Many pilots will scan the table of contents of Laughing with the Wind and tell themselves they know it all, but that complacency – a sentiment that sits uneasily with aviation – is unlikely to stand up to a closer inspection.
The book is not a narrative, rather a collection of discrete chapters dealing with a range of aspects of general aviation, from nitty-gritty technical issues to rarely-considered ethical quandaries.
Author Dean Zakos compiled the collection of observations, advice, hints, warnings and suggestions by drawing on his 27 years of experience in general aviation and connections in the field, including membership of the United States-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EEA) and the Piper Owner Society.
Many of the chapters are based on articles written for these associations, particularly the EEA. Zakos says they were designed to address issues that received little attention in the aviation world, but would strike a chord with general aviation pilots rather than commercial pilots with more crew and resources at their disposal.
The book is in two parts. The first covers emergencies. In line with the truism that the best way to deal with emergencies is to avoid them in the first place, it starts with a refresher on the importance of the pre-flight routine.
This is more than a checklist of what to do but a thoughtful look at how to approach pre-flight and be aware of why it might go wrong, how to guard against interruptions and distractions, and how to recognise and deal with risks.
The focus of the other articles in the section acknowledges that avoidance is not always achieved and that the second best way to deal with emergencies is to know in advance what to do when they happen.
It covers emergencies as diverse as an ill or agitated passenger, disorientation at night, flap failure (total or split) and a broken airspeed indicator. It ends with a look at how to cope with a blown tire on landing, an emergency Zakos says “should be an incident we can all walk away from – and provide us with a good story to tell”.
The second section is more likely to give readers pause to reflect on matters they have not thought about as deeply as they might. It’s titled “Hangar Flying” but is much more than a compilation of on-ground chit-chat.
One chapter in Laughing with the Wind, for example, is titled Landing an Airplane, about as basic to flying as you can get. However, the section steps back even from such practical aspects to frame problems as psychological rather than technical. It extends to such difficult questions as how to know when it’s time to quit flying, how to confront fear, avoiding bad habits, and the ethics of intervening when another pilot is pushing the safety envelope.
There’s also a chapter on buying and selling used aircraft and, on a lighter note, good places to stop for breakfast.
Readers should be aware that the book is written by an American pilot for American readers and that is reflected in any reference to regulations and licensing, as well as the breakfast spots – all in Zakos’ home state of Wisconsin. And, as the author repeatedly stresses, it’s not a substitute for proper flight instruction, or familiarity with an aircraft’s operating procedures and instructions.
Despite those ifs and buts, it is one of those books that offers something for everyone, even if only a reminder of things once known but since forgotten, and likely to offer fresh gems on every re-reading.
Laughing with the Wind – Practical Advice and Personal Stories from a
General Aviation Pilot, is available from the Square Peg bookshop.