Safety, real and imagined
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!