Flying Journal - Can You Fly Safely on 35 Hours per Year?

Of course with many substances, less is more. But not usually with flying. I only got in about 5 hours this month. Enjoying my new job (although sometimes it's a little too much of a good thing), but I'm looking forward to summer and more flying. But for the last month, most of my aviation stimulation came in the form of more depressing news in my e-mail newsletters from AOPA and Avweb. You know, stuff like accidents, incidents, the collision with the Chinese fighter, bankruptcies, strikes, ad nauseum.

Then some aviation news from a surprising source. In my new job teaching English classes at Southwest Missouri State University, I encounter over a hundred and fifty new students each year. Usually a few will be interested in aviation. I started giving lessons to Jarod Pyle, one of my students in Freshman English, a couple years ago. We enjoyed several lessons but I got too busy trying to graduate and introduced him to one of my former aviation students, Curtis Fisher, now a CFI at Pro-flight. I am pleased to announce that Jarod got his license and now flies in Alaska.

Even with 17,000 students, SMSU is a small world sometimes. Jarod's sister, Megan, is now a student in one of my Technical Writing classes. Since technical writing involves the way writing is used in the world of work, the students spend lots of time researching how writing and document design are used in whatever fields they might be considering as a career. This semester I have two students who were already planning to become commercial pilots. One is the daughter of an airline pilot.

In a report on documents within their field, one of these aspiring pilots reported on an article in Aviation Week and Technology. The article reported on the state of the Russian Air Force. I'd be interested in how others would interpret that information, but I decided it's probably scary.

Some of you ex-military aviators please correct me here, but I have been shocked whenever I learn how many (or how few) hours military aviators usually fly, whether the training for World War I pilots (seems like I have heard around 60 hours?) or for the aviators of other Wars, or even currently. Again, please update me, but I heard someone remark a year or so ago that military pilots were at that time coming out after 5 years service with only about 800 hours whereas a few years ago they usually accumulated around 2000. I realize every hour represents expensive maintenance and fuel burn for the taxpayers they are preparing to defend, but those are not numbers representing lots of aviation experience. It's not unusual for civilian flight instructors to rack up over a thousand hours in a year of instructing.

So imagine my shock to read that aviators in the Russian Air Force are only averaging 20-30 hours flight time PER YEAR! I couldn't believe it. Apparently fighter pilots may only fly 10 hours per year. And many of them are still not getting all their pay and have sub-standard housing. Apparently they operate a two-tier system, where a small elite flies a lot and most just get to fly simulators. Isn't that scary, to think that people are flying around with nuclear weapons who don't fly enough to be considered dangerously rusty for a GA pilot? One of the magazines, Plane and Pilot, I think, recently asked on the cover, "Can you fly safely on 35 hours per year?" Furthermore, only about one-fourth of Russian military aircraft are serviceable.

Now I've got to stop this. This is just too depressing. I need to get out flying and enjoy the (already unseasonably hot) spring weather. Bill Cheek and I had a chance to visit while at a recruiting event for SMSU in St. Louis on Sunday. Bill's daughter and family have moved to St. Louis. Bill and I resolved (although we don't have a firm date yet) to fly to Spirit of St. Louis Airport and I told him we just absolutely must have lunch at one of my favorite places to eat, "Annie Gunn's" in Chesterfield. Hopefully I'll have that flight and/or some other good aviation news to discuss next month.

Fly safely!

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