I’m so good at IFR, I have people from all over the country come to train with me. They all say how good I am – and I started to believe them! Have you ever noticed, when you start to “get good” at flying, reality likes to step in to smack you in the head?
As has been said, “Flying is very unforgiving of any carelessness or neglect.” That’s the rub, up there: even the simplest of problems, like a tiny broken spring, can be the precursor to a seriously bad ending to a good day’s flying.
Sliding quietly past the last of the Quonset buildings, and with 40-degrees of Cessna’s barn door Fowler flaps hanging out, I was pretty well committed at that point. I was ready for the touchdown, probably three or four feet above the grass runway, when the whole world exploded directly in front of the heavy Cessna.
My plane entered a pitch dark cloud. Instinctively I took three rapid steps: reduced velocity below VA; turned on the instrument and panel lights; and put the oxygen valve on full demand. Soon hell’s doors were open.
This story starts at the picturesque port of Madang on the northern coast of New Guinea. I was flying an RAAF Hawker Siddeley HS748 on a two week tour around New Britain and New Ireland, culminating with the training of a new squadron pilot in the finer points of Highland operations in central Papua.
The crosswind blew me a little past the runway line as I came around on final and I banked it left and added a bit of power to get lined up. Things suddenly got quiet and I had an epiphany! For the first time I really understood why my instructors had said never bank over 30 degrees in the pattern.
Back in 1979 I was working as a flight test engineer for Cessna Aircraft at the peak of general aviation’s heyday. One of the perks of my employment at Cessna was delivering aircraft to the dealers on weekends. Most times I would ferry the aircraft out in the morning and take the airlines home in the afternoon.
Sometimes in aviation we learn valuable lessons that reach far beyond the technical aspects of flying – like this story. I was young and full of youthful hubris at the time, and I thought I knew everything. I especially thought I knew more than all the “old-timers.”
I remember a flight, well, actually I remember many, but this one ranks up there, where if anything came up short, I probably wouldn’t be alive, let alone a pilot writing about this. Let me just put this out there now: I was young, stupid, and believed in the invincibility of me and my flight instructor, so let’s not go bashing the messenger here.
I had decided early on during the morning of January 1, New Year’s Day, to take a short flight and look over the Russian River Rendezvous lodge property at Lower Russian Lake down on the Kenai Peninsula. Just another still and tranquil New Year’s Day in the Alaska outback…
Beaumont, Kansas, is known as home of the Beaumont Hotel and not much else. Those of us who have it listed in our logbooks remember the unique experience of landing in a grass field at the east edge of town, taxiing onto the road, stopping at the stop sign, and parking under the trees south of the old hotel.
It was winter time in Brazil, São Paulo State. I was fresh from my private pilot course. I was young (21) and bold. The new engine installation was complete and I arrived at the city airport (SJWQ), with a field elevation 1339 feet, at 6:00 am.
The Angel on my right shoulder whispers, “This is not the time for you to be doing this, look at those clouds!” but the Devil on my left shoulder says, “Aw c’mon! You’re only going for a short flight, you’ve got to be able to fly in this, what’s stopping you?”
Shortly after earning my license, a pilot friend of the family heard I was a new pilot and invited me along to Oshkosh. His plan was to fly there and back in the same day. I had a whole 11 hours PIC and not much cross country experience. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I appeared early the next morning to pick up my ticket and was greeted with a ticket and a box. In the box was a very large screwdriver and a new starter. It didn’t dawn on me that this job might be a little more complicated than previously explained.
When my friend Paul had mentioned a club at Republic Airport where I fly that was renting 2007 C172s with the G1000 panel, I jumped at the idea. I was previously flying a 2003 Piper Archer with 2 Garmin 430s and while I love the Archer, the club where I rented was very expensive, and I was excited to “step up” to the newer system.
I am a student pilot with 42 hours of flying time and am just getting ready for my flight exam. On Sunday I was practicing touch-and-goes and after my first landing, I retracted the flaps, added power and started to climb out. I immediately noticed that my climb rate was lower than normal.
I had read plenty of articles just like this one before my unusual flight happened. It always seems so obvious until you’re actually there, in the situation. Luckily, in my case, we got home safe, and after the disappointment passed, I learned just a little more to make me a better pilot.
It was getting dark. I had never flown at night. On top of that, I had no night cockpit familiarization training. Incredibly, I did not know where any of the light switches were. Does it surprise anyone that I was not carrying a flashlight as well?
If you have read many aviation stories, you will suffer no harm by ignoring this one. It is an Old Story that happened yesterday. I’m sure you have heard it all before. I would find it only mildly interesting were I not the protagonist, the antagonist and the jester.