Wide-Eyed Admiration Might Lead to Undue Pressure

Let's not make 'chickening out' any tougher than it is.

If the most dangerous words in aviation are "Watch this," then the second most dangerous could be, "Show us how it's done." I heard those exact words on the frequency last week. The wind was the worst I had ever seen it in these parts, blowing 90 degrees directly across the only runway in operation and varying in velocity from 18 knots up to the low to mid-30s. I watched four jets in a row go around and depart for less exciting pastures. A Challenger crew talked it over with their company and decided to "chicken out" and taxied back to the FBO. The tower controller was dutifully advising each new arrival that several aircraft ahead of them had missed their visual approaches because of the wind. And the lineup for departure was stretching out down the taxiways on both sides of the runway.

As I listened, a Gulfstream pilot on downwind informed the tower he measured the wind as 44 knots at 1,300 feet. Apparently, his voice was distinctive enough that a few pilots waiting in the queue recognized the pilot. As we all watched the big jet swing onto its final approach, someone on the frequency called him by first name and said, "Show us how it's done." Another admirer chimed in with, "Make it pretty."

As it turned out, that's exactly what he did. But what if the pilot had felt something in the last segment of the approach that wasn't quite right? For this pilot to execute a go-around after such profound advance billing would have been tough. Or, hopefully not. If he really was as good -- and professional -- as his admirers seemed to indicate, I'm confident he would not have hesitated to swallow his pride and do the safe thing. Maybe those pilots cheering him on from the sidelines knew that about him. I hope so.

Not to appear as a doomsayer, but if a landing were ever to go badly under such challenging conditions, I'd hate to have my voice on tape urging the pilot, "Show us how it's done."