ONE-HANDED AIRLINE COCKPIT CREW
When I was an Eastern pilot in the 1980s, one of our pilots lost his left hand in a saw accident. Since he already held the highest rating (ATP), he had a head start. The FAA wouldn’t let him be a commercial pilot after that, but he also held a Flight Engineer (FE) certificate. (Remember the old jets, like the B-727 that had three-crew cockpits?) The FAA allowed him to take his FE checkride again, which he passed with one hand.
He then flew the line as a regular crew member. After a while, it was kind of weird for him to keep explaining it to worried passengers, so he quit flying the line and became a simulator instructor.
I’ll close with a related funny tale about explaining a pilot handicap to airline passengers.
Flight Lieutenant Dan Cullen saved the lives of 30 men as he flew one-handed 50 feet above the ground while preventing his co-pilot, who had been shot, falling onto his controls.
The aircraft was hurtling through the air at more than 100 knots at the time and a crash would almost certainly have killed all on board.
The incident began when Dan, 31, and his crew were ordered to fly the lead Chinook helicopter in a formation of two aircraft sent to pick up 60 men.
The ground troops had been clearing a known Taliban improvised explosive device (IED) factory in Helmand Province in April 2011.- Telegraph
During my airline pilot days I came to have a deaf friend and so I took a sign language course. For graduation, we got to attend a party at Gallaudet, here in Washington, DC. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! One Gallaudet student at the party was a licensed pilot!
We spent the whole party together “talking” about flying. That was a cool night for us both.
How is that possible, you ask? Simple. He had a restriction on his license that limited him to a non-radio flying environment. You might think pilots always need a radio, but that’s not true. A quick example is crop dusters. They fly in remote areas and land in fields rather than airports. No radio!
But you can use a towered airport without a radio. All towers have a light gunthat shoots a focused beam of white, red, or green light that’s intended to be used if a pilot has a radio failure—so they can be cleared to land and taxi.
Well, it turns out that it’s possible for a deaf pilot to have a friend call the tower, explain where and when the deaf pilot will start up, and give the aircraft type and tail number. At the appointed minute, the tower watches for engine start, then uses the light gun to clear him to taxi and take off. When he comes back, they use the light gun to clear him to land. Wild, huh?
But my question was: How did he take flying lessons? By passing notes in the cockpit! Geeeez. I needed to be yelled at, so I’d have never made it with just notes. I really admired that guy.
SIGN LANGUAGE AIRLINE PILOTS
The funny story happened when I discovered that another airline pilot I flew with also had a deaf friend and knew sign language. So, we practiced it when we flew together.
One day between flights on the Eastern Shuttle at La Guardia, our incoming plane was delayed for a half hour. Oddly, one of the flight attendants also knew sign language! So for a half hour, the three of us sat in the gate lounge practicing signing.
Our plane came in. We went down the jetway and started preflighting.
Soon, however, the gate agent came down and said no one would board a jet airliner with two deaf pilots and one deaf flight attendant.
So the Captain went back to the gate and addressed a wide-eyed and freaked-out crowd.
Luckily, they all were pleased that we supported friends with hearing disabilities and they all flew with us.