Tag: I Can’t Believe I Did That

An easy oversight practically damages a container listing journey

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An easy oversight practically damages a container listing journey

4 minutes checked out

Like a great deal of pilots, a lot of my trips are around my house area in Andover, New Jersey, considering that I long back quit IFR money(my aircraft is a 1963 Super Cub and also purely VFR ). I intend a journey to OSH got on a pail listing someplace in a cabinet, yet in-grown negligence and also instability had actually maintained it a want list instead of a to do listing. Till eventually in July 2014 my old flying pal Lyle elevated the opportunity that I may attempt to make the journey.

Regardless of a great deal of hrs– however collected gradually over 50 years– I had a great deal of nervousness. A choice was lastly required on me when Lyle, a CFII as well as ATP with 5000 hrs, remarkably consented to originate from Chicago to share the journey with me. Lyle had not been present in the Cub and also set up some twin with Damian DelGaizo at Andover. I assumed that would certainly purchase me a long time, additional postponing a journey that I really felt was past me. No good luck! Lyle was taken a look at in one hr and also we were excellent to go the following day.

From Andover I flew the very first leg to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, the Cub’s native home. I was so anxious that my very first action was to the shower room, where the center was possibly made NOTAM shut for a hr. We complemented as well as I climbed to inspect the storage tanks, which was most likely my very first error. Lyle took the pole position and also I pressed all 6′ 1″ of me right into the back. Lyle cranked the starter and also we listened to a bang like something striking the airplane. We neglected it. 2nd error.

The ideal aircraft for a journey to OSH– if you have sufficient gas. The following quit was New Castle, Pennsylvania. I hopped on a ladder and also began to complete the starboard storage tank as well as was shocked to see a great deal greater than 18 gallons entering. Where was it going? We ‘d just been flying a little bit greater than 2 hrs approximately from Lock Haven and also might not have actually shed that much. Conforming to the port wing I saw what was taking place: the gas cap was gone, as well as it occurred to me what that bang sound was back in Lock Haven. I would certainly fell short to safeguard the gas as well as the cap had actually been drawn out throughout the state of Pennsylvania for 180 miles. I obtained this sinking sensation that our journey to Oshkosh mored than nearly prior to it began. It did not also take place that we can have been required down by gas malnourishment too.

A number of the residents in the garage attempted to assist us out locating some type of substitute cap however absolutely nothing was truly mosting likely to function. On a lark we determined to call the FBO at Lock Haven in a determined effort to locate the missing out on gas cap. In an exceptional lucky break, the electrician returned with the cap– which was laying on the ramp. Would certainly we pay to have it delivered to New Castle? Definitely! It indicated remaining over night in Ohio in a smoking cigarettes area at a regional motel, yet the following early morning the gas cap gotten here by FedEx and also we got on our method.

Evading a hailstorm and also hanging below reduced overcast, we got to Waukegan late in the day and also hung around in Chicago till Monday early morning, when we finished the journey and also went into the conga line to Oshkosh. We invested a terrific day socializing seeing the displays and also air program. We additionally got a bang out of being brought in to the vintage great deal.

Leaving late that mid-day, we went back to Chicago and also at some point I flew back to Andover solo, speaking to the best individuals in trip adhering to from O’Hare to Lock Haven as well as right into Andover. As well as regardless of a negative begin, I completed among the best experiences in flying and also went across off another product from the “to do” listing.

Editor’s Note: This write-up is from our collection called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up regarding blunders they’ve made however lived to outline. If you have a tale to inform, email us at: [e-mail shielded].

Bill is a retired dentist/endodontist as well as attorney living in Westhampton, Long Island, New York. He began flying Super Cubs when he remained in the Army Dental Corps at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in 1964 and also flew 96 hrs that year as well as obtained his personal ticket in August 1965 right before he was moved to Germany and also quit flying. Eventually in Scottsdale, Arizona, with some great weather condition and also a brand-new spouse, he tried some twin as well as was back right into flying. A lot more twin and also an IFR score at 67 and also he was ultimately back right into a Super Cub. At Andover, New Jersey, he has a share in 121BB, a brought back 1963 Super Cub in 2009.
William Reyer
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The hex of the X

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The hex of the X

Life was great. I was seventeen as well as a brand-new senior high school grad, servicing my Private Pilot certification at a little, independently had aerodrome (N85) in northwestern New Jersey. It was time for my initial solo cross-country. I had actually striven on my trip strategy as well as happily provided it to my young teacher. After a testimonial he specified “outstanding task!” I had actually currently gotten my climate instruction with the Flight Service Station– extreme VFR was anticipated– and also quickly I got on my way.The initially quit was a little flight terminal in eastern Pennsylvania’s Amish nation. Vigilantly doing my pilotage in addition to dead numeration, my very first location showed up over the perspective. I had actually done it! I was so thrilled to have actually browsed like a professional and also toenailed my very first flight terminal on my 3 leg trip.

I was quickly downwind with a Cheshire pet cat smile on my face my only idea being what an excellent pilot I was to end up being. After a greased touchdown “Mr. Pro Pilot” cabbed approximately the FBO. Oddly, nobody existed to welcome me? It was mid-morning yet all the doors were secured. Currently what do I do?

Back in those days it was popular to have somebody at the airport terminal authorize your logbook, affirming your arrival at each airport terminal of your cross-country. No concerns, I assumed, I will certainly simply stroll later on as well as locate a regional citizen to authorize my logbook.

Wonder what that indicates? This was ranch nation and also after a lengthy stroll– near 2 miles by my evaluation– I was knocking on the door of a charming farmhouse. A positive Amish female quickly showed up. After discussing my circumstance, she gladly authorized my logbook and also I was quickly on my means, rushing back to the airport terminal for extension of my cross-country.

The flight terminal was still macabre peaceful with no one in view when I showed up. After a preflight I was quickly airborne. Leaving, I recalled over my shoulder at the airstrip. “What is that?” I said loudly out loud. On both ends of the solitary path were 2 gigantic white Xs.

I had actually arrived at a shut path! In my enjoyment situating the flight terminal, my mind absolutely missed out on the evident path markings. It took place to me that when I got my instruction from FSS, I failed to remember to ask for any kind of NOTAMs. I was ravaged. My flying occupation mored than and also all I might envision was the FAA assessor awaiting me when I finished my cross-country back to my house airport terminal.

The remainder of my trip was uneventful as well as, to my shock, no FAA examiner was waiting on me at my home. I promptly chose my trip trainer and also described my mistake. To my shock he was not distressed; actually he claimed it was his mistake for not recognizing my very first location flight terminal was shut. We after that called FSS as well as indeed there was a NOTAM for airport terminal closure.

What are the lessons I discovered? One, constantly request for NOTAMs when acquiring a weather condition rundown. 2, trip trainers are human as well as well as can make blunders, similar to you. 3, every trip has a lesson to discover!

Editor’s Note: This write-up is from our collection called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up regarding errors they’ve made yet lived to outline. If you have a tale to inform, email us at: [e-mail safeguarded].

Frank Forrest Humbles, MD, is a CFII with a business certification. He began trip training early, with his very first trainer being his papa, A.T., a TWA pilot as well as previous B-17 pilot. With 2 older bros currently airline company pilots, he was functioning as a CFI when he was approved to East Carolina University School of Medicine. After 25 years of method as an Anesthesiologist in South Carolina, he currently resides in Charleston, where he remains to fly. He assists his other half, Kim, run a girls clothing store, Joan Crosby Shop of Charleston, a 72-year-old South Carolina household service. He is a volunteer on the USS Yorktown in Charleston. Frank has simply over 2000 trip hrs as well as flies a 1976 Rockwell Commander 112TC out of KLRO.
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Low, hot, and humid

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I recently received the December edition of EAA’s Sport Aviation magazine. As is my custom, I always check out Steve Krog’s “The Classic Instructor” commentary first. His article about density altitude brought back a memory of a long-ago flight.

As a 500-to-600-hour private pilot, I thought I had an understanding of density altitude and its effects on an aircraft’s performance. But that understanding changed on a hot, humid July day in northern Alabama!

In the mid 1990s, a buddy suggested that he, his wife, and I fly to Talladega, Alabama, in my Cessna 172, to attend the July NASCAR race. It sounded like a grand adventure, and I was all for the idea. Our flight from western New York was pretty uneventful until departing from our second fuel stop in northern Alabama. There, without much consideration, I did as I always had and told the fueler to top off the tanks. I was completely unaware of the lesson I would soon learn.

Even at low airport elevations, high temperatures can send DA uncomfortably high.

The subsequent takeoff began normally enough—I didn’t necessarily notice if we became airborne a little farther down the runway than normal or not. But once airborne, I slowly became aware that things weren’t going as expected. After liftoff, the climb rate of the 172 was downright anemic to say the least. It was clawing the air trying to climb, but without much success. We were barely climbing, but we weren’t skimming the rooftops either, and at least we weren’t descending.

I also noticed that the airspeed wasn’t increasing. In fact, to achieve whatever climb rate I did have, it was hovering somewhere just above stall. I was working hard, trying to coach the plane to climb by attempting to find the right pitch angle where the wings would produce the best lift, while hopefully at the same time maintaining an airspeed somewhere above stall. The goal was to slowly accelerate in order produce a better climb rate.

About now, there are readers that are wondering, how heavy were they? What was he thinking when he had the tanks topped off?

Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about performance or density altitude. It probably isn’t a newsflash that Alabama in July is hot and humid. But none of that information was considered as part of my planning because the airport elevation was relatively low, probably somewhere between 800 and 1500 feet.

In retrospect, I lacked a true understanding of the whole density altitude topic. I have decided that my lack of understanding stemmed from the fact that when density altitude was discussed during training, it was discussed as being an issue when high, hot, and humid.

Because all my flight training and flying up to this point had been in the east, I thought to myself, “Self, since I am flying in the East and density altitude presents a problem at high elevations (like if I was flying out West), then except for the written test. I don’t need to remember or apply any of this because it won’t affect me here where I fly.”

As I continued to build flying hours and I didn’t experience any issues with density altitude, it just reinforced that thought… until that day in July down in Alabama!

If I had thought about density altitude, here is generic example of what it may have been that day:

DA calculation

So, how/why did my thought processes take me down such an erroneous road?

For what it is worth, here is my take. When learning something new, or when our brains become overwhelmed with information, mine (and possibly yours) tends to “weed out” extraneous information. It decides what information is not important and what information it does consider important.

We then remember what was deemed important and the remaining extraneous information “gets shelved” in the back of our minds somewhere or is discarded completely.

As a result, we end up believing we have an understanding of a subject, procedure, or situation when we don’t. We usually aren’t even aware of the misunderstanding until we get that unexpected wakeup call. Hopefully, one that doesn’t end up resulting in a bad outcome.

As Steve Krog reflected in his article, “In order to protect ourselves from the effects of density altitude, we must first understand what it is and how it impacts flight.” This is true concerning all aspects of our flying. We must ensure that we first understand the subject, procedure, or situation. We must not allow ourselves to settle for what “we think we understand.”

As for that long-ago trip, it added to my experience, it is a great memory, and we had a great weekend. I am not sure my friends even realized that our takeoff was any different than any other. Talladega was as exciting and unpredictable as always, but boy was it low, hot, and humid during the race.

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

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Who’s pilot in command? A faulty assumption leads to an accident

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Maralinga is a 3,000 sq km section of desert in South Australia where the British Government tested atomic weapons in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the Australian government completed a successful decontamination of the site. Though my main work was based in Canberra, I needed to visit the Maralinga site about four times a year. I was an owner of a Cessna 172 and I used it to travel to and from the job. Canberra to Maralinga is approximately 2,000 km and I would always go via a different route to take in different scenery, and sometimes I would take my two young boys. I enjoyed my flights to Maralinga.

I was beginning to tire of CASA inventing mandatory ways for me to spend my money, such as unnecessary maintenance directives, insisting I pay for security passes when I already had higher level passes for my work, escalating tower charges, etc. I went to an air show at Narromine and met a friend who had recently built a Savannah aircraft, a two-seat, short field performer, could land in a farmer’s paddock or on clay pans in the desert. I flew back to Tumut with him and I liked the Savannah. I agonised for a week and then I ordered a kit for $60,000. There would be a three month wait.

About then I had a month of work at Maralinga. I flew there in the 172. By then the main work had finished and the site was mostly in mothballs and I was the only person on site.

Maralinga is now deserted, but once hosted bombers.

I heard that there were two Western Australian men then at the Brisbane Savannah agent’s hangar finishing off a new Savannah and they would soon be flying it home to Perth. I contacted them and invited them to overnight at Maralinga and they accepted and arrived a few days later.

When I meet new people there is a silent computer in the back of my head that assesses them: are they talking sense, is their story credible? We all do that, though some may not admit to it. Mick and Jim were about my age, they were jovial, their speech was a bit rough, but they had a lifetime of experiences and they quickly fixed a generator that had been giving me trouble and I was very impressed by their knowledge and skills. I quickly dismissed my reservations and developed a confidence in their judgement.

We agreed we would fly a few circuits in the Savannah after lunch.

They were good company and we got on well—maybe too well, because when we went to the airfield to fly the circuits, there was much joking and laughing about operating the Savannah, a small aircraft, from an 8,000-ft runway that had been built for nuclear bombers. The weather was perfect, we were in high spirits, but there was no discussion about our respective licences and experience or check procedures. We were just a couple of pilot mates going for a fly—what could go wrong? With hindsight, there was a lot that could go wrong.

As we arrived at the plane Mick said, “Dave you take the left seat.” I remember thinking that he wouldn’t have offered me the left seat unless he knew what he was doing, because flying from the right requires reversing your hand reactions and although not hard, it does require practice.

As we taxied out, Mick gestured to me to also have my hands on the controls and to make some of the control inputs, which I did. We taxied to the end of the runway, checked the oil temp, and commenced our takeoff roll. At about 200 ft, Mick took his hands off the controls and gestured to me that it was all mine. On reflection, there had been no discussion about lift-off speed or rate of climb or anything like that. Our start-up and takeoff had been more like a committee environment, with both of us making control inputs at our own discretion.

In comparison to my Cessna, I found the Savannah to be very light and to fly like a feather. Small changes in the controls caused significant changes in the flight and I had difficulty holding a steady height. I was not used to the centre stick and my movements were a bit jerky. I purposely did a very long downwind to allow a long final and I overran my turn out of base. I was feeling very uncomfortable and as soon as I had it roughly aligned on the runway, I decided that the safe thing to do was to hand control to an experienced Savannah pilot. So I said, “You take it, Mick. You have control.” To avoid any misunderstanding I placed my hands in my lap.

Mick looked very surprised. He had assumed I would fly the whole circuit, but he took control. My best estimate is that we were at about 300 ft above the ground when I passed control to Mick.

I was relieved that the plane was then under the control of a pilot with Savannah experience, but I soon realised that Mick was having his own troubles as he pulled off too much throttle and then over-corrected and we climbed momentarily before he pulled off too much throttle again. He was clearly getting flustered and making mistakes and he started swearing and shouting about the jumpy throttle. I did not know whether he was shouting at himself or whether he wanted me to make throttle inputs, but I considered that the last thing we needed was two pilots making inputs so I purposely left my hands on my lap and kept quiet as we continued a crazy up and down descent.

Then in response to one of his shouts and his hand gesturing for me to rotate the left side throttle friction nut, I completely loosened the left side friction nut. Out of all that chaos and a few more over-corrections by Mick, he managed to make a smooth touchdown and I was very relieved as we ran along the runway for a few metres.

Then suddenly the engine was at full power and the plane was climbing steeply. At about 40 ft, the engine suddenly went to idle revs and we nosed over and dived towards the runway at about 45 degrees. It all happened so very quickly. The nose wheel came up through the cabin floor and we skidded along the runway on the bottom of the fuselage with a collapsed left wing and the propeller making a sickening noise as it smashed itself to pieces on the runway.

Savannah

Small, slow airplanes are still plenty fast enough to be dangerous.

The Savannah was badly damaged but not a write-off. Like most small planes, it was uninsured. After some discussion we decided I would fly Mick to Kalgoorlie in my 172 (about 1000 km west of Maralinga) and Dick would catch the train to Perth and bring back his truck to take the damaged Savannah home to Perth. As we flew to Kalgoorlie, Mick did not seem to want to talk about the accident but I was able to learn later from Jim that although Mick was licensed and had flown the Savannah from Brisbane, he did not have much flying experience prior to that.

Three days later Mick arrived back with his truck and we loaded the plane. We agreed that I would contribute to the repair costs and they departed.

It was not until about a year later, when I was assembling the throttle controls on my Savannah, that I realised what was a major factor in the accident. The Savannah has two push rod throttles, one on each side of the instrument panel but linked together forward of the panel. Each throttle has a hand operated friction nut and the flying pilot has his friction nut set at firm and the other side friction nut set at loose. If the friction nuts are set in reverse, it causes the throttle to operate in jumpy increments.

The Savannah has a Rotax engine with a safety spring on the carburetor so that if the throttle linkage breaks, the carburetor goes to full open throttle. This enables the pilot to fly on to an airfield and then turn off the fuel or the ignition and glide down and do a safe landing.

When Mick and I entered the Savannah, there would have been normal firm friction on the left throttle nut and nil friction on the right throttle nut. When Mick took control, he was operating the right throttle and it responded in jumpy increments, causing him to continually overcorrect the throttle. After he had me loosen the left friction nut, his control improved and out of all that chaos he managed a good smooth touchdown.

It is easy to now identify the many mistakes that we all made:

  • When Mick said, “Dave, you take the left seat,” I wrongly assumed that Mick would not have said that unless he had significant right seat control experience. I should have questioned that. I now think he had so little general flying experience that he did not appreciate that flying the Savannah from the right side would be different.
  • Because Mick knew that I had ordered a Savannah kit, he wrongly assumed I had significant Savannah flight experience and would fly all of the circuit. I only had two hours as a Savannah passenger.
  • Mick was surprised and unprepared when I passed control back to him and he found himself, at short notice, having to use his left hand on the control stick and his right hand on a jumpy throttle, something he was not ready for and it flustered him.
  • When Mick eventually achieved a smooth touchdown, he felt so relieved that he let go of all of the controls. That is poor technique; a pilot should always maintain control, in the air and on the ground.
  • Neither Mick nor I were aware that if both of the throttle friction nuts are loose and the throttle is released, the carburetor immediately goes to full power, which it did.
  • The Savannah has a high lift wing and as soon as the engine went to full revs, the Savannah leapt into the air and began an uncontrolled steep climb. At that stage Mick or I could have pushed the stick forward and initiated a go around and sorted things out. Neither of us had the presence of mind to do that. Mick reacted by pulling off the throttle and we plummeted to the ground.

The way I see it there were two main factors in this accident.

  1. Every pilot, from their first lesson onwards, gets it drummed into their heads that they must do their daily checks, which include, among other things, knowing how the controls work and the ability and experience of your fellow pilot. We failed badly on that fundamental check.
  2. There was also a human factor. It was a remote site and I had not seen another person for over a week, so I was looking forward to their visit. When we all got on so well, it induced an almost festive feeling in the air, like being on holiday. I do not offer it as an excuse but that good feeling in the air partly explains how a normally boring, cautious pilot like myself dropped my caution and neglected the fundamental checks. It may explain it—but nothing excuses—the negligence of the mistakes that we made that day.

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

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A severe, multi-day case of “get-there-itis”

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This summer I used the pause between the second and third waves of Covid to do some international flying. My plan was to fly from my native Slovakia via Czechia to Peenemünde (the test facility for V-1 and V-2 rockets in WWII) in northern Germany. This got cancelled due to a stormy front coming from the North Sea, heading east. So I opted for plan B while on the same historical epoch and took off to visit Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s lair – Hitler’s eastern front headquarters between 1941-1944) in northeastern Poland.

This boasts an old Nazi-built airfield, nearby bunker ruin complex surrounded by pine forests, a museum of the famous Polish 303rd squadron of RAF, and some wonderful lakes to top it off. It seemed like a great destination to spend a long weekend. As for my return route, I planned to fly along the eastern border of Poland back to Slovakia, stay overnight at the lovely airport in Svidnik (LZSK) just across the border, and the next day fly back home to LZDV.

The Wolf’s Lair is a fascinating place to visit.

I reserved with my charterer a WT9 Dynamic, a beautiful and fast ultralight with a Rotax engine. However, since my destination got changed already, why not the plane too? A day before my planned takeoff, I learned the Dynamic was still somewhere in Croatia, so I opted for the trustworthy Cessna 150 Reims Rocket.

My route led through Warsaw Babice, an airfield familiar from my previous trip. The weather and service had been great, avgas and credit card payment was no problem, so it was a welcome stop after a 3.5 hour flight. Then I continued to Olsztyn, another 1.5 hour flight over flat but increasingly picturesque Polish countryside with plenty of lakes and forests.

My landing at the airport was smooth, a gentleman at the airport was quick to organize a hangar, bicycle, and transport of my suitcase to a nearby beautifully restored B&B. I even managed to visit the museum the same evening, riding on the paved road from airfield. I could not escape thinking how many forced laborers built the road with cobbled stones, probably commandeered from towns around the place.

The next morning all was great except the weather forecast: the aforementioned front was coming from Germany, with the outlook for several days of non-VFR weather. So I made a decision to fly back home before noon, shortening the trip considerably. I had to promise to Stanislaw to return next year and let him show me the former Me-109 stands where fighters had been on standby to protect their Führer.

I took off before noon, as planned, and headed south. Soon the sky grew dimmer, and clouds started turning from cumulus to a thick carpet around 3000 ft AGL. Rain patches started to appear and two hours into my 3.5 hour planned trip I had to dodge them. The Flight Information Service (FIS) was very helpful and kept briefing me on the weather along my route (I filed a flight plan – not mandatory for flights within the EU, but strongly recommended). Then about one hour from my destination a solid wall of rain appeared in front of me.

After some discussion with FIS, I took her recommendation to divert east and land at a Stalowa Wola, a well-known airfield with a great tradition of gliding sports. The last 15 minutes of my flight I was flying in pouring rain and headwinds up to 30 knots. When I finally found the airfield, it was empty (who would be sitting around the radio when no sane person would be flying in such a weather, right?) and managed decent landing in a headwind of 15 knots. I taxied to the apron and stayed in the aeroplane until the storm passed.

Then I dared to venture out and look for some humans. It turned out there was a group of teenagers staying in the airport building, having just completed their first solo of glider training, and they were looking forward to the next day. They gave me the phone number for the chairman of the aeroclub. Dariusz did not answer the phone nor responded to my text but sent a very nice colleague, who showed me to a spacious room where I could stay for the night and get a shower. My plane was hangared with the help of a crowd of fresh glider pilots. With a short taxi trip to a nearby town, a huge pizza and a beer, life started to improve.

The next day Dariusz came to organize a car and a driver for me to the nearest gas station to refill my Cessna. To my request that he should pull out his terminal so I could pay the fees, he just responded, “The gentleman should consider himself our guest.”

Scud from Cessna

Not a great view for a VFR flight.

So the following day I took off for my original destination (LZSK). Having landed there some 40 minutes later (and being received by a friendly gentleman who turned out to be the one-person staff of the airfield, chairman of the local aeroclub, and a very accomplished pilot), I was readily informed of another front building up on my route. Even coming there I had to dodge some low clouds, this time in the mountains of Eastern Slovakia—not fun. I decided to wait things out, only witnessing two thunderstorms between noon and 5pm, with another coming later in the evening. So I tied down my plane and prepared for staying the night—again in the clubhouse at the airfield, with a shower and two large dogs guarding my plane and myself for the night. We refueled the plane for the next day and hoped for a good weather.

The next morning, Monday, things were looking mixed. At any point somewhere along the 300nm route to my home base, there was some thunderstorm. But this time I was determined to get home. I had spent too much time waiting for the weather. And anyway, it kept changing so there was hope the storms would clear before I got to them with my slow 150. We said goodbye to the friendly flying colleague and I took off southwest, but the storms decided to wait me out rather than dissipate. I know the area well, having grown up in the East and travelled around, but you will agree things look very different from 3000 ft AGL than they look from a car on the road.

About 30 minutes into the flight I was approaching CTR of Kosice, an important regional airport. The tower let me in on my now-westbound route but advised me of thunderstorms along the western border of their area. And there it was. I told them I would deviate slightly southwest and continue; if things got rough I would turn back to land and wait it out.

Well, my get-there-itis was getting more severe by now—I was determined to at least try to get through the mountainous area of south central Slovakia. I was reminding myself of all the good things I read and watched in all those instructional videos: 178 seconds, conscious flight into IMC, etc. Well, soon enough I found myself flying some 500 ft. AGL ever-lower ceilings with ever-increasing hills around me. At one point I took a picture of a hillside on my 9 o’clock with the tip of it hidden in the cloud. On my 3 o’clock the view was identical (see picture above). When I was shooting that picture, I literally thought: “if this is the last photograph I take in my life then I will be remembered as an idiot.” It is a weird feeling when your navigation shows you are going to hit the terrain in less than 3 minutes (see picture below).

Track log

The track log tells the tale.

So I put down the camera and made a steep 180-degree turn to the right in order to get out of that valley. Remember you read you should fly along the side of a valley and not in the middle? That is some good advice, which I of course did not follow. Nevertheless, I managed to squeeze in a rather tight turn and head back. I called the FIS to inform them I would try a bit more south since the clouds looked thinner there. That would mean I entered Hungarian airspace and wanted to switch frequency.

The FIS suggested, however, that I should stay with them since they could hear me and “we will hand you over to Hungarians if needed.” A few minutes later I flew into another valley with a dead end under the ceiling, but this time I decided to turn back earlier and divert even more south. After that the sky started to clear, and 10 minutes later I flew into a beautiful summer day with some cumulus clouds but otherwise beautiful blue sky.

The rest of my flight was uneventful and with one stop over at LZLU (I hear that is the only airfield which has a memorial to sky divers) I landed tired but safe at my home base.

Learnings:

  1. All those good airmanship practices are written in blood. Follow them and you will not have to rely on dumb luck or provoke the Good Lord to keep you alive like I did.
  2. Aviator folks are one big family. When you need help, you will get it. This includes controllers.
  3. When you fly longer routes, have your water bottle full. But have it with a cap you can open and close with one hand when the other one is constantly on the yoke, compensating for gusts. You want to stay hydrated but also control the airplane. At one moment I thought, having the screw-on cup and the bottle both in one hand: when I lose the cap, I will have to drink it all in an instant or I will not be able to fly. What that would do to my bladder I will not speculate. 😊

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

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Breaking news—and breaking the rules

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I worked full time as an engineer for Sperry Flight Systems, but I also had a part-time job as one of three or four pilots that worked for Professional Aviation at Deer Valley airport in Phoenix, Arizona. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Professional Aviation had a “traffic watch” contract with radio station KTAR. Their contract was to provide pilots and aircraft for morning and evening traffic reports. KTAR provided the on-air reporter (usually Laurie Fagen). It was a fun job, but it got to be routine after a while.

The routine was broken on February 18, 1980. Phoenix doesn’t get much rain in a typical year. To help with irrigation water for the farms in the valley and flood control, the US government started building a series of four major dams on the Salt and Verde Rivers east of Phoenix from 1905 through 1930. The largest of these is the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. The dam closest to Phoenix on the Salt River is the Stewart Mountain Dam, which forms Saguaro Lake.

Heavy rains in the desert can lead to serious flooding.

All the dams along the Salt River are in a canyon in the Superstition Mountains. The sharp walls of the canyon make it ideal for the construction of dams, and the scenery is spectacular. Whenever we had winter visitors (nobody wanted to come in the summer), I would usually fly them out to this area to see the stunning aerial vistas. Four Peaks, which are north of the canyon, has an elevation of over 7500 feet. The scenery is as spectacular as the Grand Canyon but on a much smaller scale.

In both 1978 and 1979, there was above normal rainfall. Because of the Salt River Project’s charter to store runoff for irrigation purposes, the dams were near capacity in early 1980. A series of storms started on February 13, 1980, and continued that week. More storms were forecast, and the governor was considering a flood evacuation in portions of Phoenix/Maricopa County. Because of their age, there was also concern about the safety of the dams, especially if the heavy release of water from the spillways would undercut the base of the dams.

Because of the concern over the safety of the dams, KTAR was very interested in an aerial report of the situation. They asked Professional Aviation to provide an aircraft and pilot for a flight out to the dams to see the situation firsthand. I felt lucky to have been picked as the pilot. The company also provided an AA-5 for the flight. Usually, we used the AA-1C, so I was glad to have the extra fuel. There was a temporary flight restriction over the Salt River, so I had to contact Phoenix TRACON by telephone and give them my “press credentials,” aircraft tail number, and expected departure time. I felt special that I got to fly over the disaster area when mere mortals could not.

I met Laurie, and we launched from Deer Valley. It was a cloudy day with occasional light showers. I didn’t record the ceiling when we departed, but it was VFR at Deer Valley and Phoenix Sky Harbor. We flew down to Tempe, then upriver to look at the flooding along the Salt River while en route to the first dam, Stewart Mountain. The terrain rises as you go further east, and little by little, we were flying into the ragged cloud bases. The visibility forward decreased gradually, but you could still see the ground. We were able to see Granite Reef, a small diversion dam and the point where the Verde and Salt rivers merge, but continuing further east was becoming a problem. Yet my urge to get the on-air reporter to the news site was strong. After all, that’s what I was getting paid to do.

By this time, we were scud running. I was instrument rated and current but flying an instrument flight plan and scud running is entirely different. I had familiarity with the area and terrain from flying visitors around the area, but usually we were several thousand feet higher than we were on this trip. Remember this was before GPS, before light aircraft terrain warning systems, with basic instrumentation and no autopilot. Initially, it was eyeballs only in lowering visibility and over rising terrain. I knew the canyon would narrow, and I started to have concerns. The proverbial hairs on the back of my neck were starting to stand up. Then I lost sight of the ground below the aircraft and poof, we were engulfed.

For a few seconds after being engulfed, I was still trying to fly visually when I noticed that the heading indicator was slowly moving, indicating we were turning right. I noticed we were also slowly descending. I thought, graveyard spiral. OK, we have to get this situation straightened out. I quit trying to fly visually and transitioned to the instruments exclusively. Straighten the wings, then stop the descent. Things were quickly adding up wrong. I thought to myself, what in the world are you doing here?

Stewart Mountain Dam, AZ

Not the kind of terrain for scud running.

It was hard to determine precisely where we were, and I knew there was rising terrain ahead. Even if I managed to get to the dam, the cloud deck and terrain would have us sandwiched in. That’s when I capitulated, and I said, “This isn’t going to work out. We’re going to have to give up on seeing the dam today.” Laurie was a trouper and didn’t complain or get spooked by losing sight of the ground. However, I got my second shock of the day when I turned back toward Phoenix: the weather had deteriorated behind us. The visibility was three miles only because I could see glints of sunlight off the floodwater. I knew that by following the water, I would remain clear of the higher terrain. Without those glints of sunlight, it would have been IMC.

The conditions improved as we proceeded back to Phoenix, and I didn’t have to file IFR. We then flew up the Agua Fria River from Phoenix to look at the Waddell Dam and Lake Pleasant. Same result. We couldn’t see the water level behind the dam, but I didn’t wait as long to give up on this attempt. All in all, we were airborne for 2.9 hours.

Looking at the flooded “Valley of the Sun” was fun, but my feeling of being special had completely waned. To this day, I don’t know why I got the assignment over the other pilots. Was it just my time in the barrel, or was it because I was instrument rated and current, or was I the only one dumb enough to take the assignment? I still don’t know. I got us into a case trying to “get the scoop” when it wasn’t prudent. It is a close cousin to “get-home-itis.” We came too close to being the news rather than reporting on the news. I vowed never again to get into this type of situation.

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

Latest posts by Bob Teter (see all)

A spur of the moment decision, and a missed NOTAM

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Years ago, as a low-time, VFR-only pilot, flying a borrowed Cherokee 140, I invited a coworker along for a flight from Concord, New Hampshire (CON), to Carrabassett, Maine. There is a small, unattended field there, Sugarloaf Regional (B21), into which I had flown before. Another coworker had a camp in the Bigelow Preserve, and we hoped to overfly his camp and take him for a scenic flight over the Flagstaff Lake area.

As the day of the planned flight drew nearer, I could see that the weather might not cooperate, with a scattered cloud layer forecast over that area but with good conditions south and west. On the day of the flight, I decided to launch and see what developed, knowing that I would be above the clouds with plenty of fuel to get to home to CAVU conditions.

Sure enough, as we got closer to Sugarloaf, the cloud layer was filling in below us, and even though there might have been a chance to get through one of the big holes, I was not about to play around like that, especially with the terrain in that area. I was, and still am, a very conservative and safety-conscious pilot (though the rest of the story may suggest otherwise).

We flew around a bit, and then headed for home, deviating a little to the east to avoid some clouds at our altitude. Not wanting the day to be a disappointment for my coworker, I remembered a small airport into which I had previously flown, Limington-Harmon (63B), which has a nice little restaurant on the field. I suggested we stop there for a late breakfast.

Ten miles out I made my first call on the CTAF, followed by another call five miles out. I didn’t hear anyone else on frequency, which wasn’t too odd, as this was a fairly quiet airport. But I double-checked the frequency and made sure my radio was functioning.

It looks open, right?

We entered the traffic pattern, and on left downwind to runway 29 we saw an area in the grass at the edge of the woods surrounded by yellow caution tape. Huh… wonder what that’s about. We landed and back-taxied, and could now see it was a wrecked plane that was cordoned off. No one around, just the plane. Curious.

We parked down at the approach end of the runway and went into the restaurant. We were sitting at the counter enjoying our breakfast, and the woman serving us was chatting us up. She asked where we were from, and we told her that we had flown in from Concord.

“You landed here?” she said. “The airport is closed! There was an accident here this morning and the FAA is on their way!”

Panic. A barrage of thoughts bombarded my brain all at once: What do I do? What’s going to happen to me? Will I lose my certificate? Maybe I can quickly depart, and no one will know (I quickly rejected that thought). As I sat with my mind racing, the TV behind the counter was showing the local news, with the big story being the accident at the airport. Oh man. How could I have done this?

I decided the best course of action was to wait for the FAA to arrive, ‘fess up, and face the consequences. A black car arrived and drove down to the accident site, and we set out walking beside the runway toward it. The walk, while only about half mile, seemed much longer as I pondered my fate. When we got there, there was one man sitting in the car beside the plane (I can’t remember if he was FAA or NTSB). I explained what I had done, half expecting to be slapped in cuffs, but he just shrugged and said, “We didn’t close the airport, the airport owner did. You’ll have to ask him if you can leave.”

We walked back to the airport office, but the owner had apparently left for a bit. We went back to the restaurant, where the woman asked us what we discovered. We updated her and explained that we were going to wait for the owner to return, and request permission to depart. She said, “Well I’m his wife, so I can make that decision. You guys can take off.”  We wasted no time getting out of there.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on my mistake. I hadn’t planned on landing there, so I hadn’t done any of the pre-flight planning I would ordinarily do, which would include checking NOTAMS. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision; the sort of thing you can do on a road trip, but not when flying.

I later discovered that the accident was a fatal one. And I could have caused another fatality, had someone driven or walked onto the runway, knowing that the airport was NOTAMed closed. Never again would I be so cavalier in my decision-making.

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

Latest posts by John Cotton (see all)

Flying loaded: what could possibly go wrong?

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I was a brand-new Private Pilot, my head was in the sky, eager to build my flying skills, and a perfect opportunity arose. The Barbershop Singing Lancaster, Pennsylvania, chapter needed some help transporting gear to Ocean City, Maryland, and my buddy Bob (always the organizer) we could fly the stuff from Lancaster to an airport closer to the destination.

The proposed load was professional PA equipment: big loudspeakers, mics, amplifiers, stands, cables, etc. Being a former engineering major, I was hesitant about the weight involved, and requested a complete list of every single item, showing all dimensions and weight of each one.

Having no aircraft of my own, my plan was to rent a Cessna 172 and take out the back seat. I would then carefully calculate where every item would have to fit, and the location of the center of mass of each item. The list of items arrived and I drew a layout where the huge loudspeakers and each of the other items had to go. Then I ran the weight and balance calculations, three independent times, to be sure it was right. It came out that with me and Bob in the front seats (both heavyweights back then; no offense, Bob), we would be at full maximum weight and just within the rear CG limit.

I know you must be curious: had I ever flown that make and model of plane before? Well… err… no. Had I ever flown any plane at maximum weight and maximum aft center of gravity? Err… no again. Wait—maybe in the trainer? It was a tiny Tomahawk two-seater, barely enough room for me and my 6 foot 3 inch instructor, and we always had around 10 gallons fuel (I always wondered about that).

But the math said we were OK, and as a former engineer I was very sure of my math. The deal was on, to fly the stuff from Lancaster to the Cambridge, Maryland, airport where others would pick up items and drive the rest of the way.

When the day came, our initial trip to Lancaster in the rental plane was a piece of cake. We were real light and real fast (no back seat), the weather was grand, and I was happy to be adding a new airport to my logbook.

Weight and balance is important, but only if you follow the plan when you load the airplane.

We met the Lancaster guy with all the stuff, and as he handed each piece to me I carefully identified and loaded each item into the plane in exactly the place I had planned. Everything fit perfectly, and I walked away to sign the bill for fuel top-off (the second not so smart idea?), made a final weather check, and soon we were cleared for takeoff.

I knew we were very heavy and would need much more runway than usual to take off, but was really surprised when the nose lifted off before we were even at 40 knots. I pushed the yoke forward and quickly dialed in nose down trim, but it happened again almost immediately—and more down trim went in. We were gaining speed slowly, but it needed a lot more nose down trim, and finally at around 110 knots airspeed we lifted off the runway, at the exact moment I ran out of forward trim. I told my friend Bob to lean forward as far as he could, but “don’t touch the yoke or the pedals”. We were in a very, very slow climb, long out of runway, and I had to keep pushing hard on the yoke to keep the nose down and the airspeed up.

By now I knew something was critically wrong. Foolishly, I pushed on to Cambridge—perhaps because I was very familiar with the airspace, there was ordinarily almost no traffic, and that was where the plane lived.

Approaching Cambridge, I called on the radio to ask for help from an instructor or anyone, but no one answered. I brought her on down, but as we crossed the approach end of the runway I realized we were much too high and way too fast to ever get down and stopped before going off into the marsh. I aborted the landing, and now I had to somehow climb again, very slowly and carefully, just to clear the terrain and not smack into grass, trees, sailboat masts, etc.

At full power we were inching up, just missing the big stuff, and it seemed like it took 20 minutes coming back around in a very large very low circle, with arms now weakening. This time, at full speed, I planted the wheels right onto the runway at the numbers, cut the throttle, and braked like hell. When we finally got stopped, we had 30 feet left of the 3000 foot runway.

After shutdown ,I was out pulling shredded tall grass out of the wheel pants when the owner came out of his repair shop, apologized for not answering the call, and asked what the problem was. He half listened, and then replied, “no problem—just do a normal landing.”

That would have been sure disaster. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have followed that advice anyway, based on my understanding of the problem, the feel of the controls, and the plane’s behavior.

But the math was right—wasn’t it??

Investigating together, Bob and I discovered that after I left to pay the bill, the guy had either miscounted or just threw in an extra professional mic stand, the kind with a gigantic, heavy, round foot. When I was busy signing the fuel ticket he slipped the heavy base into the only place left, the worst possible—the hat rack!

Recalculating, I found we were more than 6 inches beyond the aft limit and around 40 pounds over gross. I believe that if my friend Bob and I were not as heavy as we were at that time, then once aloft the legendary farm would have been ours.

Thank you, Great Spirit! Thank you too, ever so Great Bob (again, no offense)!

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

Latest posts by RC Thompson (see all)

Close call with a blimp

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Like all pilots, I don’t like to talk about the stupid things I did in the early days of my flying career. I have filed this one (along with a few others) in the file that says “never again.” A big lesson was learned that night, and I made myself a promise to never again make low passes in an aircraft.

I was flying out of Homestead AFB, Florida, in 1961. I called home to check on some medical tests my other had back in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Dad told me Mom was scheduled for thyroid surgery the following Friday afternoon. I went to the office of my commanding officer (CO), the 823th Photo Recon Flight Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Monty Monahan, a great pilot with whom I had flown with, and asked permission to take off that Friday, and take a T-34 to McGhee-Tyson AFB, in Knoxville. Lt. Col. Monty Monahan was the best CO I served under while in the United States Air Force. Any person under his command would walk through hot coals barefoot if he asked them to. He was that type of commander to his men.

The perfect place for a low pass—right?

I had a date with my girlfriend, Lenore “Spook” (I gave her the nickname because she was always spooked at the slightest noise) on Saturday. Spook lived by the pier on South Beach in Miami, across from the famous Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant. I told her I was going home to check on my mother and that I would be back Sunday night. I would make a low pass over the pier at about 8pm and would flash my two landing lights so she would know it was me. I would then drive up to see her about 10pm.

I signed out a T-34A, #5518A, stowed my B-4 bag in the back seat, secured it, and took off for Knoxville at about 9am. The flight to Knoxville was routine, just a few puffy cumulous clouds at 3000 feet but smooth above the haze layer with visibility of 50 miles or more. As I got to the Tennessee/Georgia state line, the weather started to deteriorate fast. At Cleveland, Tennessee, I encountered some heavy rain and light snow, as I started my approach for Knoxville.

I dropped down to 5000 feet, when Approach told me the weather at McGhee-Tyson was 500 overcast and 2 miles visibility. They asked me if I would accept a GCA approach as they needed some practice. Overseas, that was all we flew, and l accepted with a grin. GCA brought me right over the threshold of runway 22 (it is runway 23 now) at about 20 feet, and I landed.

My brother had also come home, from Blytheille AFB, Arkansas. He was flying the B-52G and had just made aircraft commander. He picked me up at the airport and we went straight to the hospital, so we could be there when Mom came out of recovery. She was surprised to see both her sons there; she had no idea we were coming.

All went well for Mom and on Sunday I called Spook to told her I would pass over the pier at 8pm. She said she and Johnny (her 8-year old little brother) would be on the pier with flashlights to return my flashes and let me know they saw me.

At Jacksonville, Florida, I cancelled my flight plan and dropped down about ¾ mile off shore and about 50 feet off the water, so I could make my pass on the pier and not be detected. Around West Palm Beach it was dark, and the lights reflecting off the ocean were beautiful. Weather was clear, with good visibility and a smooth ride.

I passed over Fort Lauderdale by Normandy Shores off Collins Blvd and could see the red light on top of the end of the South Beach pier. I rolled the aircraft, passing over the pier inverted, and flashed my landing lights. As I looked at the pier upside-down I could see two faint flashes of light from their flashlights. I was about 100 feet above the pier and started my roll back to level flight. After rolling back to level flight I looked back over my right shoulder, started my climb to 2000 feet to turn my IFF on and call Homestead AFB to make a jet two approach to the base.

Blimp

How can you miss traffic like that?

Just as I turned my head around, right in front of my windshield was a big sign that said “COPPERTONE” in red letters. I shoved the control stick forward with a -3G drop that threw me against my shoulder harness. I leveled off at 500 feet and looked back: I could see the Coppertone sign on the other side of the Goodyear Blimp N4C, outlined against the lights of Miami Beach. He had his navigation lights out and all that was on was the slow flashing Coppertone sign lighting up in the dark night sky. I climbed on up to approach altitude and landed at Homestead AFB and figured my flying days were over.

I didn’t dare tell anybody about what happened and waited for Lt. Col. Monahan to call me into his office and kill me. A week passed and no one said anything, so the following weekend I went up to the blimp base on MacArthur Causeway and asked for the chief pilot of the blimp based there. I told him I was on the beach last Sunday night about 8pm when I saw an aircraft fly close to their blimp. He called a couple of his pilots in and asked them if they knew anything about it. The pilot who was flying it that night at 8pm said he didn’t see anything.

Thank God no one was hurt or saw what happened. I made a promise to myself: never pull a stupid low flying stunt like that again unless I was flying an air show and everyone knew where everyone was. Not even to do a buzz job after that…

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

Latest posts by Bill Slover (see all)

Get-home-itis: be on the lookout

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If you watch any of the TV crime shows (my wife’s favorite is NCIS, in case you were wondering), they talk about BOLOs. It took me a while, but I finally got that this means “Be on the lookout.” This is a government agency’s terminology to alert their community to be alert to a person or situation that is important to monitor or address.

For us pilots, we can use this same intentional alertness to observe and influence our flying and specifically our choices. During a recent long day of flying I had a chance to experience aviation’s version of completion bias—the drive to complete a flight—also known as get-home-itis. I learned a great deal from it and want to share the experience. First the set up and then we’ll unpack what I did right and wrong.

Even with ADS-B weather and on an IFR flight plan, staying visual is often the best idea.

That day’s mission was to retrieve an airplane three states away. It was a four hour flight just to get to the pick-up point. We made an early start to the day because the weather was forecast to steadily degrade in the area we were flying toward as a front approached. Traditional summer convection was possible in the afternoon for the return trip but no fronts or lines of storms between us and home. The flight out was smooth with great ceilings and visibilities until we were within about 20 miles of the destination. By the time we got to the end of our first leg, steady rain had started and convective activity was about 100 miles further west. Needless to say, it was in our best interest not waste time on the ground getting turned around.

I was out of the airplane as the prop stopped turning. I realized quickly that Murphy was firmly in charge when I couldn’t find the airplane keys and that the airplane needed gas as the rain got steadily heavier. The line crew was fueling the plane by the time I found the keys and began the pre-flight. My rain coat saved me from a real soaking. Thank you North Face!

I picked up my clearance and departed into solid IMC for the first 30 miles and then spent the rest of the trip deviating around build-ups. It was getting pretty hot out there and the cumulus clouds were steadily building. By the time I was an hour from my landing in the DC area, I was hot and tired after seven hours in the cockpit.

As I got closer to my destination, Martin State Airport in Baltimore (MTN), I started seeing areas of precipitation from the ADS-B Nexrad display. Two primary areas, one very close to Joint Base Andrews (formerly known as Andrews Air Force Base) and one near Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall airport (BWI). The cell over BWI was headed northeast toward my destination but MTN was solid VFR and I thought I could get in before the weather, based on judging the updates of the Nexrad images and the general look at build-ups through the windshield.

The MTN ATIS was telling arrivals to expect a visual approach to runway 15. Potomac Approach cleared me to arrive from the northwest, as I would have expected. Then Potomac told me to plan the LOC 15 at MTN and began to vector me toward the final approach course.

I could see build-ups off to the southeast of my position and started to watch the conditions, carefully comparing the ADS-B with the conditions out the window. Everything still looked good, though the BWI cell was now closer to MTN and another had now developed northeast of the airport. There was lots of VFR in between these.

Just as I was about to intercept the localizer, it started to get pretty bumpy and I was seeing more cloud—although I was still in visual conditions. I did not have a visual on the airport and I was starting to get rain on the windshield. As quickly as the rain started it intensified a great deal, started to darken and I immediately broke off the approach and told Potomac I wanted to divert back in the direction I came (toward good VFR) and land at Carrol County Airport (DMW) about 32 NM northwest, to allow the weather to clear. See the flight track below:

In retrospect I made good choices and bad choices. Let’s look at a few of each.

Good choices:

  • I topped off my fuel before my takeoff so I had plenty of gas and had monitored/managed my fuel burn effectively.
  • I asked ATC for altitudes to largely remain in visual conditions as I got closer to weather at the end of the trip to allow continuous visual assessment and reduce my single pilot IFR workload.
  • I was well equipped to be able to monitor weather with ADS-B tools and used the gear to maintain my situational awareness throughout the flight.
  • I broke off the approach and diverted when the weather started to get worse while still in visual conditions and didn’t resume until the weather was well clear.

Bad choices:

  • I allowed myself to get too close to a cell. Recommendations are at least 20 miles. I was much closer as the cell little grew across the final approach course.
  • Weather is dynamic and was changing right in front of me and I was not reacting fast enough. I should have been reminding myself that what I’m seeing is changing in ways I might not necessarily totally observe.
  • I was fatigued. I should have eaten on the ground between the flights as opposed to just snacking on the way home. I was likely dehydrated as well. Your brain and body need nutrients to serve you well—especially making good decisions.
  • I allowed completion bias to cloud my judgement. When I finally diverted I was less than 9 miles from the runway threshold. I allowed the “I am almost home” to really distract me and I procrastinated.

As I have learned from mentors and tell my students, we want to be “lifelong learners” when it comes to flying and everything we want to be good at! So what did I learn for my next long trip?

  • During the trip I should ask myself, “how am I feeling and how is my flying?”
  • Watch the weather carefully and more holistically. Imagine what I while do if it’s worse than forecast so I’m already planning my next move. It’s less about reacting and more about planning if completion is doubtful.
  • Be “spring loaded” to divert quickly.
  • Remember the impact of bad choices in the cockpit on the ones who care about me (and you). Think carefully about the risks I am taking on in every phase and condition of flight. Most of us have friends and family who also are hurt if something happens to us.

I am thankful to learn from this experience and share it with the Air Facts family. Be on the lookout in your own flying for areas where you could have made better decisions and think through how you would choose in the future should something similar occur.

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: [email protected].

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