Peer Pressure


My story happened a long time ago, and involves a Cessna Skyhawk with all the seats filled, along with the fuel tanks.

I had flown to Florida to visit friends in their beachfront condo. They were not pilots and had no concept of things like trading fuel for cabin load or the dangers of overloading an airplane. That evening, after a few drinks, the idea arose of a day trip to Key West to take in the sights. Against my better judgment, I agreed.

On arriving the day before, I asked the line personnel to top off my rented 172 and put it away, as I usually do as a transient. When we arrived at the airplane for the flight to Key West, both tanks were full, but I had another 550 or so pounds of people than I had planned for my next takeoff. There was no feasible way to drain some fuel to bring the airplane within its weight limits, and I didn’t even bother to perform a weight and balance calculation—I knew it would be bad.

I put the heaviest passenger in the right front seat and the two lightest in the rear. We had minimal baggage, four full seats and two full fuel tanks. Start-up and taxi were sluggish, to say the least, as I mentally prepared for the takeoff.

There was plenty of runway available, and I planned to use as much as I needed. I don’t recall the particulars, but I did let the airplane accelerate well past its normal lift-off speed.

When I did apply back pressure to the yoke, it was very gentle. Surprisingly, the airplane lifted off normally and began climbing, if sluggishly. I kept the nose relatively low and climbed at a higher speed than normal, accepting a reduced climb rate. Surprisingly, the airplane handled well enough. I could tell it was heavy, though, and I was very gentle with it, especially when landing at Key West.

We had a fun day, although the overweight flight down and the one to come were on my mind. I didn’t request additional fuel before departing around dusk for the flight home. By the time we got back, most of the fuel had burned off, so the airplane was responding more normally. The landing was uneventful and the airplane could be flown again without a problem.

At the time, I congratulated myself on the successful overweight operation. Looking back on it now, I am ashamed of that incident. I needlessly placed my passengers and myself at risk just to accept what basically had been a dare.

The peer pressure I was under made me make some bad decisions. I won’t let that happen again.

— Anonymous


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