The People's Chemist

Important Flying Lesson!

“Urbana, Ohio, is about 1500 miles if we fly direct, boys!” I yelled.

Blair and his wrestling buddy had no idea what that meant. But they knew it was gonna be a long trip.

We had barf bags, portable urinals, iPads, water, RX Bars, Zevia, and a million other things jammed into the back of our small Cessna 206.

Summer was here.

This is a time when I really stress “learning.”

Experience trumps being cooped up in a stuffy classroom. Plus, kids today aren’t learning anything in a classroom. They’re being conditioned to become automatons — lifeless robots burdened with debt from cradle to crave, and medicated to high hell and back.

(…At age 12, Blair’s officially done with public school. I’m fine with that. It’s time for homeschool.)

Our departure to Ohio marked his first day of summer and the beginning of his REAL “learning.” We’re headed to wrestling camp. After that, it will be computer coding camp…which means he’ll learn how to do advanced technical shit on the internet. It’s a valuable skill to learn.

Pre-flighting, looking at the weather across the USA, and loading our airplane, I’m hoping Blair learns the value of being pragmatic.

Rather than looking at our upcoming flight theoretically, I want him to approach it realistically. For instance, “in theory” we have full tanks because we filled up our fuel last night.

But we have to check visually.

Also, we know the plane is in tip-top shape, and that the flaps will work. But, we need to test them first.

Most important, we know we must land with 30 minutes worth of fuel left.
But we can’t plan where that will occur until we calculate the winds at cruise and our final ground speed.


It’s easy to live life based on theory. Most people do this every day…but you have to go the extra mile to be practical and real with yourself. It pays, too. It can save a life.

A few years ago, a Mooney pilot walked out to his bird and popped the tanks open to verify fuel. In theory, he had plenty. But he failed to check for water. Upon takeoff, his engine choked on water from the rainstorm the night before. Both plane and pilot came to a tragic end.

As a chemist, I learned that there’s a big difference between what I think and what’s true. The lab taught me this distinction. Being pragmatic always puts me face to face with the misconceptions we all have about airplanes…and life. It forces me to make the necessary corrections.

I’ve read too many reports on plane accidents caused by fuel exhaustion. And I’ve become obsessed with it. Fuel management, fuel weight, fuel contamination, fuel use, and fuel error are always part of my planning.

Once in Las Vegas, we were taxiing in 110-degree heat. Everyone wanted to get off the ground ASAP to cooler air. Seconds before takeoff, my fuel gauge showed empty. It was either an error in my gauge or perhaps there was a massive leak that went unnoticed.

I taxied back to check visually. The lineman said, “Don’t be paranoid.” I ignored him. I reminded Blair that I was being practical.

There’s only one way to know how much fuel you have…and that’s by looking in the tanks. There’s only one way to know if the fuel is clean. That’s by draining a small portion from the lowest part of the wing and checking for water, which the Mooney pilot had skipped.

Fully loaded, we departed at 6am. Clawing our way to 15,500 ft, we caught up with a 6 knot tail wind. Blue skies, we soared east at 155 knots. Only 1,450 more miles to go.

We crossed over the mountains in northern Arizona. Sliding past Albuquerque, we made our descent into Las Vegas, NM. Density altitude was at 9,000 ft, which made our ground speed faster than usual.

My senses told me to pull back, slow down. But my airspeed was perfect. We were moving forward faster, to pick up more oxygen in the oxygen-depleted air.

Touchdown. We landed with 35 minutes of fuel left.

We quickly refueled and fired up our engine. Next stop Witchita, Kansas.

Over the panhandle of Texas, the earth was brown and crusty like toast. Same in Oklahoma. Then Kansas. Velvet green farms sprawled along the landscape as far as you could see.


“Blair, get your seatbelt on, we’re landing!” I said.

After the next fuel stop, the boys charged to the bathroom. On their way out they admired the shiny jets and biplanes parked next to us.

We had to keep going. Our flight plan took us over St. Louis to Urbana, Ohio! Checking for weather, I noted that the sky looked good, with a chance of thunderstorms.

A direct flight to our destination seemed promising.

As we coasted over St. Louis, the sky grew more threatening. Cumulous clouds billowed up like smoke stacks.

“Put on your oxygen masks, we’re going higher!”

I called Flight Service for a weather briefing. Below us, it was raining and the clouds appeared more ominous. But sitting in a warm, dry office, our briefer said the weather wasn’t growing worse.

My eyes told me differently.

I called air traffic control for a deviation. I got 180 heading, stat and we were headed to Louisville, Kentucky.

In theory, the weather was passable. But in reality, what you see is what you get. We weren’t going to beat that storm. Sure, we could have tried — but why risk it?

It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the sky than in the sky wishing you were on the ground.

After a smooth landing in Kentucky, we hit downtown Louisville for lunch and drove the rest of the way.

“Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations,” can go a long way in a plane and in life.

If I can cement this wisdom into Blair’s everyday habits, then teaching him aviation, math, science, and English is going to be a hell of a lost easier.

Today, medicine is rife with theory…and that theory is being forced onto the masses in the name of “health care.”

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About the Author

My name is Shane “The People’s Chemist” Ellison. I hold a master’s degree in organic chemistry and am the author of Over-The-Counter Natural Cures Expanded Edition (SourceBooks). I’ve been quoted by USA Today, Shape, Woman’s World, US News and World Report, as well as Women’s Health and appeared on Fox and NBC as a medicine and health expert. Start protecting yourself and loved ones with my FREE report, 3 Worst Meds.


The People’s Chemist provides these articles for information only. They are not meant to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and do not replace professional medical advice from a medical doctor. I am not a doctor and would only “play doctor” if I was with my wife. In fact, I have not even read Grey’s Anatomy.

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