My two-week vigil at the Tiger Woods residence is over and I have returned from Orlando to Boston. I believe that I have provided all of the counseling and assistance that the Woods family might want from a computer programmer. Living so close to Mr. Woods prompted reflection on his achievements. Practicing constantly and becoming #1 in the world at anything is extremely impressive. Even more impressive is someone able to remain the world’s best golfer while simultaneously responding to the demands of a wife and two children. Now it seems that his abilities as a golfer are so far above anyone else’s that he was able to stay at #1 while devoting nearly all of his non-competition time to non-golf activities. Gauss was a great mathematician, but had only one female companion at a time (source). Balzac wrote nearly 100 novels, but as soon as he got married dropped dead (presumably from fatigue; source).
The trip to Orlando was not entirely occupied with the unfolding Tiger Woods story. I photographed an obese man eating a turkey leg at Epcot and came home with a new pilot’s certificate. This one has a CE-510S code on it, enabling me to be the single pilot of a Cessna Mustang business jet (any turbojet-powered aircraft requires a “type rating”, indicating specific training and a proficiency checkride to Airline Transport Pilot standards). Don, Gary, and Steve at FlightSafety never lost faith in or patience with me and for that I am grateful.
The experience at FlightSafety made me realize how important a pilot’s emotional state is to the safety to flight. On the first day of simulator training I was completely relaxed. Despite having had hardly any sleep and not knowing how to manage emergencies in this airplane, I flew reasonably well. A typical challenge is an engine failing and catching on fire as the plane reaches 100 miles per hour rolling down the runway for takeoff. Due to the thrust all coming from one side of the airplane, the plane will start wandering off the runway. The pilot first has to recognize that a problem has occurred and that the tendency of the plane to wander is not due to a gust of wind or sloppy flying. Then there are two choices: (1) pull back the thrust on the good engine and stand on the brakes, stopping before the end of the runway, or (2) wait patiently for the aircraft to reach flying speed and then lift off to climb slowly on the good engine. All of the relevant numbers have been precomputed, so the pilot knows that above “V1″ it is better to go and below V1 it is better to stop. The pilot also knows that, at that altitude, temperature, and weight, the plane will actually climb on one engine (assuming good technique, the bad engine windmilling rather than stuck, and a few other optimistic conditions). Figuring all of this on a piece of paper at a desk is a lot easier than doing it with the ground rushing by.
Over a 12-day period, I got more and more practice in the simulator. I should have been flying vastly better than on the first day, but as the expectations on me grew higher and the checkride loomed, my improvement wasn’t as dramatic as I expected. It did not help that I learned that 33 percent of applicants for this rating fail their checkride. The day of the checkride I was so nervous that I woke up at 4:30 am and could not fall back to sleep. I wasn’t tired for the 10 am test, and I felt fairly relaxed despite the presence of an FAA inspector in the back of the sim (the FAA periodically audits checkrides). But the subconcious fear of failing the checkride and having a black mark in my pilot record was apparently affecting my abilities because I flew every maneuver worse than in a practice session the day before. I didn’t crash or do anything remarkably foolish during the 2.5-hour flight, which involves multiple takeoffs, landings, approaches, and systems failures, and therefore walked away with a passing grade.
Being the single pilot is at least 4 times more difficult than being one of a two-pilot crew. An airliner is more complex than a Cessna Mustang, but when something goes wrong one pilot can concentrate on basic flying of the airplane while the other pilot finds the appropriate checklist and begins to follow it. A single pilot must keep the aircraft’s attitude, airspeed, and rudder coordination under control, possibly without any help from the autopilot, while simultaneously finding, reading, and running a checklist.
My friend Suzanne offered to pick me up at Logan Airport at 11:00 pm, despite the fact that she had to drive her daughter to an event at 6 the next morning. She asked if I was satisfied with my life. I responded “Anyone who has a friend to pick him up at the airport and drive him home around midnight should not complain.”