It was around 12:30 PM, September 13, 1971 (not a Friday), when I rolled my Pawnee up in a ball and spent the next four months in the burn unit at Fort Sam Houston Army Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. I had been a Navy carrier pilot, and was trying to build sufficient time to get on with either Delta or Northwest (Orient) Airlines, as at that time, they were the only ones hiring. I resented having to be a darned old crop duster to do it. I had an attitude problem, but that wasn’t the heart of the problem.
In my squadron, VS-24, there was a sign in the ready room that read, “COMPLACENCY KILLS.” And it does! On the 16th of September 1971, I was in and out of lucidity on the Intensive Care Ward of the Veteran’s Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi prior to being flown out to Texas. My good friend and fellow ag pilot, Johnny Trusty came to see me. For some reason, that old slogan, “Complacency Kills” was going around and around in my mind every day, all day long. When I looked up and saw Johnny, that’s what I said to him, “Complacency kills”!
It wasn’t my bad attitude that made me dive into that tiny field and hit the tree that darn near tore the whole right wing off of my airplane, it was complacency! I thought I was invincible, crop dusting was beneath my dignity and ability, I was God’s gift to ag aviation and to boot, I was bullet proof!
Earlier that summer, before I hit that tree, I had cut seven wires and ripped the right landing gear off on a ditch bank. I thought I invented the Hammer Head turn and there were no wires so low that I could not go under them. I was more than bullet proof; I was a complacent and stupid fool.
So what’s this little In My Opinion article about? I have seen a few (not a lot, but enough to make me concerned) students who appear to think they are bullet proof. Because of this, it is very easy for them to tacitly and unintentionally slip into a complacent attitude regarding their ag flying. More often than not, these are young pilots who are very talented. Some are so good that it scares me. When I instruct an exceptionally good pilot and I see some the not-so-subtle tell-tale signs, I will have a cards-on-the table talk with them. Regardless of how good they are when they leave Flying Tiger Aviation, I want them to know that they still have a heck of a lot to learn. Therefore, In My Opinion, complacency is the most insidious danger that faces new ag-viators.
Incidentally, Johnny Trusty has a large wooden plaque mounted over the exit door of his hangar / loading dock that simply says, “Complacency Kills”. He and any other pilot cannot help but see this plaque as they taxi out.
Now, I want to add one comment regarding flying under wires; if you think you can go under a wire, don’t do it! “Thinking” you can go under it ain’t good enough! Should you be flying a turbine, this axiom goes double!
So, as per usual, be safe, have fun and make money… and don’t be complacent!