It’s a pilot’s life for he

This is Amfortas’s first post on his ownsome – pleased to have him onboard.


Why are so few Pilots, women?

A Pilot’s life is glamorous, isn’t it? Highly paid? High Status?

Women complain that it is a ‘boy’s club’ and they are excluded.

The 747 Captain sits in a place where the roof bulges up to make room for him to sit on his wallet.

But most airline work is ‘short-haul’. Regional. Norwich to Amsterdam; to Northumberland; to Bangor. From Buffalo to some tiny place in the tundra.

But some women do the hard yards, as the men do.

They work. They don’t moan.

Mind you, they face just the same conditions, as this famous ‘wing touch’ vid shows. It took a few years before the pilot was identified as a woman. A man might have done just the same, but most pilots would have hit the throttle and gone around at 300 ft.

Still, as they say, there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.

7 comments for “It’s a pilot’s life for he

  1. Amfortas
    December 12, 2012 at 11:10

    Something has happened to the link to the first video (before the lady pilot one) showing the male pilot’s real life of low pay, crash pads and fatigue.

  2. December 12, 2012 at 11:44

    That’s because it is “embedding disabled”. The way to remedy it is [and I’ll do it for you this time]:

    1. go to the vid at youtube

    2. take a screenshot of frame and the panel below to make it look like it’s a youtube

    3. convert your screenshot to a form WP will accept – jpg, gif etc.

    4. go to “Share”on the youtube page and get the url

    5. go to your post and open it, find the spot where you want it and click

    6. upload screenshot and embed it with the youtube url, making sure you click “center” and “medium”

    7. press update for the post

    Piece of cake and as I say, I’ll do this one for you, Amfortas, dear chap.

    Alternatively just pick a youtube which is not embedding disabled. 🙂

  3. microdave
    December 12, 2012 at 13:00

    Ah – the famous Airbus at Hamburg clip. It was discussed to death on the pilots forums, and inevitably lead to the usual Airbus vs Boeing arguments. One could ask why the pilot in comand continued the landing approach in winds gusting above crosswind limits, when an alternative runway was available (and subsequently used by that plane).

    Quite probably due to the usual commercial pressures to get on the ground, without incurring extra delays and fuel consumption. Unfortunately in this case the go-around lead to that anyway. There is also the likely-hood that peer pressure comes into play, although it should not happen these days with Cockpit Resource Management procedures.

    I guess it would be highly sexist to suggest that she was trying to “prove” herself, and that a male co-pilot in the same situation would have acted differently? One final point that is also regularly discussed – flight training and paid employment these days is so heavily dependent on automation, that “seat of the pants” skills are in short supply. This often features in accident reports, and conversely, “old hands” sometimes pull off successful landings in theoretically impossible situations.

    The Air Transat A330 engine-out landing was blamed on the crews mishandling of warning messages, and the junior co-pilot not questioning the senior captains decisions. But the “Gimli Glider” B767 landed safely after a superb bit of handling by the ex military and experienced glider instructor crew using light aircraft style side slipping techniques to get the plane down.

    By the way – I used to visit a local flying club, where the chief instructor was a lady. She was five foot nothing, a commercial airline captain, and NO ONE dared argue with her…

    Here’s my favourite YouTube clip of a “hairy” landing:

  4. December 12, 2012 at 13:31

    This is the old issue again and it is complicated by gender. There are roles in society men have always done, therefore they’ve spent since the year dot doing them.

    It’s one reason more women dance better than most men – boys were into other things whereas girls have always danced. Again, no one’s saying there aren’t good ones on both sides but there are some things men have done as boys and things women have done as girls.

    Now, when you get someone cutting across that, the issue of previous experience comes into it. For example, a computer geek was probably geeky from the beginning or had a mathematical brain or whatever.

    I don’t have that brain and can get so far, like a concert pianist but not beyond. So that lady may have been into flying from girlhood, as Laura Dekker is in sailing and short of a bit of power in the body, is as good as anyone.

    But these are rare. Wiggia spoke of some female racing driver who hit a spectator and killed him. Then there is the snowboarder who lost it [in the papers now]. And a woman does think differently – having taught girls for so long, I’m well aware of the way they think and their solutions to problems.

    There was a computer game where my gf ran rings round me because it involved fast juxtaposition of counters but I did better on war strategy games. Youth also complicates the issue.

    “No one dared argue with her.” That’s a double-edged sword. There are so many women so into their Position that no one can argue, no one can disagree, everything is seen as a challenge. They see it as some sort of loss if someone questions what they did and they’re very good at passing blame off themselves – this latter not peculiar to women of course.

    In the wash up, the important thing is that someone is not appointed for PC reasons and that they’ve had an equal background. In that clip above, she admitted she couldn’t even drive before she got into flying and then did everything all at once.

    Therefore she lacks that background. As you say, most things are automated in flight these days but it only needs that emergency situation and the person without the years of messing about with these things and without the type of brain which reacts swiftly in long rehearsed patterns – you mentioned a couple of those.

    That’s why, if it’s a case of striking a blow for PC or going the safe way with someone immensely experienced, I’d prefer to pay the extra and take the experience.

  5. Amfortas
    December 12, 2012 at 13:51

    What is generally missing in the comparisons arguements is the statistical distribution of pilot competence.

    The first video was to show just how a young pilot gains competence – and the low financial rewards that accompany the time spent. But one can assume that most pilots fall around the ‘average’ albeit that average being quite high due to the regularity and depth of competency check-rides. Some are ‘just’ good enough and some are excellent.

    The women who get to the level of being Captains of commercial airliners have done the hard yards and developed the competence, and that is good enough for me as a passenger.

    Should an emergency arise, then of course we are in the lap of the Gods, luck, skill, the pilot ‘digging deep’ etc.

    My point, somewhere implied, is that women can be airline pilots if they want to. They have to do the work, pass the exams, handle the plane and emergency drills etc that the men have to do to get there. Whether she can drive a car or not is of small moment, frankly.

    I spent a while as a ‘Boarding’ Officer, selecting Officers and Aircrew at Biggin Hill. The background of a candidate was very important, of course, but nevertheless, many a promising lad who managed to get through there was chopped part way through his flying training. And that was more a matter of cost than anything else.

    There is another issue, not touched upon, and that is the effort of designers to fit the aircraft to human qualities. Much of that effort is to overcome deficiencies. I see no reason to limit that just to one gender. As it is, in military design we are seeing human limits being reached while the demand to exceed them goes forward. The future will see pilotless fast jet fighters. I don’t think that airlines will get to the point of full automation / remote pilotage for a long while though.

  6. JD
    December 12, 2012 at 15:40

    that clip of the Leeds/Bradford landing doesn’t look too ‘hairy’ – the very long telephoto lens always exaggerates the effects

    I have been on more than a few landings like that – and struck by lightning both times I landed in Bilbao. That was ‘interesting’ 🙂

  7. microdave
    December 12, 2012 at 16:40

    The thing that struck me about the Leeds Bradford clip is how you initially assume the camera is on the right hand side of the runway, since that side of the plane is in view. It’s only at the last moment when the ground appears that you realise just how much drift the pilot was dealing with. As for not looking too hairy – not only was that Embraer being chucked about from side to side, at one point it obviously experienced a considerable change in wind speed, as the nose pitched up. Wind-shear like that has claimed many a plane over the years.

    The Airbus / Hamburg discussions made frequent mention of the need to compensate in roll for large rudder inputs – the Airbus didn’t appear to show that (hence the wing scrape), where as the Leeds pilot did a superb job of kicking the drift off at just the right moment. I’ll bet he (or she) flies taildraggers in his/her spare time…

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