A self-described “comedy of errors” causes a captain to misdiagnose an in-flight problem and put his 737 into a steep dive at night over the South Pacific. In hindsight, this rapid descent turned out to be unnecessary. See why.
In 1986, shortly after our marriage, Diane and I began making cross-country flights in our C-182 to attend the annual summer reunion of University of Wisconsin classmates. These flights had always been pleasant and uneventful. In 2006, on the second leg of our trip from our home field in Palo Alto, California to Waukesha County Airport in Wisconsin, the engine began to sputter.
The most significant and defining feature of Alaska is, quite simply, its size. It’s a landscape on steroids; a wild land defying the sky to contain it in a voice that resonates with a visceral, primal power. Nowhere else in America are humans so dwarfed by the land they make noises about inhabiting.
This past September, the Northeast U.S. was plagued by “the low that wouldn’t go away.” This cutoff low-pressure system sat and spun for two weeks bringing daily gloom from the Mid Atlantic to Maine. Unfortunately, in the midst of this crummy weather, I was scheduled to give a talk at AOPA’s Summit in Hartford, Connecticut on September 24th.
Flight 420, a Boeing 737 to Hong Kong, departed from a small island on the Equator at about the same time as an unnamed typhoon was born 2,000 miles further west. The depression that spawned the typhoon had been tracked by U.S. Navy weather satellites for several days. As it slowly spun in a westerly direction from 500 miles north of Ponape in the Carolines, the weather forecasters decided it met all the attributes of a maturing typhoon and from a list of names, selected Juliet.
Two recent trips reinforced for me both the potential and the limitations of using general aviation airplanes for transportation. In many ways, they could not have been more different: the first flight was in a Pilatus PC-12 at 26,000 ft., the second in a Citabria at 500 ft. But while the equipment was quite different, the result was the same: a successful trip of 400+ nautical miles between cities poorly served by the airlines, and more or less on my schedule.
As the GPS and the autopilot guided us precisely along our assigned TEC route, I was reminded of an experience I had had here many years ago while earning my private pilot certificate in a taildragger that was equipped with a suite of avionics much different than was the airplane we were flying.
A late June family wedding was to take place in West Dover, Vermont, at a location about a mile from the Mount Snow Airport. I have had a love/hate relationship with this airport for years. It’s the only airport that I have been unable to get into a whopping 75 percent of the time. Weather, wind, and runway conditions—or a combination thereof—have all stymied my attempts to land there over the last 15 years.
Thunderstorms in summer. Thunderstorms with battlefield lightning, crop shredding hail and tornados. Sometimes the thunderstorms are dry and the lightning sets the prairie grass on fire. Sometimes the rain is so hard whole buildings go missing. Hans Ahlness makes his living flying into thunderstorms. He convinces other pilots to do the very same thing.
By mid-summer of 1956 I was 18 and had progressed far enough as a student pilot that my instructor decided it was time for me to do a long, solo, cross-country flight. After reviewing the flight plan with my instructor, I filed a flight plan with the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration, the forerunner of the FAA) by telephone, did a pre-flight inspection, climbed into the yellow Champion 7EC, hit the starter and – nothing.
It was actually Father’s Day weekend, but this flight was all about Mom. The mission was to pick up my mother at her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and drop her at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport in Islip, NY to see her friend who lives on Fire Island. I had the choice of flying either my family’s Cessna 172 or Beechcraft Baron.
A Dead-Stick Landing at Bozeman, MT. Over the years, in my daydreams on this subject–and I do daydream about this, it is how I mentally prepare myself for the possibility–the event always ends with an exhausted sigh of relief and the words: “We’re down safe, no damage, no injuries.”
Remember your first check ride? Remember the jitters you felt, the shaking hands, the funny feeling in the pit of your stomach? Well, I remember mine, and it was nothing to compare with a flight I had last week.
Over the past 37 years of flying GA aircraft, I’ve become a strong proponent of totally understanding and using the available automation in the cockpit. I use the autopilot in our Aerostar 601P/700 a lot and make sure that I understand how the A/P or other automation works in every airplane I fly. I just don’t like surprises. But once in awhile, surprises still happen.
Our recent family trip from the Washington D.C. area to visit family and drop our money at Universal Studios in Florida was off to a crummy start and we hadn’t even left our house. A strong cold front was advancing to the East coast and trailed into northern Florida touching off daily rounds of thunderstorms over our first destination of Orlando’s Executive Airport.
The task on this week late in March was to fly the new owner of a not-so-new Baron from Indianapolis to Tampa by way of Atlanta for a couple of days of business. This would be the owner’s first trip in the airplane and only my second trip in Seven Tango Romeo after helping ferry the airplane to Indy
One cold day, I was taxiing out to the runway in our Cessna 172 when another pilot says over the Unicom, “Uhhhh, Skyhawk taxiing out, you still have your cowl plugs in.” Ugh, how embarrassing. I was with my wife and had my tail thoroughly between my legs as I hopped out to remove them.
Over ten years had passed since my wife and I had watched the annual Fort Lauderdale boat parade. Friends in nearby Pompano Beach had…