Today’s newspaper brings us a story about a helicopter that landed safely after suffering from complete engine failure. Neither the pilot, nor the passengers were injured. More remarkably, the helicopter was at 200 feet of altitude when the engine quit. The pilot, without thinking much about it, executed something called “auto-rotation” which means that the main propeller is purposefully disconnected from the gearing which cause the main rotor to spin freely and the helicopter floats down, much like a maple tree seed.
At 200 feet, this pilot didn’t have much time to think. Hesitation would have meant death and not just for him, and not just for his passengers, but also for anyone on the ground. It’s not as though helicopters can glide for a while and decisions can be thought through. It has to be instinctive and to make something instinctive, takes forethought and planning.
Twenty years ago, rather than having a happy ending with a busted tail rotor, this story would have ended very differently. The change in the last 20 years is because of improved training. Now, pilots don’t just receive chalk talks and flight time, but by using computer aided flight simulators, dangers can be simulated and training can reduce or eliminate a potential catastrophe.
Helicopters and automobiles share something in common: they both crash — a lot. Yet, while helicopter and aircraft training has improved dramatically in the last 20 years, automobile training has declined to the point that a Georgia legislator has suggested that licensing is no longer necessary. Drivers no longer have to take any classes and the driving test has been made easier. No more parallel parking.
In fact, drivers have so little experience and training that they no longer know what to do when their Ford suffers a rear wheel blowout of a Firestone tire.
Yet, a Google search about Motorist Education turns up numerous links going to cycling websites, but few to cites that talk about motorist concerns. Seems that cyclists are the only ones concerned about it. Motorists think they are doing a fine job.