A crash course
I should be pushing up daisies in some bone orchard right now after having flown on hundreds of flights piloted by auctioneers, cattle buyers, stocker operators and feedlot owners. I’d be in good company because there have been enough country western singers, auctioneers, rodeo announcers and cowboys die in airplane crashes that you could put together an impressive Plane Crash Cowboy Hall of Fame.
If you’ve never flown in a small plane, all pilots are supposed to go over a checklist before they take off. (The guys I flew with were too busy bidding on cattle to go over a checklist.) If you’re ever a passenger on Cowboy Airlines here’s a 13 point checklist that you as a passenger should go over, even if your pilot doesn’t.
1. Count the Props – There should be at least one, but two is better. If your coffin-on-wheels has no props it is either missing one, and therefore should not be flown, or it is a jet. If it’s a jet immediately hire a pilot. At least one, but two is better.
2. Count the wheels – There should be at least three, preferably two of which are filled with air. I prefer the wheels not retract, although this will slow you down at least your cowboy pilot won’t have to remember to put the wheels down prior to landing.
3. Go to the bathroom – Don’t drink a Big Gulp or a 32 ounce soda before taking off in a plane where the only restroom is the cup your soda came in. The pilot isn’t going to land just cause you have to tinkle. I learned this the hard way and by the time we landed my eyes were permanently crossed and I’ve walked funny ever since.
4. Take note of where the plane is parked – If you’ve ever been to a big casino in Vegas you noticed that they park the Ferraris and Rolls Royces right up front by the front door to send the message that high rollers gamble there. It’s the same at airports: the pilot/gambler’s good rigs are parked up close. If you have to walk more than a mile out to your airplane, or it is hidden behind a bunch of wrecked Forest Service bombers, just say you forgot something back at the car, leave, and don’t come back.
5. Make sure the radio works – It should NOT be tuned to Golden Oldies or a country station. And Rush Limbaugh won’t be much help in case of emergency.
6. File a flight plan – You should at least let someone know where you are headed so that they’ll be able to find the wreckage and have a body for your funeral.
7. Ask questions – Due to liability issues, manufacturers did not make small airplanes for many years, so don’t be surprised if the plane you are in is 30 years old. But if the names Orville or Wilbur are carved into the dashboard get out and walk. RUN if the combined age of the pilot and the plane is over 100 years. Also, ask your estimated time of arrival. If the pilot says, “I’ll have you on the ground in two hours,” ask him or her to be more specific.
8. Ask to see the maintenance records of the airplane – If the pilot says, “What’s that?” I’d advise you take the train.
9. Pack a lunch – Just like on airplanes with names like United painted on their sides, there is no service in small planes either. The food you bring along could come in handy if the rescue party can’t find you. Assuming, of course, you survive the crash.
10. Check the gas – From personal experience just let me say that banging on the gas gauges does not put more fuel in the tanks when you need it.
11. Take something to puke in – You are not going to want to ruin your felt Stetson, and straw hats leak, so pack a big five gallon trash bag to bury your head in.
12. Take a “CRASH” course in learning to fly – Okay, so that’s not a good choice of words. But you should have the pilot teach you the basics because it will be too late to find a flight instructor if, and when, your pilot has a fatal heart attack.
13. Leave a will, memorize a suitable prayer and kiss your wife and kids goodbye – Because 5,000 feet is a long way to fall without a parachute.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News