The Great Hierarchy of Flight

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The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby PaulGazis » Sat Jan 02, 2010 3:00 am

There is a hierarchy among heavier-than-air pilots -- an unofficial ranking that is all the more powerful because it is rarely acknowledged publicly. This hierarchy is as old as aviation itself. Under it, different types of pilots are ranked according to their skill, the demands of their particular craft, and by implication, their merit as human beings.

At the bottom, of course, are astronauts. With all that support from the engineers and Mission Control, they're pretty much just along for the ride, floating around in orbit without a care in the world. Or out of the world, as the case may be.

Next comes military aviation. With all that power, it's easy for a combat pilot to get out of trouble. And if they can't, they can always blow up whatever is causing the problem.

Airline pilots rank somewhat above combat pilots. Their responsibility is great. And they do fly extremely well. But they have quite a bit of instrumentation to make their job easier, and they do get a lot of help from mechanics and Air Traffic Control.

General Aviation pilots are a step above airline pilots. Flying small underpowered aircraft, which require judgment as well as training and skill, they face far more difficult challenges than the people who fly heavy iron. This challenge increases as the aircraft become simpler and less capable.

Sailplane pilots rank even higher, for they dispense with that engine. Propulsion systems may be all well and good, but they're a crutch for the aviator too lazy to find his or her own thermals.

At the absolute top -- the very pinnacle of the aviation community -- are the noble men and women who fly hang gliders and paragliders. Unlike their lesser brethren, these proud individuals dispense with engines, fuselages, cockpits, and all but a minimum of instruments to fly using the power of their own living brains. They are truly a breed apart, possessed of talents, skills, and sensibilities undreamed of by ordinary mortals...

...or so we'd like you to believe :)
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby peterh » Sat Jan 09, 2010 7:24 pm

So, where do helicopter pilots sit in this hierarchy?
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby PaulGazis » Sat Jan 09, 2010 11:20 pm

peterh wrote:So, where do helicopter pilots sit in this hierarchy?


Argh, I was hoping no one would ask that question :) Perhaps there should be a separate track for pilots of helicopters, tilt-rotors, VTOL combat aircraft such as the Harrier, and a hypothetical manned version of the DC-X rocket. What do you think? And where would auto-gyros fit in?
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby peterh » Sat Jan 09, 2010 11:58 pm

I'm not sure what to think... I was hoping that an expert like you would come in and tell me what to think. ;)

On one hand, I'm tempted to think that, the more a flyer adheres to, and profits from, natural laws, the higher he ranks in the hierarchy. Much like motorcyclists versus car drivers. Motorcyclists USE the laws of nature to corner, whereas car drivers battle the laws of nature to corner.

But on the other hand, flying a helicopter is said to be deviously difficult. On that basis, I am tempted to rank them above the Boeing 767-pilot...
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby Nelson » Tue Jan 12, 2010 2:50 pm

peterh wrote:So, where do helicopter pilots sit in this hierarchy?

They don't. Helicopter "pilots" aren't aviators, they're something else entirely. Fantasy-story wizards, perhaps, or rodeo cowboys riding two horses at once. A fixed-wing airplane properly trimmed is perfectly happy to fly straight and level until its fuel runs out; a helicopter is perched atop a pillar of air and always on the edge of falling OFF, only staying aloft through precise manipulation of controls complex enough that if they were bolted to a factory floor, there'd be three guys working them. Yet somehow, around 1-in-40 pilots make it work. Around 1-in-6 of thsoe that I've encountered are actually good enough to make you forget that the machine doesn't want to fly.

I have no idea how my local helicopter pilots manage to manage all that's required of them to aviate, let alone navigate, and the fact that they still have mental processing power left over to communicate (on two, sometimes three separate radios! One guy! WHILE POSITIONING A SLING LOAD!) is nothing less than superhuman.
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby peterh » Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:54 pm

Nelson, your answer sort of confirmed my suspicion.
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby gunner » Fri Feb 05, 2010 11:41 pm

helicopter pilots do not fly, they beat the air into submission!
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby Kergadon » Fri Feb 19, 2010 6:11 am

helicopter pilots do not fly, they beat the air into submission

Is that a reference to a Chuck Norris joke?
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby Sintaqx » Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:09 pm

As a pilot of both fixed-wing and rotorcraft I would rank a rotorcraft pilot above a GA fixed pilot.

Flying a helicopter is a very involved task in any condition, hovering especially. Most of it becomes instinctive with practice but I can say that a new pilot is NOT going to be able to fly straight and level while scanning for traffic, observing conditions, and talking on the radio ( I train in and around class bravo airspace, it can be a bit daunting).
Hovering is an activity akin to trying to balance two beach balls on top of each other in a windstorm.
Long-line is an exercise in imagination, you gotta remember constantly that your helicopter isn't 10 feet high, but 160 feet high and you can't see whats directly below you most of the time.
Engine failures are the most exciting thing in a helo. A helicopter has the aerodynamic properties of a rock, if the blades aren't turning you aren't flying. To compound this problem the engine is tied almost directly to the rotor system and if the engine isn't turning the blades, then the blades are trying to turn the engine which in turn slows down the blades dramatically. The solution is a clutch between the engine and rotors that removes the engine from the equation, but even then the blade configuration for powered flight is completely opposite from the configuration for unpowered flight. So as soon as the engine quites you need to disengage the engine from the rotors, reconfigure the rotor pitch from powered to unpowered flight, and monitor your rotor RPM so that it doesn't dip below the level required for lift but doesn't exceed the level to maintain structural integrity. Landing in one piece, now that's a whole other process :)

The principles behind the autogyro are the same as unpowered helicopter flight.
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Re: The Great Hierarchy of Flight

Postby Kona » Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:23 am

Kergadon wrote:
helicopter pilots do not fly, they beat the air into submission

Is that a reference to a Chuck Norris joke?

Welcome to the crew’s lounge, Kergadon. If it isn’t a Chuck Norrisism, it should be.
The tide is out; please leave a message.
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