Seat of Your Pants

I am what you would call a seat of the pants pilot. What does that mean? It means that you feel, more than you see what the aircraft is doing. This phenomenon can translate to any type of vehicle, such as your car, or a semi-truck in my past life.

With a ground based vehicle, “seat of the pants” isn’t’ as meaningful. You are two dimensional, and visual cues are more than enough to keep you in tune to what the vehicle is doing. For those that drive their vehicles to their limits, i.e., race car drivers, feeling what the car is doing, before you see it offers great benefits. Eyes are slow. That is what separates the good race car drivers from the great drivers…feel.

I was told by an instructor in truck driving school, “You will never feel what that trailer is doing behind you.” This bothered me, since I was just a year of so out of Army flight school, and really learned to rely on feel to tell me what is going on with the vehicle. I was skeptical, but knew better than to challenge the wisdom of someone with much more experience than I.

He was wrong! I could feel what the trailer was doing, and the ability feel what the truck and trailer were doing, kept me out of trouble on many occasions. In all the years I drove truck, I think there was one time I looked in the mirror and was surprised by what my trailer was doing. Well, maybe twice. One time was rainy night in Chicago, some bone head came down the on ramp like he was the only person in the world. I was forced to lock up my breaks to keep from running him over. When I look in my right hand mirror, all I saw was trailer. The trailer was trying to pass me on the shoulder.

My possible second time was through my own stupidity. I was hot dogging along in Joliet, IL, and used my trailer brakes to slow me down as I threw my empty trailer into a clover leaf. As I neared the half way point of the clover leaf, I looked in my left mirror and was shocked to see the ass end of my trailer nearly off the roadway.

Both times I was able to recover the trailer and avoid the jack knife.

But it was more than feeling what the vehicle was doing. It is about being aware of where the stuff you cannot see is. Especially with a large vehicle. The UH-1H was over fifty-seven feet long with the rotor turning. There was no rear view mirrors to tell you where the tail boom was. You had to develop feel for it. Knocking off the tail rotor was a guaranteed rough landing.

The same was true with a semi truck. Yes, there was rear view mirrors, but there was a thing called blindside backing. Any backing where you were tracking the trailer path out the left side window or mirror, was sight side, and relatively easy. But if you were forced to back the trailer where you were attempting to track the trailer out the passenger side window and mirror, it was blind siding. But sometimes, you were asked to back into a spot that put a wall along the right side of the truck. Even though it was a sight side backing job, you could not see the wall in relation to the right side of the truck.

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