The Slippery Slope

The leap from safe n secure to trouble often starts with baby steps


I was planning to take a friend on a short sightseeing trip in a Citabria.

We werent planning aerobatics, so we skipped the parachutes. I calculated how much fuel we could handle given our weights. After fueling and preflight, my friend climbed into the back of the little taildragger and I climbed into the front. I started the engine and got the ATIS from the radio. When I called Ground for a taxi clearance, nothing. No sidetone, no carrier, no transmission.

We shut down the Citabria and hauled the Lance out of the hangar. Not as much fun for sightseeing, but even a disappointing day of flying is better than a good day at work.

As soon as I opened the door of the Lance, I felt like Papa Bear must have felt when he got home after Goldilocks visit.

Someones been sitting in my chair.

The charts were stacked randomly between the two front seats and the flight log, fuel tester and pitot cover were nowhere to be found. An acquaintance had borrowed the airplane and afterward had washed and waxed the airplane and hired someone to steam-clean the interior. I hoped this was his way of saying thanks and not his way of saying, I just wanted to see if there was an airplane under all that dirt.

I reorganized the cockpit and conducted my preflight. Although the FBO had been instructed to top the tanks, they were substantially less than full. Because the airplane has two linked fuel cells in each wing, it takes some time for fuel to drain from the outboard tank into the inboard tank. Apparently the fueler didnt know that.

Preflight complete, I lit the fire, flipped on the avionics master and was surprised to see things on the panel I didnt recognize. The display on the Garmin had been re-customized to a bunch of settings that seemed less-than-intuitive to me. This was turning out to be a day of unexpected detours.

Garmin reprogrammed, we took off, flew the beaches along Floridas east coast, then looped back around for some passes over what we fondly call the attractions – those tourist destinations owned by giant entertainment companies that succeed in guzzling money nearly as efficiently as a vintage jet warbird.

As we turned to head back for lunch, a small-but-growing thunderstorm stood sentry, blocking our approach path and forcing an end-around.

As we were taxiing back to the hangar, I thought about how this, a short little nothing flight in the scheme of things, could be so full of unexpected twists and turns. The lessons were subtle. Just as expectations can cloud observations, they can also lead to assumptions, that lead to shortcuts, that lead to shortcomings, that lead to trouble.

Its a long path, to be sure, but its one Id just as soon not start down in the first place.

-Ken Ibold


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