Real Pilots vs. IFR Pilots

I’m strictly VFR. I don’t mind flying in the haze and have flown over water in five miles visibility at night — those of you who think it’s foolish should go back to flight school.

I flew with an IFR pilot (once) who took our ship to 6,500ft, turned on the autopilot, kicked back, folded his hands across his chest and turned to me with a smile: ‘I love flying,’ he said. I was horrified. I’ve only had that feeling one other time in the cockpit — after flying with an instructor for 40 hours of initial training, I asked if he ever wanted to do aerobatics, ‘No,’ he said. It was terrifying. That was the first time I realized there was a difference between real pilots and what I’ve come to call ‘controlled pilots’ (CPs). I’ve tried to avoid the latter ever since.

Controlled pilots are a special breed. They don’t fly for the same reasons as the rest of us, and they don’t possess the same skills.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who doesn’t want to manipulate an aircraft through the sky at all times for the sheer joy of the experience should be held under suspicion, but any pilot who doesn’t want to do aerobatics should have his license taken away. Aerobatics are the only way to truly understand the ocean we call the sky, how that ocean interacts with our craft and skills we use to explore it. What real pilot wouldn’t want to develop an intimate understanding of each one of those things? What real pilot wouldn’t want to truly understand how those things interact with the human mind – and soul?

Unfortunately, IFR trainees are taught to avoid those explorations entirely. IFR training actually works to breed controlled pilots. This is where the CP mentality is developed as a science. Never exceed a standard rate turn, never lift the nose more than about 10 degrees off the horizon and never lower the nose more than about two degrees. The ultimate irony for these pilots is that as they embrace the new ‘freedom’ of their IFR ticket, it dooms them to fly within these confines and those of the air traffic control system — where they will always do what they are told (either by their instruments or controllers). In the end, they become technicians who monitor systems, not pilots who fly airplanes. Quite often, their skills are solidly surpassed by their preferred captains – the autopilots.

For those of you who are CPs (whether you know it or not) I don’t particularly mind sharing the skies with you. Heck, get where you’re going. Keep flying for the ‘convenience’ of it. Do your absurd, out of the way IFR routing on clear blue days, pop on the autopilot, and test your skills by seeing how straight and level you can fly. Dream your dreams of the day when flying will really be as convenient and safe as pushing a button — and above all, do as you’re told.

Just leave the flying for us.