By: BY Mike Echo Mike, Michael E. Marotta. (c) Copyright 2001
E-mail Address: email@example.com
Darker Shade of Blue: the Rogue Pilot by Lt. Col. Tony Kern, Ph. D.,
(McGraw-Hill, 1999) examines the fundamental failure of otherwise good
pilots to maintain disciple. Too many aviators who have "good hands" for
flying have bad attitudes toward authority, risk, the immutable facts of
aeronautics, and ultimately their own limitations. This lack of discipline
kills. It kills pilots -- and it costs the lives of crews, passengers, and
people on the ground. Despite the uncompromising tone of Kern's book, the
understated truth is that rogue culture pervades all of aviation.
Kern teaches history at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He earned his doctorate
in flight education systems. Darker Shade of Blue is a set of case studies
in the wakes of accidents that took lives. Kern examines military flyers
and civilians, individuals and organizations. In every case, he shows that
the rogue pilot often has demonstrated superior flying ability, has moved up
the ladder of success, and often has been rewarded by the organization for
Years before Bob Hammond crashed his B-52, he had been praised for low
passes at airshows for the brass. He also had been condemned by crews who
would not fly with him. The Air Force swept their complaints under the rug.
Valery Chkalov (1906-1938) was called "Russia's Lindbergh" for the advances
he forced in the early days of Soviet aviation. His status can be measured
by the fact that Joseph Stalin was one of his pallbearers. Kern allows that
in the barnstorming era, rogue pilots had their place. Now that aviation is
mature and complex, there is no room for those attitudes, says Kern.
The introduction to Darker Shade of Blue comes from "Skip, a recovered
rogue." Skip admits that he fit Kern's description with his "perceived need
to expand our personal envelopes by chasing fictitious characters like Top
Gun's Maverick." Skip confesses that he "found the discipled approach to
flying difficult, if not impossible... When I fly for the company or for
Uncle Sam, I play it pretty much by the book, but when I am out in my
private aircraft, I often cut loose." Reading the manuscript to Darker
Shade of Blue, the light went on for "Skip."
Before I read this book, I figured that piloting a plane is what flying is
all about. We do not thrill to the paperwork of flight planning. There is
no fun -- and no hangar talk glory -- in staying on the ground when the
winds are high or the clouds are low or a front is moving in. I believe
that many aviators are too often motivated by the chance to impress
themselves and their friends. Since reading Darker Shade of Blue, I have
learned to accept flight planning as part of the flying process. I do not
relish it, but I know that I should, and someday soon I will.
Kern says that in the military especially but also in commercial there is
the wrongful belief that achieving the Mission is more important than
safety. As a result, Secretary of Transportation Ron Brown and 30 other
people died on a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia. The fault did not lie
solely with the crew. They were part of a rogue organization, a flight wing
that lived with "a willingness to accept less than full regulatory
compliance... These guys just wanted to get the job done and the regulations
were starting to get in the way." Among those regulations were rules about
flight training, rest, and carrying the correct charts and plates.
According to Kern, ValueJet was another rogue organization that placed its
Mission above the lives of its crews and passengers.
Kern says that he met resistance when he first discussed the theme of his
book. Many of his peers and superiors scoffed at the notion that rogue
behavior is widespread and pervasive. In the book, Kern makes a passing
remark about how we all enjoy the opportunity to brag about close calls. He
does not follow that lead.
When I read that, I thought of the aviation magazine columns "I Learned
About Flying From That" and "Never Again." Failing to heed the weather
advisories -- or failing to consider what it means when they do not agree --
or failing to verify this or that item not on the checklist in the
preflight. Whatever the initial blunder, we envy and thereby reward pilots
who fly outside the envelope and get away with it. And we seek to outdo
them. We can brag about it. We cannot brag about consistently flying six
take offs and full stop landings within the narrowest limits of deviation in
altitude and airspeed.
The way I see it, if you grease six landings and rush in to tell everyone
about it, you are a braggart, indeed. But, if you get caught in a rainstorm
and land not half bad in the wind and the water, you have earned your
bragging rights. The proper response should be "Did you not check the
weather before you took off?... Did you have to land here?... Why were you
short on fuel?..." Pointing to nominal externals such as "unexpected
weather" rationalizes rogue behavior. Rationalize is a pun for "rational
lies." You knew the difference, but you want us to help you pretend that
you did not. And we will because we want the same opportunity. Kern sweeps
his light on these facts, but does not closely examine them from the
viewpoint of general aviation.
For the general aviation pilot, flying must be all about personal minimums
and striving for personal maximums. Kern takes a few pages from Tom Peters
and Edwards Deming when he calls for an innate and consistent culture of
constant improvement, of raising the standards for quality and excellence,
meeting those standards and then defining higher levels of success. For
Kern, the key word is "consistency." To be an excellent pilot, he says, you
must thoroughly understand your aircraft, your team, your environment,
(physical, regulatory, and organizational), your risks, and yourself. You
cannot slack off in any one area -- and you cannot concentrate on any one
item until you are equally and consistently proficient in all of them.
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