It is difficult to believe that 87 years ago today, pilots finally broke through the weather barrier and perfected instrument flying. I wrote about it before on October 31, 2010, describing the event that allows our airliners and other aircraft to fly through poor weather with routine regularity. Still, the process amazes me, either as a pilot or as a passenger.
As passengers, the flying public in the United States enjoys the safest mode of travel ever developed. Many passengers complete their travels without any thought on their part as to the dangers of flying. Intellectually, if one thinks about the process of flying, they will suddenly realize they are streaking through space at phenomenal speeds. As long as everything works as advertised, the ending to the flight will be uneventful. Flying has become an accepted means of getting from one place to another over great distances.
For an airline passenger to depart, transit, and arrive at their destination many things have to happen. For the airplane, all the components have to have been engineered, developed, installed, maintained, and working properly. For the airports, it is much the same. For pilots, there is an incredible amount of dedication, training, perseverance, and an affinity for flying that keeps them doing what they love, and sharp at what they do. This is particularly true of flying through clouds and back weather.
In the end, it is absolutely a miracle for as many people and airplanes to go racing about the skies from one place to another. Nothing stops the process – not even the weather.
This was not always the story, however. During the 1920s flying was quite dangerous. Engine malfunctions happened with uncertain regularity, airframes came apart in flight, night flying was only done by the airmail pilots, and flying into a cloud usually meant death.
It was this terrible safety record that led the US government and industry leaders to explore the problems of “blind flying” and to develop ways of avoiding the catastrophes associated with bad weather.
In the “old days,” Hollywood produced many aviation movies in which the protagonists would stand around at an airport waiting for the arrival of a lost airplane. When the communications companies perfected radios, the same crowd stood around in a circle listening to the radio speaker in the middle. Such movies aren’t made anymore because that scenario is not common in modern times. The story is no longer a story.
Airline accidents today are very rare, thanks in part to the work of Doolittle and his team 87 years ago. Other contributing factors include refined techniques and procedures, better pilot training, and increased industry oversight of airline companies, professional organizations, and the government.
Today, we have the opportunity to fly anywhere in the world and not worry about the outcome of the flight. Which allows us to sleep peacefully in seat 19B on the way to our destination.
©2016 J. Clark