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On December 22nd 1978, Jay Prochnow, a retired US Navy pilot, took off from Pago Pago on the island of American Samoa in a Cessna 182. He was delivering the plane from the United States to a customer in Australia, a trip which involved four stages. This stage involved flying from Pago Pago to Norfolk Island, which is situated between Australia and New Zealand.
As Prochnow reached the area he estimated Norfolk Island to be in, he began looking out for it but all he saw was the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. After 10 minutes of searching he contacted Auckland ATC and informed them that he was lost. At this point there was no imminent danger as he still had plenty of fuel in reserve. After Prochnow had located beacons on some nearby islands, he discovered that his ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) was malfunctioning. Just where it had started malfunctioning he had no idea. All he knew for certain at this stage, was that he was lost somewhere over the Pacific.
After declaring an emergency with Auckland ATC, he was told by them that the only aircraft in the area was an Air New Zealand DC-10 flying from Fiji to Auckland. The Captain, Gordon Vette, also held a navigator’s licence and he knew that he and his crew would be the only chance Prochnow had of getting found.
Vette used the position of the setting sun to get an approximation of Prochnow’s position. VHF contact was then established between the DC-10 and Cessna, which meant that the two aircraft were within 200 nautical miles of each other. Vette had hoped that the DC-10’s vapour trail might now be visible to Prochnow. Because the weather conditions at the time were not conducive to the formation of a vapour trail, the DC-10 crew decided to dump some fuel. This was to no avail, and now that darkness was fast approaching, Prochnow was seriously considering ditching in the sea.
Although things were starting to look bleak for Prochnow, Vette and his crew weren’t about to give up. Using a technique called ‘aural boxing’ they were able to locate the Cessna within an hour. Vette then switched on the DC-10’s strobe lights hoping that Prochnow would now be able to spot the plane. He saw light but it was from an oil rig which was being towed from New Zealand to Singapore. This provided a fix for Prochnow.
The crew of the DC-10 had been remarkably accurate in their estimated position for the Cessna which was 150 miles from Norfolk Island. Prochnow decided that he had enough fuel to get to the island and headed there touching down safely after being in the air for 23hours and 5 mins. The Cessna, which had been fitted with extra fuel tanks for the journey, had 22 hours of fuel. Prochnow had managed to eke out the remaining 1 hour and 5 mins purely by effective fuel management.
The first thing most people think about when talking about pilot careers is the coveted position of airline pilot. If as a pilot you subscribe to the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy then perhaps a career as an airline pilot is the one for you. However, there are many interesting careers as a pilot. Although they may be missing the glamour and high salary of a job with the airlines, they can be just as rewarding in other ways.
Seen by many as the crème de la crème of pilot careers, landing a job with an airline takes a lot of hard work, determination and financial outlay. On the plus side there is the kudos, large pay packet and opportunity to fly the largest and most technologically advanced aircraft in the world. A major drawback would be the effect imposed on your family life. You might return from your umpteenth London-New York-LA-New York-London trip to find your family no longer recognise you.
If you are as passionate about your country as you are about aviation, the military has many different careers for pilots. Not everybody who joins the air force gets to be Maverick out of Top Gun and fly F-14 Tomcats though. There are pilot jobs transporting troops in aircraft such as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules (shown right), carrying out humanitarian missions or flying search and rescue operations.
If you have a desire to shape future generations of pilots, and can remain as calm as a Hindu cow when your pupil gets the mixture and throttle controls the wrong way round, then perhaps you are suited to this pilot career. Many budding airline pilots use this job to build up their flying hours so that they can get the experience needed to be considered by the airlines.
Sea Plane/Float Plane
Out of all the different careers as a pilot this strikes me as being the most interesting as you are no longer confined to the land which means that travel to interesting and remote destinations is possible. A sea plane is an aircraft designed purely for taking off and landing on water, whereas a float plane is a land plane which has been fitted with floats. Pilots are able to make sea/float plane transitions with 5-10 hours of instruction and if you fancy working out in the Canadian or Alaskan wilderness flying sight-seeing tours, then this is the job for you.
Corporate Jet Pilot
Although not as well paid as airline pilots, corporate jet pilots have a greater chance of being able to go back home after a day spent flying business execs and celebrities around the country. If you choose this road to go down, make sure you bring a good book to work with you everyday as there is a lot of waiting around airport lounges for your clients to finish their day’s business. Having said that, take a look at the picture of the Gulfstream (right) – it is such a sexy bit of kit!
Probably one of the most challenging careers as a pilot, a medivac pilot flies aircraft such as the King Air (shown left) on critical missions supplying medical supplies to remote areas of the world or transporting patients between hospitals. Shifts can last up to 12 hours and you will have no idea where you will be flying to or for how long when you report for duty.
These pilots have to be the most skilled in the business as they have to fly planes at the edge of the flight envelope and beyond. This is hazardous but vital work as new and overhauled aircraft have to be certified airworthy. Test pilots also have to produce written reports on their findings and make suggestions for improvements. Some test pilots like to really push an aircraft to impossible limits like this pilot did in the 1950’s whilst testing the Boeing 707.
I hope you have enjoyed today’s post. Please feel free to leave comments.
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