Airborne, but well grounded
Self-discipline the key to safe flying

by Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 17/98) - Veteran pilot Bob O'Connor has transported everything from automobiles, diamond drills, pianos, air conditioners, horse harnesses and wedding rings via helicopter.

"And that's no exaggeration," says O'Connor, who more than 35 years experience in the business.

Before taking helicopter training in the early 1960s, O'Connor was flying planes to and from Northern communities such as Resolute Bay, Holman Island and Cambridge Bay.

O'Connor likes to joke that the only difference between fixed-wing and helicopter pilots is that those in helicopters generally possess "superior intelligence and hand-eye co-ordination."

The weather is often a major factor in the North, O'Connor acknowledges. But for bush pilots, who rely on visual references, the foggy East and West coasts are just as challenging.

The element of danger involved in flying can be controlled greatly by the pilot, according to O'Connor.

Walk-around inspections, being honest about what your machine is capable of doing, and pre-flight preparation such as navigational work and weather checks are crucial to staying in the air, he says.

"Fly safely, no matter what the pressure is," O'Connor says, adding that some people believe anyone with a pilot's licence is a worthy aviator.

"But some (pilots) defy gravity and common sense," says O'Connor.

It boils down to a matter of rigid self-discipline, he suggests. "I'm not out to set any records except for longevity, perhaps," he says.

The busiest time of the year is approaching, with the ice roads becoming impassable. However, O'Connor urges pilots to ensure they don't suffer from fatigue due to overwork. They have to establish a schedule that they can maintain. Eight hours of work in any 15-hour period is the maximum allowed.

"You have to know yourself," he says. "If you don't ... you can be sure, sooner or later, it's going to catch up with you."

Proper and recurrent training is also very important, he says. "You never stop learning in the aviation game."

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