Everyone talks about the weather but no one ever does anything about it. (Stop me if youve heard that before.) The same could be said about managing the risk of general aviation. We-both this magazine and the industry as a whole-spend a lot of time preaching to pilots about the mechanics of understanding weather forecasts, determining if the aircraft is capable, and making honest evaluations of our own performance in considering how and when to conduct a flight. But once we identify the need to mitigate a risk, we sometimes have little space left over to describe the tools we can use. Lets try to fix that.
The mission was a simple day trip from my home field in southwest Florida to a familiar destination in north-central Georgia of 407 nm, planned to take 2+30 one-way. Spend a few hours on the ground visiting with an old friend, grab a late lunch, then hop back home later the same day. The airplane was ready and willing. But the weather wasnt cooperating as I wanted. The destination airport offered its own challenges. And while I was instrument-current, I wasnt as proficient with low IFR as I would have liked.
Vintage aircraft often have vintage owners. Familiarity being a source of contempt, long-time owners of aircraft seeing little activity may also see little need to perform preventive maintenance or conduct regular inspections. It was just fine when I parked it; what could possibly have broken while it was sitting in a hangar? can be a familiar refrain to pilots who have owned the same airplane for a significant time. After a while, the pilot/owner is so familiar with the aircraft, he or she can tell somethings wrong just by the slipstream noise.
The Pacific Northwest, for the purposes of this article, includes the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. Thats a huge hunk of territory and comprises more than 250,000 square miles for Washington, Oregon and Idaho alone. The region includes two major mountain ranges-the Cascades and the Northern Rockies-and many smaller ones, as well as several major river basins. There are major cities in the region, such as Seattle, Portland and Boise, but also thousands of square miles of largely empty land and wilderness.
I try to fly our airplane at least once every two weeks because just as its not good for a plane to just sit in a hangar, its also not good when a pilot doesnt practice their skills. Sometimes, even on clear days, I will fly instrument approaches at a nearby Class C airport. I do this for several reasons: to verify that all of the navigational instruments work properly, to practice working with ATC and if things dont work, I am in VFR conditions and am at very little risk.
Full disclosure: I suck at holds. I can find the fix and figure out the recommended entry method without too much trouble. And I usually turn the correct direction upon crossing the holding fix. Usually. After that, things start to become loosely held, and it might take me a couple of laps to nail the wind correction angles. Throw in a descent while in the hold and my cockpit gets busy. I guess thats why the FAA a few years ago added holding patterns to the maneuvers required to accomplish an instrument proficiency check. Its all my fault.
Like it or not, winter weather is upon us here in North America. After a few brief weeks of not as much thunderstorm activity, were headed squarely into a a couple of months featuring widespread near-freezing temperatures and precipitation. From storing our airplane, to preflighting it, picking a route and ensuring our destination doesnt have any slippery surprises, winter weather will have an impact on our operations, likely even if we stay in the pattern at a Southern California airport.
Notams have had a rocky decade, getting most of the blame in 2010 when the FAA accused U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) of landing on a closed runway in Texas. He maintained he researched applicable Notams as part of his preflight planning, but didnt find one for his destination. The FAA didnt agree and brought an enforcement action against the Senator. In turn, Inhofe developed and in 2012 saw enacted the Pilots Bill of Rights, which among other things mandated an overhaul of the Notam system. Subsequent legislation-2015s Pilots Bill of Rights 2, also by Inhofe-sought to further improve the Notam experience for pilots. Its the legislation that created the BasicMed option to traditional FAA medical certificates.
At least in North America, that also can be the dead of winter for many locations, and the personal airplanes many of us fly just arent equipped to cope. For example, and other than a warm pitot tube, they generally lack anti-ice equipment. They likely may not have the range or endurance to reliably avoid weather, or retreat to solid-gold alternates. For non-instrument-rated pilots, the challenges can be even grimmer: Low ceilings and visibilities can wreck carefully made schedules by forcing us to stay on the ground.
After overflying the destination runway, the crew made a steeper-than-normal approach to the 3880-foot-long runway due to terrain. According to the captain, a bump was felt near the threshold during the landing but it was not extreme. As the propellers were reversed, the airplane veered to the right. The crew corrected and the airplane tracked straight for about 2000 feet before veering sharply right, exiting the runway and spinning 180 degrees. Inspection of the runway threshold revealed several four-foot-tall piles of rocks and dirt.
During a routine training flight, the right engine was intentionally shut down to demonstrate inflight restarts. After a normal shutdown and securing procedure, the engine master switch was switched back to on per the checklist. Usually, this drives the propeller out of feather, and the restart procedure is continued. Instead, the propeller did not unfeather, even after attempting several troubleshooting procedures. The flight returned safely on the left engine.
Since Eric is a working controller, I respect his advice. I was a little surprised when he stated that filing direct grinds controllers gears. With GPS capability, filing direct has saved me a lot of time and money. It was never realized that doing so was creating a problem for anyone. It was not done as a sign of laziness or to engage in a bad practice, but to get in and out of the ATC system as quickly and efficiently as possible.