The ego, especially the male ego, is a curious thing; a cursed delight that's inextricably tangled up in this pilot thing we all seem to enjoy. From the ego flows the self confidence required to learn flying and overcome the inherent risks in operating an airplane. If you didn't have it, you'd cower in the den with your stamp collection. The ego is also the thing that causes us to overreach in the unshakeable conviction that a 23-knot crosswind is only for the little people to fear and it's the second thing that gets dented when this proves mistaken. The first thing is some part of the airplane that gets smashed, scuffed, ripped, bent, torn, burned, cracked, sliced or otherwise rendered into a condition it wasn't in when you started.

This comes up because last week a good friend had a little set to with a taildragger that put it up on its nose with a chewed up prop. It was in a new LSA being demonstrated. I know both the demonstrator and the demonstree and know both to be experienced, skilled pilots, so I seriously doubt there was any overreach. But that really has nothing to do with the post-prang turn of events. If you've ever had occasion to speak to someone who's crumped an airplane within a few hours of the smoke clearing, you'll recognize this: It's like talking to someone who just had a death in the family. The voice is subdued, the eyes are hollow and there's a countenance of shock and disbelief. (I've had the feeling myself, so I know what it's like.) You have to resist the inclination to speak to such a person as though you were attending a wake.

Would you feel the same if you'd just run your car into a ditch and torn off the struts? My guess is no. So why should airplanes be different? It's not because they're more expensive than cars, because in some cases they aren't. It's not because they're difficult, expensive and time consuming to repair, either. Nor is because the airport might have rolled the equipment just because you skidded off the runway and took out a runway light and your right wheel pant. Nope, none of that. It's the ego thing.

If you're a pilot, you understand that you dwell in a small (and dwindling) community and not everyone can do this. It takes a rare mindset and some fearlessness to become a pilot. Dare I say it? We're a little special, aren't we? It's quite likely that a fair bit of your personal identity is invested in being a good pilot and good pilots don't break airplanes. This, by the way, is one of the fallacies of aviation right up there with downwind turns and flying on the step. Good pilots break airplanes all the time. Every day. It's just that good pilots, all pilots, make mistakes sometimes and sometimes these have ego, and metal-denting consequences. Have you ever said or heard said, "In XX years of flying, I've never damaged an airplane?" If so, you're describing a piece of baggage the size of a steamer trunk just begging to be heaved over the side to lighten the load a little.

I know this because I've been through it myself and you really have to to figure out how to extricate yourself from the notion that your self worth is in any way tied to never having had a groundloop. The summer before last, during a takeoff roll on a grass strip, my attention lapsed and the Cub drifted left, striking a concrete runway edge marker. Didn't even scratch the marker, but it cracked the left gear strut. The worst of it was waiting months to have the part made. The best of it was that when we installed the new strut, we fixed the misalignment caused by the last guy who did the same thing 40 or 50 years ago. And we got a look at the work done to fix the dents caused by the guy before him. And so on. The point being that a nearly 80-year-old taildragger will have lived a storied life. I added a chapter. I also developed a commitment not to make that particular mistake again.

I'm certain for a couple of days I had that blood-drained-from-the-face feeling that my two friends were suffering. I got over it when a self-examination revealed to me that my personal human worth is like a pie with a lot of slices. The ones that matter are labeled truthful, reliable, honest, fair, consistent, intelligent (I hope) and although there might be one in there labeled cynical, I couldn't find one that said "good pilot" or "never makes mistakes." Might have been one labled "admits to mistakes." So now I have divested myself of the need to ever say, "In 45 years of flying, I've never wrecked an airplane." To tell you the truth, I feel relieved of a certain burden.

If you're carrying around the same load, I'm certainly not suggesting you go out and taxi into a snow drift. But if you do, you might just find the experience liberating after a couple of days of rumination. And to reach for the marble a little and borrow from that famous speech we all had to memorize in elementary school, the world will little note nor long remember that you swapped paint with the Gasboy in the fuel pit. And when the insurance check clears, you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.

This article originally appeared in the January 23, 2016 issue of AvWeb and was written by Paul Bertorelli.

January 1, 2002
©Copyright steveBERRY 1998.