Zulu Time, Full Moon Madness, and Pilot Superstition

By Scott Spangler on March 9th, 2020

Unless you’ve been a disconnected intraterrestial for the past week or so, you’ve probably seen the memes noting the triple one-week whammy of the change to daylight savings time (for those of you living in states subjected to it), a full moon, and a Friday the 13th. They all seem to be implications of bad times: the time change disturbance to our circadian rhythm, the full lunar reflection that seems to nurture humans to make bad decisions, and the stereotypical ill-fortune fate of triskaidekaphobics. It is all nonsense, of course, especially when you look on these events from a pilot’s point of view.

Zulu Time

24 hr clockThe world could put an end to the circadian consequences of time changes and the confusion of calculating time zones when communicating live with someone who lives elsewhere. If English is the universal language of aviation, why not employ aviation’s time zone, set the world’s timepieces to 24-hour Universal Coordinated Time, and then leave it alone. If the world can’t agree that it is, truly, coordinated universal time, changes its designation back to Greenwich Mean Time or, my favorite for its cool word conciseness, Zulu time.

Before time zones, people set their clocks locally, starting at noon, when the sun reached its zenith over their community. Setting a schedule to these village clocks, each set to a different time as Helios made his daily trek from east to west, was more than a bit complicated, so the powers that be created time zones so people would not miss their trains. But compared to the airlines, hardly anyone travels by train any more, and because airliners can cross more than half of the world’s time zones in a single flight, setting their arrivals and departure times to Zulu seems to be working so far.

So why not the rest of the world? And it would give us some new songs to write, Instead of 9 to 5, the arbitrary span of an American workday, in today’s Central Daylight Time it would be 1300 to 0100. It doesn’t seem to have any clear poetic patters, but isn’t our uninterrupted circadian rhythms worth it? And pilots would receive an added benefit of no longer having to look at the local time and try to remember how many hours to add or subtract to fill out the flight plan form with Zulu time.

Full Moon Madness

bomber moonThose in public and medical service will attest to the rise in decisions not thought through when the moon is full. The reason is simple, people can see better while acting under the delusion that their actions are less noticeable at night. That’s why the full moon has been known, since the evolution of load-lifting aircraft, as the bomber’s moon. And it is why the span of the full moon is the best time of the month to maintain a pilot’s night proficiency requirements.

Pilot Superstitions

rudder pedalsMost of the pilots I’ve met and known are not superstitious, unless it comes to missing a step in their preflight preparation and planning, or getting distracted while working through a checklist. Decades ago, one of them warned me about flying an airplane that still had paint on its rudder pedals, but if he explained why, I don’t remember it. Can anyone help me out?

Seeking illumination on the internet, Hartzell Propeller blogged on four superstitions, but half of them, carrying talismans or lucky charms, seem stereotypical of all superstitious individuals. The other two were preflight rituals and weather-related superstitions. They didn’t get into specifics, other than one pilot’s preflight habit of dancing on the wing with an umbrella. I’d be willing to bet the other idiosyncratic behavior is related to something important they missed in preflight or operation.

But maybe I’m missing something here. If you have a pilot superstition, or know of one—and can explain what’s behind it—please let me know, and I’ll share them here. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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2 Responses to “Zulu Time, Full Moon Madness, and Pilot Superstition”

  1. Jim Klick Says:

    Flying an airplane with paint on the rudder pedals is dangerous because the airplane has not been flown very much, if at all.
    As Chuck Yeager has said, never fly the “A” model of anything.

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