In the air, trust is all we have

As near as I could tell, no one had ever been killed before in a plane crash at my home airport outside suburban Chicago.

The news came in a text.

“Are you alive?” read the message from my close friend Mike.

When I get a text I tend to ignore it or just call back. This time I decided to reply with whimsy.

“As far as I know,” I typed the first reply and hit send. “Yep, just checked my pulse, I’m still here. Why?” said the second.

Crash at Bolingbrook
An airplane crash hits close to home–literally.

“Thank goodness,” he sent. “Some guy just killed his passenger at Clow. Lots of fire, it’s gruesome.”

With about 500 hours and a three-year old certificate, this was my first up close experience with the constant barrage of mayhem I read about in the six aviation magazines I subscribe to. The fact that no one knew of anyone killed at my field–opened in the late 50s–was my rabbit’s foot wrapped in four leaf clover. The bubble of safety I had envisioned around 1C5 had been popped.

Over the next few hours, I received seven similar queries. In a way it’s sweet that when there’s a plane crash–even in another state–someone I know suspects it’s me and checks in. On the other hand, I think some believe it’s just a matter of time before it happens to all of us.

The Cirrus SR20 was piloted by a doctor from Kentucky. The passenger was his wife. He died the next day.

The early news stories were consistent with the most common danger of the air: a low speed loss of control after a botched landing. The impact area in a local bank parking lot told me he was using 18.

Reflexively, I checked the weather. Seemingly benign with clear skies and 8 knots out of 070, my experience is that winds from that direction are the toughest to deal with at Clow. They tend to funnel between the big box retailers that line the east border and can be adventurous as they gust and diminish, especially near mid-field where the Home Depot meets the Lowe’s. I would not choose to land south in that quartering tailwind but if there were others going that way in the pattern I wouldn’t avoid it, either. I would get down in the first 300 feet, though.

Even more so than usual, I started counting the ways this couldn’t happen to me.

One. In the last two years I haven’t had to do a go around because of a bad approach. Anywhere between 60 and 65 knots over the fence and my forgiving 182 is a land-o-matic.

Two. While on short final at Madison, Wisconsin (MSN) recently a controller needed me to abort when a business jet came in faster than he expected on the cross runway. I can recite the procedure in my sleep: Cram (the throttle), Climb, Clean, Cool. Not trying to brag, but the execution was perfect and, at the time, I actually thought it was kind of fun.

Three and Four. I have since practiced the procedure twice in the last four months.

That should have been the end of it for me. File that one away as a close-to-home reminder of a common error easily avoided by basic technique.

It was not that easy.

The tragedy occurred while I was on the second long trip my wife and I had taken together. She is a nervous flyer stemming from a horrible experience when she was seven years old in a Piper Cub. As her father told me the story, she was caught in a sudden thunderstorm with a severe crosswind. Short on fuel, they couldn’t escape to a safer field. None of the people on the ground or the pilot thought they would get out uninjured, but they made it safely. She had nightmares for years.

She had stoically announced when my flying began that she would never accompany me. After the last two years of uneventful flying from coast to coast as an IFR rated pilot with a top class traveling machine, she had begun to relent. She was actually enjoying the experience and openly talking about the next trips we could take.

But I was ever mindful of her fear and was working very hard to not violate her trust, doing all I could to steer clear of even light turbulence, and avoiding gusty crosswinds while she was with me.

Additionally, the trip that we were on was stressful. For years we had considered moving our business and family to a warmer climate and had settled on three locations in the Carolinas as possible destinations. This trip was to visit all three and to come to a decision regarding the next stage of our life.

We both agreed the aircraft was the perfect traveling machine for this. Until it wasn’t.

The flight from Clow International (1C5) to Greenville South Carolina (GMU) was uneventful. A brisk climb through a turbulent layer at 1500 feet led to a silky smooth ride by 2500. Although there was a hazy overcast, we never lost visibility of the ground until we were well above the cloud layer near Peotone. It was simply gorgeous after that. We couldn’t see soil until southern Tennessee but the clouds were beautiful below and the sky above was as Carolina blue as it could be. I considered it an omen.

We explored Greenville and had a wonderful time. We revisited the home that we were seriously interested in and toured the beautiful downtown once again.

The plan was to go on to Charleston the next day. After a lovely breakfast and another stroll around the central area, we headed to the airport for the short one hour and 10 minute leg to Mount Pleasant airport (KLRO) outside Charleston. And that’s when our trouble began.

Radio stack
Did you say COM 1 or COM 2 was bad?

Trying to contact ground control I found that our radios were not working. I didn’t think of the various ways I could troubleshoot the problem: pulling the circuit breakers for the different radios, or even operating on my handheld. Three hours later the Carolina Avionics shop advised I was good to go on Com 2 with the power pulled to Com 1.

By that time we were in Charleston having made the decision to drive.

We finished up in that charming city and the next day made the 3 1/2 hour drive to Lake Norman, our final stop, just outside of Charlotte.

Exhausted after looking at homes in this beautiful area for seven hours, we got the dreaded texts as we headed for dinner that evening.

Back at the hotel, I absorbed all of the news I could find on the crash.

Most haunting was a video of an eyewitness, the manager of my son’s favorite frozen custard shop next door to the bank.

“The pilot got out and was on fire,” said the young man dressed in white. “We yelled at him to roll on the ground, but all he could do was cry to us to get his wife out of the plane. He must have said 10 times ‘Please help my wife, Please help my wife.’”

“And then the plane exploded. There was just no way.”

His voice trailed off, and my eyes filled with tears.

After a restless night with visions of fire and images of my wife trapped in the plane, I woke to a partially cloudy sky and weather forecasts for an easy return home.

I acted as if nothing was wrong and as if I had no concerns. But the crash and the nightmares were weighing heavily on my mind.

We spent the drive from Charlotte back to Greenville making long lists of the pros and cons of each area we had visited. I was completely confused, uncertain about whether or not we should move.

When we arrived at the FBO and as I was parking the car, I did something I almost never do. In parallel parking I am an expert. If the car can fit, I can get in there, usually the first try.

There was a very large space but somehow I struck the vehicle behind us.

No harm done and no damage. But it shook me even further. If I can’t parallel park, how can I fly this airplane back to my now deathly home base?

We spoke to the mechanic who had tested the radios. They found everything in order. I got out my trusty handheld which I had charged the night before, just in case.

We loaded up the airplane and taxied out to do a run up. Everything was perfect. We were ready to go home.

After a nearly 10 minute wait for a clearance my anxiety continued to build, the kind of free-floating nervousness with no obvious root cause. I had no reason to be anxious, just an overall unsettled feeling. I started to think to myself whether this unusually long ATC delay was a sign that perhaps we should spend another night.

But in looking for a reason to stay I couldn’t find one. Suddenly I needed to visit the men’s room and that’s just when we got the clearance.

Knowing that I would be fine once we got in flight and the cold collywobbles in my stomach settled down, we powered up to full throttle. Gauges were in the green, the engine sounded great. Air speed came alive just as always.

During this trip before the bad news, I had been reading a book about flying technique. One of the things it had stressed was a pilot should fly the POH, especially the rotation numbers and speeds on departure. My previous practice had been to allow the airplane to tell me when it was ready to go by a feeling of lightness. Generally that was between 60 and 65 knots depending on the weight in the aircraft and other mysterious variables that I can’t quantify.

The rotation speed (Vr) in a Cessna 182 Turbo retractable is 55 knots. That always seemed slow to me and I had never before rotated at such a pace. But the writing was from a pilot I trusted and so as the airspeed indicator displayed that meager amount I brought up the nose and we were off the ground.

Immediately something felt wrong. We just weren’t building the speed, the indicator was actually going down so I lowered the nose even more and waited for the airspeed to move clockwise. I thought briefly about retracting the gear and as I looked up I saw that I still had time to perform a precautionary landing. I decided that it was better to be safe rather than sorry, as the visions of a flaming aircraft jumped back into my mind.

I chopped the power and set it on the runway with a firm bounce that was completely safe but very uncomfortable for my passenger. I brought the airplane to a stop and looked at my wife to see she was terrified.

“What happened?” she asked.

“It just didn’t feel right,” I said truthfully. “The airspeed wasn’t where I wanted it to be and it didn’t seem like it was picking up so I did what I’m supposed to do; I made a precautionary landing.”

We communicated with the tower. I thought that perhaps I had not tightened the friction knob enough and that the throttle control had slipped back, causing a slight loss of power which would explain the diminishing airspeed. I advised her I wanted to do a run up and if everything was okay to try again.

“I don’t feel good about this,” she said.

We taxi back and get another flawless run up. The engine sounded great and everything was in the green. This time I took it all the way to red line and counted to 11, the number of seconds it normally takes me to lift off.

I looked at my wife.

“Everything is fine,” I said, “I’m sure it was just something strange, the wind or something else, I’m not sure what. I think we are safe to go.”

“I don’t feel good about this,” she said again.

“We’ll try it one more time,” I said, “And we’ll see what happens. If everything is not perfect then we’ll go and have the mechanics look at it.”

We got clearance and started down the runway for the second time. Again all the gauges were in the green and the engine sounded perfect. The airspeed came alive just when it should but as it approached 55 knots it flickered down for a split second and that was enough for me to pull the power and taxi to the maintenance hangar.

When they stripped off the cowling and found nothing obvious, I called my mechanic at home and talked about the incident. He advised that if the manifold pressure is holding steady and the RPMs are against the peg, the engine is developing full power.

I told him about how I had rotated the nose early, and why.

“Don’t believe everything you read,” he said. “Fly the plane like you always have. Do what YOU think is best.”

After a compression test and a borescope, everything was pronounced airworthy. I did a test hop around the pattern, lifting off when it felt light. Perfect, and my confidence started a strong come back.

I went to where my wife was trying to relax in the pilot’s lounge.

“Honey,” I began, “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the airplane.”

“Then what happened?” she asked.

I told her of the nightmares and I told her of the early rotation speed. I also told her that I believed it was my entire fault. She’s usually happy when I admit this. Not under these circumstances, however.

“Well that doesn’t make me feel any better,” she said.

While we were waiting for the aircraft to be examined, I had slipped into the flight planning office and purchased a ticket on Southwest. I presented it to her and said that it was her choice. She could fly with me and I was certain we would get there safely or she could take Southwest.

She took Southwest.

I drove her to Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSB) in the FBO’s service van. As I dropped her off she started to reach for her luggage which contained her important prescriptions.

She looked me in the eye.

“Can you can take my bag? I won’t need it until you’re home anyway.”

A flush of relief flooded over me. She knew that I would be returning that evening and was entrusting me with important cargo she would need that night. At first I started to say, “Are you sure?” But I choked it back.

I kissed her warmly and told her I’d see her at home.

Trust in sky
In the air, trust is all we have.

There’s a lot of trust that we place in our aircraft, in the system and in ourselves. Once you leave the ground it is up to that combination to return you there safely.

I learned decades ago that false bravado can cheer you along in this world. If you sound like you know what you’re doing and you act like you know what you’re doing, people will believe you know what you’re doing.

They’ll believe you even when you have not the slightest idea what you are doing.

Usually you can figure it out before you get caught.

It doesn’t work in an airplane. False bravado in the left seat can get you killed. The trust that you carry has to be inviolate: a certainty that you know what to do, how to do it and when.

For me, that trust has been an off-and-on thing. After I started flying, I spoke to a 777 first officer who lives in my neighborhood and revealed my fears.

He looked me straight in the eye as he had the dozens of students he shepherded while climbing the aviation ladder.

“It’s completely normal,” he said with a knowing smile.

“You just gotta have trust. Checklists are your friends, your mechanic is your guide but it is all up to you. Lots of people have done it,” he said confidently. “And you can too.”

After I reached 300 hours, I had stopped questioning my ability to do the basic things right. The crash, the numerous worried messages from friends, the problem with the radio, the change in procedures, the parking lot incident, my wife’s latent fear, the stress of considering a major change in our lives–each had taken bites from my confidence, some large, some small.

But the flight home was as uneventful as the one before and the dozens before that. The trust returned completely shortly after liftoff–at 63 knots.

Tower sent me to approach in the Southern Style: “Ya’ll come back now and have a safe trip.”

I danced gracefully around a few thunderstorms near Bowling Green.

The sunset as I neared Chicago was as beautiful as any you could imagine.

In the pattern, I tried unsuccessfully not to look at the crash site.

I greased the landing in an easterly 12-knot crosswind.

The next week I scheduled some time with my instructor to do some takeoffs and landings, shoot some approaches. We ended up sitting in the coffee shop and talking about what happened instead of flying.

There were no answers from him, only things I already knew. I’m a well-trained, low-time pilot. I’m doing the right things and this flight ended successfully.

He summed up. “You just have to know that you know what you’re doing.”

I still feel a hollow sickness about what happened. While I didn’t put a scratch on the airplane, something as important was broken. The fledgling trust my wife had placed in me.

I don’t know if she will ever fly with me again, and I will never ask her or pressure her in any way. I don’t blame her.

In the air, trust is all we have.

22 Comments

  • Great story, thanks for sharing. I thought giving your wife the option to fly home on Southwest was a very well-considered move, for both keeping your own head clear for the flight home and for considering your wife’s needs as well. And perhaps your wife’s rekindled fears are temporary, who knows. Anyone would be rattled by an accident so close to home.

    • Thanks David! I hope I can earn her trust back again. It may take a while, but that’s ok.

      It was a nasty accident for sure. I know I will deal with it better next time.

      Thanks again,

      Mark

  • Great article.

    Had a similar issue myself once. Had a horrible nightmare where I lost control over water and ditched in a Cessna 172. Everyone aboard died by drowning. It is the only dream I’ve ever had where *I* died, and knowing I caused the deaths of a friend and my father just destroyed me.

    That morning, I knew that I had to go flying THAT afternoon, or I never would again.

    Flight went well, and I rebuilt my confidence… but I’ll always remember the feeling of shaking off that fear after the first trip around the pattern.

    Fly safe.

    • Thanks Matthew! You’re right: I wonder how I would have felt if it was several days/weeks before I flew again. Since I had to get home I didn’t have the choice. I’m not sure I would have been able to do what you did.

      Funny enough – I have never had these types of nightmares before or after this one time.

      Thanks for your comments and for reading Air Facts!

      Mark

  • I guess I have a little different view of your story, Mr. Fay, than that expressed by several other commenters here. I try not to judge others, but my impression from reading your story is that you simply lost your nerve after hearing of the other tragic accident at your home base. It’s probably no more complicated than that.

    And because you lost your nerve as a pilot, your wife lost her trust in you as a pilot – and quite rightly so.

    Perhaps she’ll never get over that, or perhaps she will. But while trust is earned through good piloting skills, good piloting judgment, and appropriate training and qualifications, it is also primarily a reflection of trust in your mental ability and mental state to function as PIC. And that is something we as pilots have to protect and preserve, just as we protect and preserve the airworthiness of our flying machines. Just as we preflight our aircraft before going wheels up as a matter of safety, we must “preflight” our minds before takeoff.

    Not only does our mental state determine our fitness to fly, obviously, OUR mental state as PIC has a great deal to do with the mental state of our passengers. Even when things are not going well with the aircraft or the flight, our passengers must depend upon our ability to think and act with a clear head, and to display self confidence (not to be confused with over-confidence or conceit) at all times while acting at PIC. It’s NEVER helpful to lose your nerve and let your passengers consequently lose theirs, and begin to panic.

    Maybe you should rethink why you fly, and reconsider whether you should even continue to fly in GA aircraft as PIC. You cannot be a competent PIC and let the accidents of others so unnerve you as a pilot – doing so WILL make you unsafe and unfit to fly.

    Like most pilots, I have had personal friends and acquaintances killed in GA accidents (very infrequently, thankfully), which of course creates a personal sense of loss and sorrow, but that’s it. I’ve had a couple of dicey flight situations myself (we all do, sooner or later). Of course, we all die eventually, one way or another, and that’s a fact of life. Such losses should result in a renewed respect for life, and a renewed determination to make the most of the life we have – but these events should never turn our minds to habitually morbid thoughts.

    Only you can judge whether you are fit to fly, of course. But you MUST always fly with a clear head. If not, then don’t fly. You simply cannot let others’ misfortunes cloud your head as seems to have been the case here. Flying is almost entirely a mental exercise.

    • Hi Duane:

      Thanks for taking the time to read Air Facts and for your opinion on the incident.

      Your thesis shares good company. I think it was Amelia Earhart who said “To worry adds another hazard.”

      I have considered your perspective and I will continue to fly for as long as I am able. I will remember this incident the next time I have stress or other external emotions / concerns.

      If I had this to do all over again I would not have let the incident cloud my judgement.

      While I am now up to 560 hours, I still just have a “License to Learn”.

      Thanks again!

      Mark

      • I’m glad you didn’t take Duane’s advice to reconsider whether you should be flying at all to heart, because I’m stunned at how quickly he went from saying some very wise things in the first half of his comment to one of the single worst pieces of “advice” I think I’ve ever seen, and I’m not one of those people who is known for Internet hyperbole.

        I use this quote from Top Gun with my students quite often: “A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what’s happened, so he can apply what he’s learned.” There’s a time-honored aviation adage that says you must learn from the mistakes of others because you can’t live long enough to make all of them yourself. The corollary is that if you don’t learn from the mistakes of others, you’ll end up discovering an entirely unoriginal way to bend metal and bone. Air Facts had an article about people who don’t bother to evaluate and/or learn. It was called, “What’s wrong with Cirrus pilots?”

        Given the choice between flying with someone who looks at others’ mistakes and thinks about them enough to let them influence them or flying with someone who is too macho to think about things, I’ll take the former any day.

        There isn’t a single halfway-experienced pilot here who hasn’t taken off on a flight at one time or another with some sense of unease at least once. I can still remember years ago when I took off on a flight two hours before sunrise when the ceiling was barely at ILS minimums despite at the time never having shot an approach at night in actual IMC. Was I nervous? You bet. Did that decision make me a bad pilot? Some would say yes, whereas I would say that if you’re going to improve your skills, you can’t lounge around in your comfort zone your entire life. A sense of unease isn’t the mark of a bad pilot–it’s what keeps us alive.

        Before you get the idea that I’m fearless, reckless, or just plain stupid, I have canceled or delayed flights many times, even when it has cost me money. In fact, delaying a ferry flight by several hours to allow some weather to pass cost me my first flying job. Nonetheless, knowing what I know now that I didn’t know back then, I’d delay it again if the same circumstances arose.

        Both Bob Buck and Ernie Gann wrote about those minutes of experience that are worth hours and hours in a logbook. That was one of those times, and it sounds like your story was one of them too. In the end, you made the decision that was best for you. The fact that you’re analyzing it still is something that speaks highly of you as a pilot.

  • Great article.

    I dare to say that all of us (except Duane) have had times when fear has played a role in our flying, fear in itself is not a bad thing – panic of course is.

    It appears you were very logical in your approach, you took care of you wife. While changing your typical take off may have in hindsight been poor timing it certainly wasn’t then end of the world.

    I’ll predict that your wife will fly with you again, it’s all timing.

    Be safe.

      • Hey Duane, Sorry if I came across out of line. You asked a direct question of me:”Would YOU ever willingly fly again with a pilot who demonstrated he was unwilling to scratch a flight due to emotional upset?” I guess FOR ME the question becomes one of how much.

        Perhaps my fear comment – under the way you have responded – would be. “Has anyone here flown when they were emotionally upset”? I have – I’d bet most people here have. Being upset, happy, sad, scared these are normal human emotions. To not use a plane when being worried, upset…ect, ect would limite the use of a plane to nothing. Do you need to fly when you are ready to kill someone – NO. Are there limits OF COURSE.

        But if I never flew (especially when I had 15 hrs) when I was a little scared….well I would have stop flying – again I bet there are a lot of people here that have flown “scared”

        I’m not trying to argue, perhaps you find a comfort level that I don’t deserve. (Through training?)

        In the end, for me, everytime I take off I have a little tingle “fear” if you like and thats with +500 hrs. I have +3,500 skydives…. and I keep the same tingle.

        FWIW.

        Be safe.

    • Fortson – nobody is immune to fear, and I did not suggest otherwise in my comments as you suggest … but it makes a helluva lot of difference when, and under what circumstances, we face our fears.

      Fear is a completely normal response when a pilot is confronted IN FLIGHT with an imminent life-threatening risk … be it an engine out, rapid icing, entering IMC from VFR, or losing control of the aircraft. As pilots it is guaranteed that sooner or later we’ll all face a risky situation that generates fear, whether it is one of our own making (through poor judgment), or simply bad luck, DURING a flight. The operative word here is “during”.

      However, it’s NEVER the right thing to do to commence a flight when the pilot is ALREADY in a fearful or emotionally upset state. Just as it is never right to commence a flight with insufficient fuel, or with a malfunctioning engine. To cut to the chase – that’s a clear cut “no go” scenario for any flight. To attempt a flight while in a poor frame of mind is a disqualifying matter.

      Would YOU ever willingly fly again with a pilot who demonstrated he was unwilling to scratch a flight due to emotional upset?

      I wouldn’t dream of going wheels up with a pilot in command who admitted that he or she was fearful of flying (I mean, really .. who in their right mind would?) … or whom I knew was going through a period of emotional duress. That’s just common sense.

  • I thought you might like to know the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey used to say.) What is missing in the picture of the sky writing of the word trust, is the next word that the pilot wrote. The word was Jesus. What was written that day was ” TRUST JESUS “. The reason I know this is because I am the one who wrote it for Jesus. If you are going to fly, there is no better person to put your trust in than Jesus. He is the only one who can keep you from all harm! He will protect you on every flight if you ask Him to do so. I ask Him to protect me on every flight, and I can tell you that a number of times if it was not for His protection you would not be reading this. Instead of putting your trust in a mere human who made the parts of the airplane, why not put your trust in the One who made everything in the entire universe. TRUST JESUS! You will live to enjoy it!

    Gerald Stevens
    Holy Smoke,Inc.

    • Thank you Gerald! I don’t do the pictures for the articles so that was great to know.

      What a wonderful way to spread this message. Thanks for “The rest of the story”!!!!

      Sincerely,

      Mark

  • This is a good reminder of the basics for takeoff. Rotation speed does not equal liftoff speed. Just as it’s good practice to begin rotation at Vr for a normal takeoff, it is equally bad practice to attempt to become airborne at Vr.

    Humans also have that capacity to mis-interpret an airspeed indication without realizing it. Could we ever count the number of times a pilot announced “55, rotate” when the needle was clearly at 45?

    About trust: Always trust that instinct to lower the nose. Always trust the sound of a pneumatic stall horn. Always trust the first impulse to abort a takeoff or landing.

    • Thanks Robert. I never knew there was a difference until your note. There is no Lift off speed in the POH for a TR182, just rotation, best angle of climb, best rate of climb.

      However, I did find some texts from Airbus that said 5% greater than Vr would be liftoff. Is that right from your knowledge? That would be under 60 kts in my plane which still seems slow…

      The book I mentioned in the article was The Art of Flying by the great Bob Buck. I enjoy reading him so much I purposely put the book down leaving the last chapter to savor once I got home.

      While he said similar things throughout the book, in the last chapter he forcefully made clear that regardless what he or anyone else said, always use your own judgement.

      Guess I should have finished the book on the trip!

      Regardless, I have continued the practice I described in the dozens of trips I have taken since this incident and it feels right to me.

      Agree completely with your trust list.

      Thanks again for your thoughts,

      Mark

      • Hi Mark, the liftoff speed is a number used by the engineers in calculating takeoff performance. It is not much of a concern to the pilot, except to illustrate its relationship to the rotation point and the standard climb segments.

        Consider that you might be lifting off at the best speed but rotating more quickly than necessary. With a smooth, gradual rotation beginning at Vr, it should be possible to set a slight nose up pitch so that the wheels gently leave the pavement right when you want them to, without being too slow and without “pulling” the airplane into the air. When you find that sweet spot in the technique, it feels great and you will notice the difference. 🙂

        • Always something new to learn in flying – one of the biggest reasons I love it so.

          One of the instructors I fly with (Keith you know who you are) has always had just one complaint about my flying: how I “snatch” the plane off the ground.

          I will try this – by myself!!!

          Thanks Robert

  • I confess that as the story unfolded I wondered why you continued to persist with your intention to fly.

    I have learned through experience (mostly unpleasant or at least uncomfortable experience) that if I have more than three factors (bad night sleep is a big one) that precede a flight I take another transportation mode or scrub the trip all together. Before this flight you exceeded three events: (1) bad night of sleep; (2)worry + self doubt; (3) radio issues; and (4)an uncharacteristic auto accident – possibly resulting from issues (1) and (2). Unfortunately, 20-20 hindsight is a tough way to learn, but that’s really all “experience” can give us. If experience is kind (we survive) we have a chance to exercise hindsight. Thanks for the story, and congrats on working through it. FWIW, I commend your thoughtfulness in buying a SWA ticket. Perhaps you should have bought two?

    • John, thanks for your comments and for reading Air Facts. I really appreciate it!

      As I mentioned in the story, after test hopping the plane, I felt fine. I really wanted my wife to go with me but needed her to make the choice.

      After speaking to my mechanic I understood what had happened and why. I was completely good to go.

      As I noted in the story:

      “I did a test hop around the pattern, lifting off when it felt light. Perfect, and my confidence started a strong come back….

      “the flight home was as uneventful as the one before and the dozens before that. The trust returned completely shortly after liftoff–at 63 knots.”

      So the decision to fly was fine and I have no regrets or questions about it.

      You are so right about experience! I for sure will handle the S in IMSAFE differently now after this experience.

      BTW I am writing these stories with the fervent hope that people reading this who WANT to be pilots but find their fear holding them back will realize it is normal. Do you know who said this:

      “I was ALWAYS afraid of dying in an airplane. ALWAYS.”

      It was Chuck Yeager. If he can admit his fear and keep pushing the throttle forward, so can I. And all you out there who REALLY WANT TO CAN DO IT TOO!

      I also agree here with Fortson who uses a different word for fear: TINGLE. And, Mr. Collins calls what I call fear “moments of high concentration.”

      So, let’s get more people flying by helping them recognize that flying is not easy, risk free or cheap, as Mr. Zimmerman says. But it is still eminently worth doing!

      And, let’s respect and support our pilot community – including the newbies like me – in how they manage the risks.

      Sure, opinions are great as in “I wouldn’t have made that flight.”

      Judgments are not as in “You shouldn’t have made that flight.”

      Whether you call it fear, a tingle, moments of high concentration or excitement, that feeling is keeping too many people from joining us!

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment!!!!

  • Mark, I respect you for your sincerity discussing this event. It’s pilots like you that are open about their concerns and fears that we need more of in the community of flying. Only then can we address our own fears whether rational or not and resolve them constructively. I am a new pilot and have always dealt with anticipatory anxiety before flying, but once I am up there I am focused only on safe and controlled flight. Had I not pushed myself during times when I could have easily surrendered to the fear I would have never completed my flight training. Everyone is different and each of us has to assess our fitness to fly (IMSAFE) in a responsible and mature way independent of external pressures. Your decision to fly the home leg solo was the right thing to do for you. However, I would have flown back with the wife on Southwest because she would have worried too much ! PS THX Gerald for the rest of the story !

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