Pilots fly for a variety of reasons. If youre like me, transportation is the main reason to own an airplane. Flying a single-engine general aviation airplane can be an effective way to travel for business and personal reasons, especially in this era of degrading, inflexible and unpredictable airline service. However, to safely use small aircraft for this purpose and manage the risks, you need to expand the scope of your typical planning efforts and be ready to change schedules and even cancel some portions of a trip. This is especially true if, like me, your travel requirements include the entire United States.
True story: A USAF F-105 Thunderchief pilot was shot down over North Vietnam, ejected and landed in the jungle. Coming up on his emergency radio, he was told a rescue mission was on the way, to hide out and to come back up on the frequency in an hour. The pilot waited for what seemed like an hour and called back; he once again was told to call back when the hour was up-in 55 more minutes.
Since the deadline was established, rumors about how the FAA will handle the coming transition have ranged from extending the deadline at the last minute to dismantling every non-compliant aircraft within Class B airspace and selling them for scrap on January 2. Im so old I remember when Mode C first was required in certain airspace, and ATC would routinely accommodate non-complying aircraft. Later, they wanted at least an hours notice, and the request could be denied. In my experience, ATC has always tried its best to cut some slack on Mode C, especially if everything was working when you took off.
Expecting that I had somehow unknowingly blown my check ride, we landed, shut everything down and he informed me I had...well...passed! A bit confused but obviously glad I hadnt actually blown it, I accepted the good news not wishing to open my mouth and undo it, and simply thanked him. I never told my instrument instructor what the examiner had said, only that he passed me.
Upon raising the landing gear after takeoff, the gear motor continued to operate longer than normal, and the pilot heard an abnormal sound toward the end of the sequence. The right main gear was hanging at about a 45-degree angle, and the left main gear was not visible. The pilot completed the appropriate checklists, without change. The pilot declared an emergency and ATC confirmed during a fly-by that the main gear was not extended. During the landing, the nose gear remained extended and the two main gear were retracted. The airplane came to rest on the runway and the passengers egressed without further incident.
Convincing the airplane that youve changed your mind and now want to climb-at the best rate, by the way-requires adding power, arresting the descent and beginning a climb, reconfiguring the airplane and ensuring directional control. While the order in which we perform these tasks varies-check your POH/AFM for the details-we still have to fly the airplane as we accomplish them. That means we can be tempted to add full power when doing so is probably not what we want to do.
For a supposedly CAVU day, I was now pointed at a solid cloud bank. I transitioned to instruments while still VFR and entered the clouds continuing toward VOR #3. It was still smooth as I crossed it and adjusted course toward VOR #4. Shortly after crossing VOR #3, there suddenly were a lot of pilots on the frequency asking for course and/or altitude changes to get out of this weather. I was still enjoying a smooth ride.
I had an interesting experience following recent painting of my Cessna 182. I flew it back from the paint shop uneventfully enough, but after tying it down following that two-hour flight home, we had a windstorm with 50-knot gusts, and the wind put enough force on the right wingtip to cause the screws holding it in place to drop out. So, the wingtip peeled off, and smashed into the cowling, creating a dent/crease just forward of the windshield.
Years ago, when I first heard the term runaway trim, my initial thought was something along the lines of, How can that happen? All of the trim systems Id seen up to that time had been manual, unassisted crank, lever or thumbwheel affairs, which rely on the pilot grabbing something and moving it to achieve the desired change. I was aware that trim systems could mechanically fail, but generally would stay in a fixed position when they did. I had discussed and trained for abnormal trim conditions, but how could a trim system run away? Then I learned about electric trim, autopilots and runaway trim, and it all became clearer.
When I was a student pilot, I was lucky to have some grizzled mentors. There were a lot of do this and dont do that admonitions, a lot of tips regarding shortcuts and rules of thumb, plus some sage advice about decision-making. A lot of that advice could be broken down into the old Its better to be on the ground wishing you in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground genre, but it was often accompanied by a Let me tell you what I learned the hard way kind of introduction.
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.