By now we’ve all seen the video of the airline pilot beating the snot out of a rubbery airport parking lot gate with an axe. If you haven’t seen it, you probably have a real job. But once seen, it’s difficult to unsee this medieval quest for chivalric justice unravel on the marge of the modern aero community. Although cataloging that parking lot justice remains a bit vague, one should never let a lack of insight stymie a vision quest.  

Let’s review one fact, which is about all I can muster. A close forensic examination of the alleged weapon used in this alleged attack bears the morphology of 12th century broad axe design, making it nothing like the slimmer crash axe I carry in my car when going to the airport. Still, let’s not allow our 21st century prejudices and respect for TSA norms to cloud preconceived perceptions of the pilot’s motivation, which as best I can tell was to smash the snot out of a parking lot gate. If so, mission accomplished, YouTube fame guaranteed. Get an agent because you’ll be headlining at Oshkosh 2024.

Two classic movie allusions prove apt when unraveling this video. First, and more obvious, is Peter Finch in the 1976 film “Network,” portraying a news anchor who’d reached his spiritual limit and screams at viewers, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Who among us when on hold with an avionics shop waiting for a transponder cert that was supposed to take two hours but stretched into the third day, hasn’t resisted the urge to go all Conan (Barbarian, not O’Brien) on customer service? Tip: It’s rude and fruitless. In any situation, the person or AI substitute you’re linked to on the phone is never the right person, and when the disembodied voice says, “your call is important to us,” it’s not. Give up.

The other cinematic classic line putting clarity to the muzzy axe event comes from “Animal House” (1978) when Otter expresses his ire—over what I forget—and declares, “…this situation absolutely requires a really stupid and futile gesture be done on somebody’s part.” As an Army vet and former FAA employee who’s encountered and initiated the stupid and futile countless times, I lean out this open window to decode the captain’s psyche.

First, let’s switch power settings slightly to consider a flight instructor’s many responsibilities and expectations when evaluating clients for, say, a flight review, check ride recommendation or tailwheel endorsement. Not only are we tasked with judging the pilot’s ability to not kill us or keep the tires on the rims in a crosswind, but we also have the less advertised charge of deciding if the pilot is sane enough to fly. I realize that can be a rabbit hole of bottomless snark, but the FAA makes it easy with a box on the 8710 forms that asks: “Would you feel comfortable letting this mook fly with your daughter?” As a Dad-CFII, I routinely checked: No way!

So, imbued as I am with flight instructor’s insight into what makes pilots tick, I can say that I have no idea what nudged this online airline pilot over the civility bluff, except that periodically an annoying gate—real or figurative—deserves a good thrashing. Often for no reason whatsoever. In the brave new world of machines replacing humans, we (the humans) must assert our alleged dominance or vanish into the dustbin of history. That said, it might be prudent to pause or at least not dwell on possible consequences when attacking any gauntlet tossed along one’s path to glory. Such ambivalence, though, does not the stuff of legends make.

In 1605, Don Quixote demonstrated that when traveling the hero’s journey, a true knight must break away from the cowed masses to “fight the unbeatable foe,” and generally make a total ass of oneself attacking windmills or the modern equivalent—airport gate arms. To shirk when duty calls is to never “reach the unreachable star.”

I hope the pilot, whose identity I’ve kept secret, is exonerated and after some awkward counseling with FAA Aeromedical Flight Sturgeons, returns to flight status long enough to consider the numerous media offers headed his way. If Sully could milk a flamed-out water landing on a VFR day into a lucrative post-airline TV/movie career, then this had-it-up-to-here pilot can ride his axe-wielding revenge porn into at least 89 minutes on Hulu. I’m picturing Kieran Culkin in the lead role. Maybe Rashida Jones if studios want to explore the Lizzie Borden angle. Either way, I’d watch it. After all, I watched the original version shot on a security cam more than once. Yeah, I need to get a real job.

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