­tion. Is it re­ally that wise to put up with hand-start­ing the thing and then shar­ing the cabin with ten gal­lons of av­gas, slosh­ing around in a glo­ri­fied bis­cuit tin be­hind the in­stru­ment panel? And af­ter so many years, what’s about to break?

As ever, these con­cerns faded as the in­spec­tion – and in­tro­spec­tion – went deeper. Noth­ing you can do about that tank lo­ca­tion, but at least it’s the right side of the firewall and the fuel feed is by re­li­able grav­ity. Hand-start­ing has its haz­ards, but leads you both to in­spect the pro­pel­ler and test the com­pres­sions with­out fail be­fore ev­ery flight – and for the most part the Cub’s struc­ture and mech­a­nisms are about as com­pli­cated as a do­mes­tic door (and when did one of those last suffer struc­tural fail­ure when you opened it?)

Not­ing the odd worn bush and bit of cor­ro­sion that will even­tu­ally need at­ten­tion, my LAA in­spec­tor de­clared the thing safe for another year. Safe as a Seg­way? Well here’s a thought to close on: in the USA a well-known driver was rid­ing around the pad­dock at a his­toric race meet­ing and fell off one back­wards, frac­tur­ing his skull fa­tally. So maybe it’s not so daft to wear a hel­met while rid­ing a Seg­way, if you must – and, in our own world where, even if the tank’s not in the cabin, fire is an ever-present hazard, maybe it’s not so silly to make a habit of wear­ing flame-re­sis­tant over­alls or at least less-flammable cot­ton gar­ments. If you do, it’s hardly go­ing to up­set the bal­ance in avi­a­tion, where the plea­sure still out­weighs the pain by a healthy mar­gin. So, as I feel I can wish you with con­fi­dence, safe fly­ing!

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