Editor’s Note: This is the latest article in 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@example.com
When a Successful Flight Is Actually a Failure
By Terry Peterson
It was the end of January, and my well-equipped 1985 Piper Warrior would be out of annual on February 1. I called and made an appointment with my A&P for the annual. The 50 nm trip was to Kenosha, Wisconsin, from West Chicago, Illinois.
I looked at the weather for the last week of January, but the weather was not looking like it was going to cooperate. There was rain and snow in the forecast all week. It was looking like my annual was going to be expired and my plane was going to be grounded. I called the local FSDO and inquired about getting a ferry permit and they seemed very helpful and willing to get me what I needed to stay airworthy and get my plane to maintenance. I foolishly declined their help and told them if I can’t make the trip by the end of the month I would call them back and start the process of getting the ferry permit.
As the date neared, the weather seemed to be getting progressively worse. So finally, the last day of the month was upon me and I felt pressured by myself to get the Warrior to annual before it was too late and I would need to get a ferry permit.
I had to work during the day and this was going to be a night flight. The bases were between 500 and 700 feet all day long. So now this was going to be an IFR night flight. At this time, I was a commercial single-engine land, instrument pilot with about 500 hours and 100 on instruments, ten of which were in actual IFR. What was making matters worse was a winter thunderstorm just south of West Chicago, moving north.
The plan at this stage was to take off from Dupage, head to Kenosha then get a car ride back to Dupage. I felt that this was going to be a one-way trip and I would not be able to get back due to weather. If I could not make my destination, I could keep going northeast and find MVFR weather. As I was doing the preflight, the ceilings came down to about 400 feet and light rain.
I called for fuel and two line guys came out, one of them must have been training a new line guy. I was already a little apprehensive about the trip. Did I mention this was my first solo IFR night flight? During the fueling of my plane, one of the line guys asked me if I were planning on flying tonight and I replied, “I sure am.” He then asked if I was IFR rated and I replied yes. He began to tell me that he was taking lessons for his private and would never think of flying in this weather.
Just then, the other line guy came up to both of us and asked me if I was going to be flying tonight and, if I was, had I filed IFR and asked if I was sure I wanted to go. I replied to all his questions with, “Yes, it will be no problem.”
It was right about this time I began having second thoughts about the plan I had set in place, but I was able to block out those thoughts and pressed on. I started the Lycoming 320 in the Warrior and got my clearance and began taxiing to the runway threshold. I stopped and did a run up–all systems looked good to go. I tuned all my nav frequencies and tuned in the ILS on the runway I was departing just in case I had to make an immediate and unexpected return.
I was cleared to take off and then a thought passed through my head as I lined up on the centerline for takeoff. I was thinking that it had been almost 13 months since an A&P looked at this aircraft so if there was something to go wrong it would be on this flight. But again I pushed this to back of my mind as I pushed in full throttle and took off in to the night IMC for the first time. I was ahead of the aircraft the whole trip.
As I was on final, I clicked on the lights at the airport at least five times so I knew thay would be on at DH. I flew the whole flight and approach under IMC and broke out of the clouds at about 400 AGL. I landed and parked the aircraft. I felt relieved and rewarded all at the same time. I met my friend waiting for me in the parking lot and he brought me back to my car.
The next day I drove to the A&P to assist with the annual. When I arrived, they had already started the annual. I was informed that the compression in one of the cylinders was very low and the cylinder needed to come off to inspect it. I was standing next to the A&P when he pulled the cylinder off and pieces of the cylinder’s compression ring fell out on to the floor. Needless to say I needed a new cylinder.
When I look back, I see that I was pressuring myself to make the trip against the line guys’ and my better judgment. I know better, but getting the aircraft there on time got the best of me and clouded my judgment. I know the flight was an overall success, but it was a failure in my book.
Terry is a CSEL IA pilot with over 700 hours flight time. He is also a CFI-CFII applicant. He is an active member of a local flight club and Angel flight pilot. He is in sales and father of four. He is actively flying all over the Midwest and logged over 200 hours last year.