As my wife and I prepare for an upcoming move and in so doing go through the “downsizing” process of our home I find myself sorting through a myriad of “stuff” amassed over a half century. One item I discovered was the operating manual for the B-52, an airplane I flew off and on for almost 30 years. As I perused the manual with a lot of accompanying fond memories the following excerpt caught my attention. It is from the opening pages of the B-52 “Dash 1”, or as more commonly referred to in civilian aircraft, the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH).
“This manual provides the aircrew with a general knowledge of the aircraft, its characteristics, and specific normal, abnormal, and emergency operating procedures. Your flying experience is recognized; therefore, basic flight principles are avoided. Instructions in this manual are for a crew inexperienced in the operation of this aircraft. This manual provides the best possible operating instructions under most circumstances, but it is a poor substitute for sound judgement. Multiple emergencies, adverse weather, terrain, etc. may require modification of the procedures.” The bolded and underlined portion was added by me for emphasis.
Musing over the multitude of missions in the BUFF I could recall a few where “sound judgement” and “modified procedures” where applicable. For example, none of the B-52 models were configured with a fuel jettison capability. This could become problematic because the allowable takeoff gross weight far exceeded the permissible maximum gross landing weight. Thus, a serious emergency immediately following a heavyweight takeoff did not allow for an immediate landing and recovery of the aircraft and crew. However, on the B-52 D model one could “fool” the fuel system by pulling certain circuit breakers allowing fuel to be jettisoned through the external fuel drop tanks. Did I ever do it – not saying
Another example of “fooling the system” involved the external “tip landing gear” or “training wheels” as they were affectionally termed by some. The purpose of which was to keep the 182’ wingspan tips and external fuel tanks from scraping the ground with an uneven fuel load or in an extreme crosswind condition. An unknown little fact is that between taxi and flying mode the wings would vertically flex approximately 11’ at the tips. Occasionally a pilot might unexpectedly find oneself at a strange airfield (usually for an airshow or because of an emergency landing) with extremely narrow taxiways it was possible (again by manipulating circuit breakers) to raise the tip gear on the ground while ensuring the main gear remained extended thus then avoiding taxiway lights and signs. Did I ever do it – not saying.
So, what is the relevancy of these interesting tidbits of information? Perhaps there is an application to the world in which we find ourselves today. One which over the last several months has been filled with hurricanes, violent protests, wildfires, election related concerns and a worldwide pandemic.
Just as I, as a B-52 aircraft commander, was allowed the flexibility to exercise “sound judgement” and to “modify the procedures”; then in these times of “multiple emergencies” leaders in key positions, would do well to follow suit. They must set aside personal and political interests and agendas and lead and manage soundly striving to do what is right and what is best for our country.
There is much to be learned from the principles that have guided aviators over the years.