You can’t just fly around the airspace!

A fellow pilot had a recent experience that he shared with me and I asked if he would write it up so others can learn from it. So here it is in his words about a Bay Tour in the SF area of California.


Bay Tour route

My father-in-law, an instrument rated pilot, was visiting from the East Coast. I had just received my pilot’s license a few months earlier, and was eager to show him my new skills. With that in mind, on a perfect VMC day, we took off from Palo Alto Airport (KPAO) intending to do a Bay Tour.

A Bay Tour is a common thing around here, and it’s what it sounds like. You fly around the San Francisco Bay, taking in the scenery. The only obstacle is the huge Class B from KSFO. The typical Bay Tour includes a Class B transition, but it need not, and this is what we planned to do. Starting around Half Moon Bay (KHAF), we planned to skirt under and around the Class B, getting VFR flight following from Norcal Approach for extra safety.

As I went Northbound towards KHAF, I called into Norcal saying, “Norcal Approach, N123 10 miles South of Half Moon Bay three thousand four hundred for Bay Tour Northbound”. They were very busy but, eventually, they replied: “N123 radar contact 3 miles southeast of the Half Moon Bay airport cleared to enter the Class B maintain three thousand five hundred and South and West of the Bayshore Freeway”. If you are looking at my route on the chart, we were at point 1.

Whelp. I had never entered the Class B before, and like I said, I wasn’t intending to. But I figured, what harm could it do? Plus, the controller seemed very “generous” by offering, and it would have felt “rude” to say no. I read back and started climbing to my assigned altitude.

Half a minute later, the controller said, “N123 contact Norcal 135.1 have a good one”. I called in to the new controller, and they gave me an altimeter setting. We were probably around point 2 on the chart by that time.

Now let’s talk about the Bayshore Freeway. It snakes through the San Francisco Peninsula and is the main arterial connecting Silicon Valley to the hipsters in San Francisco. I was not sure where exactly it ended — I now know that it is considered to end somewhere in the middle of the city, as you can see in the chart. In its official designation, as US Highway 101, it continues through the City and over the Golden Gate bridge, and up North into California’s wine country. But by rights, my clearance probably ended at the dotted red line in the chart, before the Golden Gate bridge. Clearly, my controller was expecting me to do something as I went North. I figured he would tell me when the time came.

That time came and went. I was somewhere over the ocean between Point Bonita and the Golden Gate bridge, at point 4 on the map, and had heard no more from the friendly controllers. What’s to do? Well, I figured I had told them already I was doing a Bay Tour, and that this meant — well — that I would tour the Bay. Plus the frequency was really busy with “serious” commercial traffic, and so why would they want to hear from me? I turned right and flew over the Bay.

Around Oakland, at point 5 on the map, the radio crackled to life: “N123 you heading to Oakland now?” And with a very mild tone of admonition, “You can’t just fly around in the airspace, so, turn left heading 360”.


In what followed, the controller directed me out of the Class B, advised me of traffic, and handed me off to Oakland Tower to continue my trip. I was very contrite, and he was very nice. But the point was made. I had busted my clearance on my first Class B, crossing important departure procedures for San Francisco Airport (e.g. QUIET SEVEN) that I had just a few weeks ago flown as a passenger on a commercial flight! Had I been the TCAS warning for an outbound aircraft, nobody would be happy at all. And of course, though the possibility is relatively small, had this led to an accident, it would have been very, very bad.

In my later discussion with other pilots, I learned that pilots going North over the coastline often ask for a “Bay Tour” while passing over KHAF because local mythology is that they are more likely to get a Class B transition that way. Perhaps that’s why the controller didn’t bother with me and waited for me to ask. Or maybe he forgot. I found out that, on a real Bay Tour, people get clearance to descend for sight-seeing around Lake Merced, point 3 on the map, and that the sight-seeing portion of the flight is separate from the Class B transition.

Clearly there were many mistakes here, and from this I learned some important lessons:

  1. To fly in Class B, pick a “procedure” and follow it. Everyone else in there is following procedures that ensure separation and allow different controllers to work different parts of the system. So should you. Clearly, there were locally known (if unwritten) “procedures” for a Bay Tour, and had I studied them and chosen one, I would have known when I did not have enough information to proceed, and reminded the controllers.
  1. If you are not prepared to do this, stay out of Class B. I wasn’t prepared, and didn’t know I needed to be. Now, reading this, you know.
  1. If you are accustomed to VFR flight, then know that flying in Class B is different. Your clearance is paramount. How do you know what it is? It begins when your controller says “cleared” and ends when they let go of the mic button. Anything else — any wishes, hopes, fantasies, empty chit-chat on frequency — is not part of your clearance and does not count. In my case, it did not count that I had asked for a Bay Tour; that was not my clearance.
  1. Reject any clearance you are not prepared for. You are the PIC, and it’s not “rude”.
  1. When in doubt, ASK. Even if the frequency is busy with “important” traffic, you too are in the airspace, and a collision with you is just as “important” as anything else. So speak up!
  1. If you don’t know what to do, STOP. Had I orbited near the Golden Gate bridge near point 4, waited for a quiet moment, and called in to ask, the problem could have been averted.
  1. It’s possible I had the Bravery to enter the Bravo because my father-in-law, with his experience, was with me. But he was happy to have someone else “drive” for a change, and sight-seeing and enjoying himself. And anyway, he was not familiar with local customs and airspace. His experienced pilot mojo was not going to transfer to me by osmosis just because he was sitting in the plane. So, unless you have previously agreed that someone’s ROLE is a CFI, or a safety pilot, or a more experienced “guide”, their QUALIFICATIONS are completely immaterial. I was on my own on this flight.
  1. Finally, COOPERATE. The controllers – at least the ones in Northern California — are here to help, and are truly not out to catch pilots with FAA violations. If you realize you made a mistake, admit it and fix the problem right away. It’s safer, and you’ll learn.

I certainly hope I did!

Check ride prep

The time has come for a student to do a phase check before he goes to the DPE for a private check ride. This is my first student to get this far and I was as anxious as the student. I know he was prepared as he has been very diligent in studying and has a great memory, but there’s always that anxiety of not knowing what is in store.

It was a check on me as well as to what I have taught along with what did I miss so I can improve for the other students I’m training and 1 other is getting close to needing a phase check as well.

As pilots we like the flying part of the test, but we usually don’t do as well with the paperwork side of things.

Showing how all the AD’s have been complied with by finding the records in the airframe logbooks takes time but is a necessary part of the exam.

Some of the tips I learned is to make a simple description of all the systems to make it easy to explain. By doing the work of putting it into a concise description then it also serves as a memory aid and you may not to read it, but its available.

Keep you answers as short as possible while answering what was asked. Don’t expound on something unless its really relevant as too often we start to dig our own hole that makes it hard to climb out of.

All in all it was a good 2 hours spent listening in on the phase check and to be honest he would have failed the oral exam if it was for real, but on the positive side it was on one small topic that we are correcting. This was handled by a former DPE and now a full time CFI, so this was about as realistic as it gets.

I learned as well so I can better prepare the following students. I don’t want to be stuck in a rut and teach things that aren’t accurate. So I’m patching up the holes in the things I didn’t cover as well as I should have to better prepare the next batch of pilots.

Hopefully I’ll have news of a check ride soon, so stay tuned.

If you have any other good tips for check ride prep you found useful please add comments or email them to me at

Am I safe to fly?

Every once in a while as we run the IMSAFE checklist we may get stuck on the initial “I” for illness. We may think I’ll be okay, its just a runny nose. Maybe its just a quick sightseeing flight so its easy to cancel. But what if there’s more on the line like a weekend away with your significant other? Do we allow the pressure of a nice weekend and non refundable hotel reservations sway our decision?

I bring this up as I just encountered this situation myself. I had a hotel room paid for in Reno for the Best in the West Rib Cook-off. Plane was reserved and while there was some lingering smoke from the Yosemite fire we were looking forward to going.


So it was with great frustration when I started getting the sniffles Sat and awoke to a sore throat Sunday morning. We had planned to leave that afternoon around 5pm. But I knew deep down that I just wasn’t safe. Despite possibly losing the money for the prepaid hotel I knew I had to cancel. I was still running the scenarios of “what-ifs” so we could go but I knew that wasn’t safe or feasible. With a stuffy head and fatigue caused from the fever I would be in a world of hurt just handling the normal tasks of flying. What if conditions changed and visibility decreased from the smoke and the storm that was forecast to move thru? Nope, I wouldn’t have been 100% capable to handle that and I would be putting myself, my wife and those on the ground at risk. It’s not worth it.

How’s your decision making process? Are you mentally ready to handle the disappointment a canceled trip can reign down on you from friends and family? Its something we need to be ready for as the its our role as PIC to keep everyone safe.

Where are we going?

After doing some maneuvers to get a student familiar with a C172, we decided to go to a nearby airport for landing practice. We have been to this airport many times before but always arriving from a different direction. I was also showing him how to use the Garmin 430 and walked him through the steps to enter the airport as a Direct to. With that done the magenta line was showing about a 5º heading to the left. Hmm, I see the runway dead ahead. I started talking about the winds may be stronger and causing us to crab some and I fiddle with North up vs Track up as we continue to the runway. We were about 10 miles out when we started. Its been about 4 minutes now and tower calls and asks if we are headed to their airport as we are 3 miles north of them. HUH?

Something is off I finally concede and look towards the area the GPS has been pointing all along. Whoops, yes I say we are as I have the student make an immediate left turn and get lined up with the correct runway. These 2 airports are only 5 miles apart and have similarly orientated runways on 10º apart.

The lesson we both learned is to pay attention and look outside as I did see a different runway layout from the airport we should have been heading to, but it didn’t rise to the level of triggering an alert in my brain. Also the magenta line is usually right as long as its correctly programmed which I checked and it was. So don’t let a runway in sight cause you to deviate from where you really want to go.

Decision making

We have to make many decisions as pilots. Are we safe and fit to fly? Is the plane airworthy and running well? We consider the weather all along the route to determine if we can make the flight according to the rules whether that’s VFR or IFR. Sometimes its not clear as to the correct decision and when something goes astray we reevaluate the situation and make a new decision.

Take for example a rough running engine during the runup. Maybe the plugs are fouled by lead and we burn it off and then retest the mags. Or what if we abort a takeoff because something isn’t right? It could be slow acceleration, a vibration or something just tells us that something is going as we expect. We should never want to take off and ignore that feeling. For me the subtle cues indicate a problem of some sort or another.

Ask yourself

So what happens after we abort? Do we taxi back and problem solve the issue and maybe try to continue our flight? Or do we taxi back and alert the mechanic or flight school to the issue and cancel the trip?

I raise these questions as I heard this situation at our airport recently. I do not know the pilot and I’m not making any judgments as to whether he made the right decision here. Just raising some things that we all need to consider if this happens to us so we can determine what we may do if we face this. I only know what I heard on the radio and so I don’t have the details this pilot had that led him to make the decisions he did. I ask the same of you and just use this as an opportunity to evaluate your own practices.

Here is the audio I recorded during a training flight with my student. Some transmissions from the pilot involved are blocked out by my speaking to my student before it was apparent there was an issue. Most of the important stuff is there.

I have edited out some of the quiet times to shorten the playing time and there is some time near the end that I let it play in real time so you get a sense of the time involved.

There’s 2 versions below, the video is just out the front of the 152 we were flying in case you want to see the are. The Saratoga is not seen in it. Due to upload size limitations I couldn’t make it all that large.

Audio Version Saratoga Aborted takeoff

Video Saratoga Aborted takeoff

It ended well with a safe landing so that’s always the best outcome.

He attempted a takeoff and had to abort. He then taxied back to investigate and no doubt did another runup to determine the source of the cause.

Here’s the big question.

What would you do at that point? Continue or call it a day and let the mechanic look at it? No judging here, just raising a question.

He determined it was safe as evidenced by his requesting to depart again. We we in front of him and on crosswind when we heard this.

After tower informed he he had smoke coming from the engine we were directed away from the airport so tower had less traffic to deal with and provide a safe environment for the plane to land. It also reduced traffic on the radio the they could both focus.

The pilot elected to land opposite of how he departed and with a slight tailwind. It was the shortest path back to pavement.

Take-offs or always optional but landings are not, so lets be prepared and ready in case we find ourselves in a similar circumstance and need to return for an immediate landing.

Remembering Doug….

I’m reflecting on a piece I wrote after a tragic accident not only at my home airport but of a friend. Strangely enough I had a lesson with a student today and the weather was about what it was 3 years ago but visibility was only slightly better as can be seen here.

KPAO WX 2-17


So we cancelled the flight and resorted to a simulator session. While being a little disappointed it was still productive and a good lesson that we can’t always fly. We need to know our limits which the following is about.

I hope you find this useful and evaluate your own safety practices.

Here is the audio that originally aired on the Airspeed Podcast thanks to Stephen Tupper.

Av Safety



Take-offs are a surprise


There are times in our lives where we pause to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, or what we hope to do in the future and how to achieve them. Other times it’s our failures that trigger this and we want to learn from it and try and avoid repeating them. Sometimes we get to learn from the events other people have gone through and reflect on it.

What follows is my journey of self-examination as a pilot.

First off I must thank Stephen Force for the inspiration I received from his First Solo episode and hearing of his journey with a bag of fears and the roadblocks he faced when his instructor died in a terrible crash.

It was in that episode that we as pilots are reminded aviation is safe but to a large extent it’s terribly unforgiving when an accident does happen. We want it to be safe for us, our loved ones and other passengers that entrust their lives and well being to us. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.

We strive to learn the performance characteristics and limitations of the aircraft we fly and then operate it safely within those boundaries.

We learn and practice emergency procedures so we can handle them and have a safe outcome for us and then lastly the plane.

From our early training onward we know the importance of protecting lives on the ground and the need to stay away from populated areas if we must land during an emergency.

I want to address a few things that have come to mind in the past weeks in light of a recent accident that struck all to close to home for me.

On February 17, 2010 a Cessna 310 left Palo Alto with three on board for an hour and fifty minute flight to southern CA. This time however, the flight lasted less than a minute.

The pilot was one of the good guys, a commercial rated CFI with whom I did my BFR with in 2005 when I joined the partnership he started with 4 other people for a Cessna 172.

I flew with him several times doing various training flights and have shared dinner and margaritas with all the members of our group to discuss plane issues, life, best routes to fly and places to go eat.

He was a successful and talented Electrical Engineer and someone who just loved aviation. His passion for teaching was clear as he enjoyed teaching others to fly to the extent it was hard to get him to accept anything more than a token payment for his time. He didn’t do it for the money, but because it was FLYING! And he loved it.

I’ll leave it to the NTSB to make the determination of probable cause, my intent is to learn from that fact this accident did happen and in light of the WX conditions are there things that I would do to keep me safe in similar circumstances?

To that extent, I say that take-offs are a surprise. Why? It’s been said that while take-offs are optional, landings are clearly NOT.

How can it be said that take-offs are a surprise? Didn’t we go to the airport with the intent and desire to take-off and go somewhere?

This concept comes from my training for the commercial rating. I learned many new habits that I’ll admit I should have been incorporating all along. Whether it was due to several years of not flying and having earned the private license a few decades previous, it was a good thing to learn these new safety related habits.

I’ll admit that learning to do passenger pre-start safety briefings and departure briefings felt awkward, as well as talking to myself in doing various callouts during the take-off roll. However I stuck with it and I knew that in the interest of safety, these were things a competent pilot needed to do. I was learning a new mindset and for that I was thankful.

Part of that departure briefing included what we expect to happen, and what to do in the event something didn’t go as planned. This is where the surprise comes in.

My CFI, Jason Miller, told me that I should plan on aborting EVERY take-off and be surprised if the engine keeps running and we can accelerate to rotation speed and can fly away.

Even after that point we should be ready to react in case it fails on climb-out and we need to do something. Whether it’s landing straight ahead or making a slight turn to avoid obstacles, we need to be ready until the first 1000’ is under us and we have an extra moment to evaluate our situation.

A lot of the scenarios we practice involve emergencies at higher altitudes or in cruise flight. The failure we train for most on takeoff is an engine failure and then to a lesser degree instrumentation or loss of radio communication. At cruise altitude we have the luxury of a little time to diagnose, trouble shoot and develop a plan of action.

I remember a flight my buddy took years ago as a newly minted pilot. Returning from LA to Northern CA he faced higher than expected headwinds. He started getting nervous as the rental had fuel gauges that made it hard to accurately tell the quantity. This was a late night flight and would require a $20 fee to call someone from home to get fuel as this was before the 24 hour self serve pump era. He at least had time and altitude to consider his options. He now knows landing and paying the fee was cheap insurance and peace of mind even though he arrived safely but had cut his fuel reserve close.

I too have my own fuel story, but I used it as a learning experience to shape my practices today so that my reserves are higher and I’ll make the extra stop even if not really needed.

Sometimes the lessons we learn come from close calls, and in other cases from fatal accidents. Set some personal minimums and then STICK to them.

Part of our preparedness is to plan for the time when things do go wrong.

What are the action items for an electrical system failure?

What if the vacuum system failed?

What if an engine failed?

What if my engine fails at 200’? At 500’? At 1000’?

What if any of these occur in IMC?

Each altitude has different action plans and alternatives. Are we ready for each? Have YOU asked WHAT IF?

What if?….. What if?….

Were you surprised the engine didn’t fail so you could continue the take-off? You need to be surprised. Or did you firewall the throttle, waited a few seconds and pulled back, just EXPECTING all to go well?

I know I am asking WHAT IF now.

Now think of having to do that at 100 to 200 feet in IMC. That is a critical time to have to do this. Whether it’s diagnosing an engine or vacuum system failure affecting the attitude indicator to keep us upright, we need to have a back up plan before we start the take-off and be ready to react.

By doing the departure briefing I was reminding myself what I would do in various circumstances. It helped me to be spring loaded to react.

The same needs to be done for low visibility take-offs. I practiced how to do it during instrument training and to maintain aircraft control during the take-off roll.

These include failures of the vacuum system or an issue with the pitot static system that gives us the all important attitude information to keep the shiny side up.

Can we brush up our basic attitude flying skills? What about practicing partial panel? Could we practice a partial panel take-off to simulate a vacuum failure at rotation under the watchful eyes of a CFII of course. For those of you that are multi-rated, how proficient at single engine operations are you? Are you ready for an engine to fail and have practiced the procedures required?

I use a portable GPS as do many others and appreciate its many abilities including the terrain awareness so I know what’s out there if I’m in IMC or at night. Those mountains have a habit of being dark and unlit at night.

I had never thought of having the simulated panel page of the GPS up and displayed on take-off in case of an instrumentation failure. I love having the GPS for the battery powered backup navigation in case of an electrical failure. But never for a moment did I think it could serve a purpose on take-off. I may never do a take-off with a 100’ ceiling but the idea is the same.

Isn’t this why we got the instrument rating after all? To blast through a low fog layer into clear air a 1000’ above us? We need to remember that getting there carries with it certain risks during the first few minutes of flight that we need to be prepared for to the extent we possibly can.

On a recent flight I did put the GPS into the simulated panel page and thought of actually using it after rotation in IMC.

Would it have made a difference in the chaos of either an engine failure or dizziness caused from spatial disorientation from entering IMC so quickly after rotation?

It may not have, so make no mistake about it, I’m in no way implying I have found the cause or solution to this terrible accident, as the details and causes are unknown. It just got me thinking to look at my own safety practices and ask,


It’s been a few weeks since the accident that took our friend and colleague.

I’m having trouble coming to terms with this one. This was a seasoned and skilled pilot. It’s not my intent to analyze this accident and say what went wrong. My desire was to learn from this and see what I can do different to make me safer.

This means keeping my skills sharp and using anything at my disposal to stay upright as best I can.

If I’m ever not surprised, I’d like to think I thought of and practiced the right WHAT IF for that situation. That’s what we do as safe pilots.

So I put this question to you, are YOU thinking WHAT IF?

Will I be surprised at my next take-off? I hope so.

I WANT to be surprised on my next take-off, and a million more after that……..

I’d like to thank all the CFI’s I have learned from over the years.

Todd Bennett, Doug Groom, Dan Adams, Ewe Lemke, Steve Philipson, Jason Miller, and especially Doug Bourn.

Forget the Dr. title, I want CFI after my name. It’s coming, I can feel it.

All of you set a high standard I too aspire to attain and will teach ALL of my students to think of


I’m proud to say I did become a CFI in Oct, 2010 and am enjoying teaching flying and inspiring a new generation of pilots. But let us never forgot that we should put safety first even at the expense of delays to our trip that may have business or personal consequences. We need to remember its better to show up late than not at all.

Fly safe!

Ron Klutts CFI

Here is the NTSB report on this accident.

Cross Country lessons

Following our cross country to Sacramento Executive airport last week I had the student put together some things he learned firsthand. Sometimes talking about these things don’t make the impression it should, but living through them does. The tough job as a CFI is in letting things go just enough wrong in order to make a teaching moment out of it to get the point across, but never so far as to make it a hazard to anyone else or us.

These are the thing he learned from our short cross country, I hope they help you too.

1. Prepare better.
I could have taken planning more seriously. Would have helped to avoid picking the wrong runway to land on and I would have been familiar with their taxiways. The result was one irritated off ATC person.

2. Navigating at night is totally different from daytime.
Water and hills become voids. Familiar terrain becomes a sea of lights that I need to interpret. GPS will make you lazy, VOR navigation can help you if the plane is so equipped.

3. George is your friend
Not having to worry about drifting off course while i’m reading a map is great. (But never forget that hand flying is an important skill to maintain.)

4. Make sure to copy everything the nice man in the tower says.
We had him repeat a somewhat complex taxi instructions 3 times, boy was he cheesed off.

5. Sightseeing is great if you are a passenger
Pilot has to fly the plane at all times, this gets busy during certain phases of the flight like copying ATIS, Tower landing clearance, landing, taxi to park. When the wheels stop, you can look around.

6. Think 2 moves ahead
Do not get behind the aircraft. Think of the next thing to be done.

7. Know your place
Where am I, where am I going, How to get there, what do I do next.
(Asking yourself this will prevent getting lost or behind the airplane.)
8. The CFI is not going to save you
Don’t rely on them too much and get lazy. The point is so you can do this yourself.

9. Calm the heck down
You make more mistakes when your pressured. Flying is fun, enjoy it with the mistakes and all.

Getting inspired

One of the great things I enjoy about AOPA Summit is the level of enthusiasm of all involved. Whether it’s the energy that Dave Allen brings to his interviews for Other Peoples Airplanes or just meeting “Joe Pilot” the excitement is noticeable.

I attended many great seminars covering topics from tips on Glass Cockpits from Max Trescott or gotcha’s that we may encounter while using the iPad we all love on an IFR flight. From time to time we need to take in these kind of events to reinvigorate ourselves about the thing we like to do most, FLY!

One of the most invigorating seminars was listening to Brian Shul talk about his challenges to overcome a fiery crash and burns to recovering and passing a physical to return to active duty. Later he was selected to fly the SR-71 and the pictures he took during that time are amazing. His story as told by him will inspire and show that anything can be achieved.

The other cool opportunity was to fly a Redbird simulator and experience two scenarios. One was a partial power loss on takeoff and attempting to return to the runway while managing altitude loss and keeping track of our position. That one wasn’t as hard as what came next.

Next was an IFR approach to minimums with the published missed approach. The Redbird was configured with the G1000 display. These flight training devices are touchier on the controls and it’s hard to just jump in and fly smoothly in IMC. I had a difficult time too and as a typical steam gauge pilot with limited experience with the G1000 I found myself chasing headings and altitudes.

But I started to settle down but I was starting to sweat. It didn’t matter that we were on the ground, I found myself trying to fly well for the strict instructor supervising the experience. She was knowledgeable and demanding like you expect a good instructor to be and also encouraging. She set a great example for me.

Shortly after my session Neil (Pilot_NGB on twitter) had a slot and I stopped by at the end and dropped in on the conversation his CFI was having during the debrief. I learned more then too, and the discussion continued for another 45 minutes as we chatted about flying and our experiences. These kinds of face to face chance meetings are invaluable to us. I meet a wonderful CFI and have contact info to keep in touch. I learned so much talking to him and will strive to pass it on to my students.

The hot topic seemed to be centered around iPad products and flight planning tools and apps to use in the cockpit. Everyone seems to be entering the market and trying to carve out a piece.

Also one everyones minds is ADS-B and the boxes that will deliver the weather and maybe traffic to the various iPad apps and displays boxes. This is still shaking out as some devices haven’t shipped yet so we can’t say how well they say they will do what they say.

It’s an exciting time despite the times and all seem to be inspired to try and grow the population and get the word out to young ones. Doing what he can is Dave Coulier, best known for “Joey” on Full House.

He has been an active pilot since a teenager and is talking about aviation any chance he gets when promoting his shows. His son has graduated Embry Riddle and is among a new generation of pilots.

I say we each take a new person up on a flight to show them what flying is like. Maybe one a month or 1 a year, doesn’t matter as long as we introduce new people to aviation. Someone is bound to get the bug like we have it.

What’s that beeping?

I remember a video I saw on youtube of a Cessna RG that was landing with less than good results. The link is here

As soon as it starts you hear the beep, beep of the gear horn and I wondered why they didn’t recognize it. Maybe they were distracted by their conversation and were just talking over the beeping.

I bring up the subject of distractions as my buddy Mark had an interesting experience. He was returning to his home field near Sacramento from southern California in a C182RG. It wasn’t a real long flight, only about 2.4 hours but as he flew the pattern he noticed a truck parked on the runway where the grass ended and pavement begins.

Turning base to final he decides to go around and figure it out. Power in, gear up, flaps up, climb to pattern altitude. He listens to the AWOS, checks his paperwork for NOTAMS again but finds no mention of a runway closure or work to be done.

Meanwhile it’s important to note that he’s mildly irritated at the inconvenience and the extra cost of the go-araound. So he enters downwind to attempt the landing. This is where the power of the distraction can come into play. Being perturbed at the crew working and having already gone through the checklist and lowering of the gear is where pilots make the mistake of not resetting and doing the checklist all over again.

Mark has been trained well and knows he must do the entire checklist again and gets the gear down and confirms it. The truck has disappeared now and he lands safely. We had a good discussion of how this could have started the accident chain by throwing us for a loop with something unexpected happening. This is the time we rely on our training to save us.

Whether it’s an unexpected go-around or diagnosing a gear issue we need to fly the plane first. Last weekend I did a checkout in a Piper Arrow. While doing one of the practice emergency landings the CFI asked what would I do if my landing gear failed to extend while in the pattern. I answered I’d leave the pattern and figure it out. Why turn a problem into an emergency by trying to solve it in the pattern?

He was excited to have someone give the right answer. The phrase that comes to mind is “FLY THE PLANE” I know it sounds simple but that simple task didn’t happen onboard Eastern 401 in 1972. A failed light bulb for the nose gear become the focus of all the crew members that they didn’t know the auto-pilot had disengaged and no one was monitoring “George”

So my friend Mark’s encounter is a good reminder that little things can dislodge us off or plan but we need to stay focused and follow our procedures, they are there to back us up.

Strike 1, Strike 2….

During the past month I’ve juggled schedules trying to get checked out at a new club so I can begin teaching an instrument student. It took time to get on the chief pilots schedule and then we couldn’t complete the checkout before vacation took me away for a week, and so it dragged on. I finally got to fly the remainder of the checkout and got the approval to teach there. Hooray! So we arrange for our first flight to do some basic attitude flying at night.

Strike 1

Pre-flight is done and I brief the pilot what we will accomplish during the flight and we set out to start up. Key is turned and the prop barley pulls through once and stops. Drats, I just flew it a few days before and it started fine, but now the battery is drained and we aren’t getting this thing started. However there’s another plane available so we decide to swap reservations and take that plane to salvage the night.

Strike 2

The pilot starts doing  the pre-flight on the new plane while I secure and lock up the first plane. First thing we notice is there’s not much fuel in the tanks. That’s odd as these are on a auto refuel account with the fuel truck to service them when they come back. So we pull the plane over to the fuel island and add some fuel. Then we notice that the back seat passenger doesn’t have jacks for the headset, it’s only a 2 place intercom.

We decide to press on and after the master is turned we see that the fuel gauges still read empty. This isn’t good as they have 17 gallons per side. I know what I would do but I was waiting to see what the pilot would do and he came to the same conclusion.

Decision time

Too many things are lining up against us. He decides to park the plane and go another day after the shop repairs what’s wrong. There’s some doubt as to why the plane didn’t have fuel and if that was connected with the inoperative fuel gauges. As I’ve learned over the years a seemingly small problem can either turn into a larger problem or indicate the existence of the larger problem already there.

So for the second time we park and secure a plane without going anywhere. We didn’t have to fly or be anywhere and while it’s disappointing to have missed such a clear, gorgeous night to fly, there will be other nights to fly and enjoy it.

While I  say can’t for sure if we avoided an accident by breaking the chain and not going, it’s best to recognize that at times there may be too many little issues that are tipping the scales to the other side of safety and we must be ready and willing to say we’re not going flying now.