By Kreisha Ballantyne
Some years ago, when my pilot’s licence was still crisp and my headset new, I made a rookie mistake. Without a mentor to guide me and having not yet found my tribe, in what can be a very tumultuous industry, I found myself, alone and unprotected, on a well-known pilot’s forum. Naïve and inexperienced, I radiated cyber fresh blood and made the newbie mistake of gullibly believing everything I read was true. It was here I had my first (but far from last) experience of an entire species, previously unknown to a modern young lady like myself: The Unreachables.
Buoyed by the anonymity of the keyboard, these largely fossilised creatures—with names such as Drunk on AvTur—exist in a cesspit of misinformation, half-baked truths and misshapen facts, fertilised by the manure of their daily postings. It is here the endless threads about ‘the myth of the pilot shortage’, ‘how lift really works’ and ‘why the government aviation agencies and authority in general must be bashed with a stick’ are planted before they spread across aero clubs. It is here where optimism goes to have every beam of light sucked from its cheerful existence. It is here where I learned the difference between fact and opinion.
This is the cohort that won’t learn the correct updated radio procedures; that think disciplined procedures in the CTAF are woozy; that ignore meteorological warnings; consider themselves exempt from the rules of visual flight on the basis that they have survived every other time. These are the people that won’t use a checklist; fly to remote locations without a spare bottle of oil; don’t renew their ELT batteries and don’t think their Beech/Cessna/Piper could ever become corroded.
They skim through aviation safety articles, mumbling about other idiots, but are completely blind to the fact that much of what is written is about them. They park in front of fuel bowsers, running extended commentary for their passengers whilst other people are waiting. They’re impolite to air traffic controllers, fail to recognize the boundaries of controlled airspace, and bust cleared altitudes because they weren’t listening and it was different to last time. They mumble incoherently on the radio, or don’t answer at all. They argue that they don’t need flight reviews, and consider that instrument and night currency is optional in their case.
Sadly, they are also the ones who have accidents: continued VFR into IMC; gear-up landings; handling mistakes on landing or take-off; fuel exhaustion and other completely preventable accidents.
Tragically, their poor attitudes towards the safety rules, learning and knowledge puts other lives at risk as well.
How to spot an Unreachable
First a disclaimer: it is perfectly possible to hold a different opinion to others—or even a different opinion on some matters to CASA—and not be an unreachable. The key is understanding that yours is not the only viewpoint, and that civilised people can disagree, while valuing each other.
Of course, the internet is the ultimate invisible cloak, so at first I had no idea who these people were. Might they be the same fellas I saw passing on my way through the aero club where I was learning to fly? The white heads in the crowds at the Av-Safety seminars I had attended? The gentlemen who waved hello while taxiing by in their warbirds? Not necessarily. Over the next nine years, I would come to meet many Unreachables, and while it cannot be argued that a great proportion of them were indeed white men over the age of sixty, a surprising number were not: there were females, old and young; pilots of extremely modern aircraft and flying instructors younger than a decent bottle of Scotch. What they have in common, regardless of their age, gender or cultural background, is their implacability; their stubborn resistance of modernity and their steadfast conviction that things were better way back when—they are the human equivalent of t-rex.
Aside from internet forums, chatrooms and message boards, these creatures can often be found grazing at the aero club barbecue. Typically, the alpha of the species will be heard mourning the printed version of the ‘crash comics’ and insisting that AvFax was a marvelous way to submit flight plans. A word of caution: do approach the alpha carefully and slowly as they can be vicious when attacked. I once had to back away from such a creature when he commenced foaming at the mouth over the topic of aircraft airframe parachutes.
Pack animals, the Unreachables are often seen en masse at safety seminars, fly ins and airshows. Here, the alpha, supported by a small but firm group of 20th century die-hards, will stand and regale the speaker with a lengthy tale of their personal battle with AvMed, even if utterly unrelated to the topic discussed.
Aside from the traditional sausage sizzle and assorted cream biscuits, the Unreachables exist on a diet of nostalgia and self-righteousness. They are frequent writers to the editor of magazines, often on a monthly basis.
The extreme version of the species, having recently embraced the internet via a late 2002 desktop PC, uses the world wide web not to check facts but to attack others. They often have a singular obsession—the undocumented (until their 9000 word document) danger of wind farms, the closure of ground-based nav aids or perhaps the insistence of a plain language weather briefing.
Their mating patterns
Recent research points to the sobering fact that the Unreachables mate with others of the species almost exclusively. The encouraging news is that the offspring of the species are not always Unreachables themselves, due to the recessive nature of the gene.
If you yourself are a child or sibling of an Unreachable, all is not lost. First, I suggest you perform a quick safety check to ascertain whether you have been contaminated and to what extent, by answering the following questions:
1. Does your flight bag weigh over 10 kilos due to maps, ERSA and printed weather?*
2. Do you refer to carbon composite aircraft as Tupperware?
3. Do you know the NDB codes for every aerodrome within a 50-mile radius?
4. Do you believe that the world has become too touchy-feely, that there is too much talking and not enough action? That communication should be left for radio transmissions?
If you answered no to these questions, then take a deep sigh of relief and continue on.
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you are contaminated and will need to follow the following procedures:
1. Purchase a tablet and download an EFB.
2. Discard all expired maps, old ERSAs and anything else dated, or that you don’t actually use. Old VTCs make great wrapping paper.
3. Discard those superceded binders of regulations they’re downright dangerous if they contain procedures and information that’s outdated.
4. Book a course in GPS procedures.
5. On your new tablet, download at least three pilot-related apps. Some suggestions are Cloud Ahoy, Log Ten Pro, Sportyís E6B, Flight Aware and WeatherZone Plus.
After following the above procedures, you will be free of contamination and equipped to proceed in the modern world. However, you will need to proceed with caution as the Unreachables exhibit cult-like fervor when retaining their progeny. Do not be lured by their romantic nostalgia of the golden days when pilots were the strong, silent type and never made mistakes. If necessary, refer to the facts: modern aircraft are increasingly safety conscious, and contemporary education—now with a focus on human factors and an understanding of human psychology—is aiding our awareness of accident causes and how to avoid them.
Their future in the modern world
Despite claims, the Unreachables are not nearing extinction (that’s just fake news!) and they will remain a fact of life within the aviation community. My personal experience has been to treat an Unreachable with a mixture of humour, logic and gentle coercion. When an elderly Unreachable wrote to me in my former role of magazine editor, declaring his wish for me to trip in my heels on a muddy field, dropping my iPad in a puddle, I berated him for his bad manners (surely it is the youth of today who is rude?) before pointing out the practical elements of an EFB in an open cockpit warbird and proffering a free tutorial on how to operate an iPad. He warmly thanked me for my grace and humour, and while I doubt he’s morphed into an Apple watch wearer, our exchange tugged a little at the barrier between modern and antique attitudes.
Head-to-head combat very rarely works, and sardonic articles aside, the best procedure for safety promotion is a combination of leading by example—stay current; fly regularly; be present at education awareness seminars; keep an open mind; read blogs, publications and opinion pieces; ask questions of specialist experts and those with more experience than yourself; and remain cheerful and in good humour—never resort to personal insult and mind your manners.
* With the exception of those required by regulation to carry specific documents