The big day had arrived and I was going to fly my wife, her sister, and my 13-year-old niece to the West Coast by way of the Grand Canyon. A check of the weather revealed a rather dynamic situation developing with instrument conditions along the first part of the route from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Dalhart, Texas.
Just before I took my Private Pilot flight check, the 150 I’d been flying was grounded for an overhaul. I told my instructor that I wanted to fly the one I’d be flying for the test before hand so I could get a feeling for its idiosyncrasies. His reaction was “Heck, they all fly the same.”
Growing up in Ohio, the phrase, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a while and it’ll change,” is quite common. As pilots venturing to new places, we may want to pay extra attention whenever we hear locals chatting about weird or sudden weather changes they have witnessed.
December 4, 1995, a little over a year since earning our instrument ratings, my dad and I found ourselves flying in dark clouds in our club’s Grumman Tiger. We had departed Cleveland Cuyahoga County airport in Ohio and were now en route to Dunkirk in upstate New York where we would make a brief stop then fly on to Jamestown, New York for lunch.
More than a year before I set foot in a cockpit, I moved to Oklahoma. I remember a friend of mine telling me, “If you don’t like the weather here, give it fifteen minutes and it will change.” It was a good joke at the time, but once I started flying, this statement would serve as a constant reminder every time I sat behind the controls.
Ten Seconds from Hell may be rather a shocking statement: nevertheless, it is a true one. I am a pilot and have been one for 44 years. However, during my first few months of flying I had an experience that few live to tell about.
I lost a cylinder last time up. Here’s the story, with all details which I can recall, followed (figuratively, thank goodness) by a post-mortem. The first abnormal sign was a bad mag check. Three guys, first me, then one of Lincoln’s most experienced pilots, then an older pilot, all thought plug fouling.
During the first few hours after a new private pilot’s checkride, he feels unstoppable. Eventually, every green pilot makes a mistake that gives them a wake-up-call and makes the unstoppable pilot a mortal once more. It usually happens in marginal weather, at night, or in gusty winds. This story is about my wake-up-call.