Our Skyhawk is cruising through the humid Florida air as we cross the east side of Lake Okeechobee heading to the south. The air is so humid this time of year that you can feel it dripping like hot soup coming through the overhead vents, almost making the climate of our cabin feel like the muggy part of a thunderstorm after it passes and the sun comes out. Luckily, this particular flight does not include any visits from thunderstorms, but it does entail a lot of traffic passing to the east of our position heading to the north.
We have flight following and I am looking out for a Baron to my ten o’clock and four miles, northbound. I have my eyes outside as my right seat passenger, a pilot in training who has (surprisingly) never been in the front of a 172, finds the handheld mic stored in the center console. I often wonder why Cessna installed that microphone, as I marvel at how a person could hear a response amongst the noise of a whirling engine and the rushing wind. Jared looks at the mic and asks, “What does this do?”
I’m busy looking for traffic, but I glance to my right to see what he has found. He is holding it like a mechanic inspecting a new tool he has found in the corner of the shop; perhaps dumbfounded, he now has a solution for a problem he never knew he had. I still have my eyes outside as I say, “It’s a backup comm mic in case you lose your headset.”
I see him in my peripheral vision putting back the mic. I ask him to help me look for traffic outside—perhaps his different angle will let him see the Baron behind my blind spot on the wing strut. I’m continuing to hold our altitude and heading as I search far and wide for this apparent needle in the sugarcane fields. That’s when I hear the sound of the mic clicking in my headset as if I am about to transmit, but I know my thumb is nowhere near the button.
“ATTENTION EVERYONE THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING”
I snap my head to the right and see Jared holding the mic to his mouth.
“Jared! Don’t ever do that again, man!”
“You just transmitted that. To EVERYONE.”
“I thought you said it was an intercom mic. Only our cabin can hear that, right?”
“COMM mic. It’s a backup for the headset on the radio. You just told everybody in south Florida that you are the captain.”
He puts the microphone back in its holster as a dog with his head down because he just chewed his owner’s shoe into pieces. I told him to please not touch anything unless I approve it. Luckily nobody on frequency has acknowledged this transmission, but I know for sure they have heard it.
We continue our course to the south and we are now over the Everglades. Nothing around for as far as we can see in the unrestricted visibility. We open the windows because of the humidity, and I find the wind coming through the door has helped a little in cooling off our sweat dripping on the sectionals. Jared has just finished an apple and asks if he can throw it out the window. I think about FAR 91.15, concerning the freedom to throw anything you want out of an airplane as long as it does not create a hazard.
I tell him he is free to throw the apple overboard since we are in the middle of nothing more than lakes and trees for miles to come. Our biodegradable waste will not create any more of a hazard than enriched nutrients for the soil below.
He holds his hand out the window, about to let go, when I yell, “WAIT! Don’t throw it!”
That apple isn’t going to just fall to the Earth like we picture it falling from a New York skyscraper. The velocity of the wind would carry it straight back, just where I don’t want an apple to go. It would strike our tail and cause a lot of damage just where we don’t need it. We would end up in the middle of gator-infested swampland below—if we can even get the airplane safely on the ground with a failed horizontal stabilizer.
He closes the window and keeps the apple inside. I tell him we will get rid of it when we land, so please do not throw anything overboard.
That apple may have just descended far enough down to miss the tail if he had thrown it hard enough. I don’t feel like taking my chances though.
It’s very important to always keep track of your passengers, as they will do very silly things you never would imagine. I have found it solid advice to always brief passengers on what to do and what not to do in a small airplane, but I failed to brief Jared on this particular flight because of his assumed experience around small airplanes. I cannot underestimate the importance of a briefing even when flying with other pilots. This kind of curiosity isn’t limited to just microphones—it could include things like flap levers and gear switches.
Have you had any interesting experiences with passengers?