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#22 Follow the Leader

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Picture a typical day in the traffic pattern at a busy uncontrolled airport. Arriving pilots hear that a particular runway is in use and plan their approach accordingly. Usually they enter on a 45 degree angle to the downwind, sometimes going far out of their way to do so. That’s how they were trained. They land on that runway because the guy in front of them landed on it. That’s how they were trained. As the wind changes, they don’t. These pilots don’t understand their medium. That’s how they were trained.

I was brought up in the motion picture business and was largely self-taught in photography. My brother had a formal education in photography. It gave him an advantage.

“Do you know what our medium is”, Larry would ask.

I’d never really thought of it that way.

“It’s light”, he explained. Without light, we would have no image. The type, direction, intensity and quality of the light we shed on our subject enables us to tell our story.

Likewise, as pilots, we need to understand that our medium is air.

If you don’t know the direction and velocity of the wind (at the very least), you don’t understand your medium . It’s a fundamental. You know how I feel about fundamentals.

Don’t sacrifice your knowledge of fundamentals in order to fall in and follow the leader. Check your medium— the air— and if you need to change the pattern, tell the rest of the sheep and do it.

Before opening the throttle on takeoff… or on short final— check the air. It could be the wind sock or the grass or some smoke. There is nearly always some indicator of the air. Check it before every landing and takeoff. And, above all, don’t be a sheep, blindly following the leader. Remember your knowledge of fundamentals… and know your medium. It’ll give you many happy years of Happy Swooping.