What is it about some people that they just have to prove that they are superior to everybody else? The flight deck of an aircraft is fertile ground for anybody of this unfortunate chauvinistic disposition.
Chauvinism is not restricted to gender alone. This particular form of arrogance can apply to colour, language, race, even size… the ‘Small Man Complex’ is as common on the flight deck as it is in the board room.
This story concerns one such Captain with a ‘certain intercontinental airline’ from the antipodes which operated the iconic Lockheed Constellation, one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built, with an uncanny resemblance to the earlier wooden De Havilland Albatross.
The Constellation normally had a flight crew of four, the Captain, sitting front left, the First Officer, sitting beside him on the right, the Flight Engineer behind him, facing the engine instrument panel and the Navigator sitting at the chart table, behind the Captain.
With four huge Wright 3350 turbo compound radials pumping out 3250 donkeys per engine just outside the window, the cockpit was not the quietest place in the world. So the navigator communicated with the Captain by means of ‘Course Correction Cards’.
On the flight in question, the Captain was a small man who exhibited the characteristics appropriate to his stature.
‘That’s when the course corrections started’
One thing which really got under his skin was the fact that after reaching cruise level and with the auto-pilot coupled up on heading and altitude, the Flight Engineer interfered by setting cruise power on the engines and the Co-Pilot made the occasional report to Air Traffic Control. Apart from that, the only person doing any work on the flight deck was the Navigator, so he effectively controlled the flight.
This annoyed the Captain so, in order to establish his authority over the Flight Crew, he used to order his coffee from the Navigator.
“Bring me a coffee, Nav, there’s a good fellow.” He would say in an avuncular tone, thus establishing his seniority and that he was much too busy to order one from the cabin himself. So the Navigator would go and get the coffee and hand it to the Captain.
When he had finished, the Captain would lean round and park the empty mug in the middle of the chart table.
That’s when the course corrections started: “5 degrees to starboard…5 degrees to starboard…5 degrees to starboard…5 degrees to port…5 degrees to port…5 degrees to port…5 degrees to port…5 degrees to starboard”.
The course correction cards kept on coming until the Co-Pilot’s curiosity overcame him and he glanced round at the Navigator’s table, only to suppress an almost uncontrollable fit of laughter when he discovered that the course corrections had actually taken them around the Captain’s coffee mug in the middle of the chart.