The High & the Writey: Never Kick a Frozen Chock

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Field-tested rules about what to do, and what not to do.

I officially entered Old Pilot status a few years ago and with that designation comes a responsibility to preach to you, the choir. 

You could—and up until now, you have—gotten along fine without my advice and bloviating about all things aviation. Let’s assume though that even though your flying life has been going along OK without my unsolicited guidance, the bon mots that I am about to “mote” you with will be the cream cheese icing on your aeronautical carrot cake.

Please relax. There will be no test after I list my rules. There isn’t even a requirement that you follow any of them. Many of them might seem insipid and not very well-thought-out. 

Rest assured that each one has been tested, in the field, by yours truly. These rules are the result of multiple times I have been scared, cold, hot, nauseated, or just plain marinating in a Crock-Pot of stupidity.

Much like the Federal Aviation Regulations, most of these guidelines tell you what you should not do, rather than what you should. The first set of rules are ones that I learned in my callow youth as a lineboy, ramp rat and semi-employed CFI and charter pilot. Following those will be rules that will interest you if you fly or ever wanted to fly airplanes for a living. 

Things I learned as a lineboy/CFI

• Never kick a chock. When I was a lineboy I mastered the skill of kicking a chock across a hangar floor with it ending up against an aircraft’s wheel. It was later that I learned that chocks can freeze solid to the ground in cold weather and be full of angry wood bees in warm climes.

• Another hard-learned lineboy rule: Never walk through a totally dark hangar. Rotor blades from helicopters, wings of airplanes and random aircraft antennae will seek you out, smack you in the head and knock you down as you pick your way back to the hangar door.

• Never prop a stranger’s airplane. I know this rule seems harsh, but I have propped hundreds of airplanes over the years and have kept all 10 of my fingers by only helping pilots I know and trust.

• If you can’t stand up and/or keep falling on the ramp, it is probably too icy to taxi your airplane on it.

• Always check your own fuel caps, oil caps and access doors.

• There is always time for a clearing turn.

• You should never hurry. If you are on the ground and get confused, set the parking brake and take some time to figure it out. If you are in the air, ask for holding or delaying vectors. Never fly on ATC’s schedule. They are never at the crash scene. You always arrive first.

• Never let a dispatcher, FAA briefer, your boss, your student or an air traffic controller decide your fate. You are in command—so, command.

• If you are on the line crew and are changing jet fuel nozzles, always turn the truck off before you try to change over from over-the-wing to single point. (It took me a couple of Jet-A showers before I learned this one.)

• Never hold a garbage can up to a big airplane in an attempt to dump the toilets. This looks like a good idea at the time, but trust me, it isn’t pretty.

• There are usually two kinds of air hoses in an airplane maintenance shop. One is a low-pressure air hose and the other is a high-pressure nitrogen hose. One hose will fill up your air mattress and bicycle tires. The other, if not used properly, can blow your fingers off.

• Speaking of shop hazards, I have made it a personal rule that I never handle hydraulics or high-wattage electricity. Any time a mechanic says, “You can service that yourself; just stick your head in the wheel well, and…” I defer to the A&P and ask him or her to take care of it. I like my head—and a few dollars is a small price to pay for me to keep it attached to my neck.

• Never, ever be the first to volunteer for anything. Let another pilot try flying through that hole in the line of thunderstorms or attempt that 35-knot crosswind takeoff.

• You should never comment to other people flying with you on how well you just traversed that area of thunderstorms without much turbulence. Karma will rear up and kick you in the butt if you do, and you’ll immediately get a terrible ride. I have tested this rule a lot and it has worked every time.

• Always write down your last frequency somewhere. Nowadays most radios are flip-flop, but you should never have to search for a frequency longer than a minute or two, even if you must break out and look at a navigational chart to do so.

• Whatever facts about your flight that you don’t know—and you will not know a lot—can always be looked up.

• The best pilots are self-doubting pilots. Never trust a pilot who thinks he or she knows everything.

 And now, a few things I learned while flying in the airline world:

• You should realize that you never look as good at the layover motel’s swimming pool as you think you do.

• You can never be senior enough.

• If you ever do get senior enough, avoid trips that go through ATL or DFW.

• You should always take the time to admire the pictures that are shown to you by flight attendants of their cats, girlfriends and boyfriends.

• Absolutely nobody wants to hear stories about your dog, your kids—or your political opinions.

• No matter how expensive, big and fancy an airplane you are flying, it will still feel like crap to you when you are flying at 3:00 a.m. I learned this one flying international on the Boeing 777.

• You will never get back the Christmas mornings you flew a trip instead of spending it with your spouse and kids. It is a cost of doing the job, and it hurts.

• The company you fly for is not a family, and it is certainly not your family.

• The most scared person on my flight crew almost always wins when it comes to deciding whether to take a course of action or to deviate around weather. Scared copilots have kept me from doing something stupid dozens of times in my career.

• You never know which flying trip will be your last, so enjoy them all as much as you can.

What are your unshakable flying rules? Send them to me in care of Cessna Flyer, and we’ll all get in the hangar and discuss them at the next Rules Committee meeting.

Kevin Garrison’s aviation career began at age 15 as a lineboy in Lakeland, Florida. He came up through General Aviation and retired as a 767 captain in 2006. Currently Garrison is a DC-9 simulator instructor and a 767 pilot instructor; his professional writing career has spanned three decades. He lives with the most patient woman on the planet on a horse farm in Kentucky. Send questions or comments to .