Cabin Distractions


Many years ago, as a new private pilot, I found myself dealing with a false sense of security and passenger distractions. It was a nice afternoon in southern California, and a couple of co-workers and I just finished work. They had never been in a small plane before, so we headed to Montgomery Field in San Diego. New paper license in hand, I preflighted the Cessna 172 and performed a weight and balance calculation.

The departure and flight up and down the coast was uneventful and very nice. After maybe an hour, we headed back to Montgomery Field, careful not to mistake what was then NAS Miramar for our destination. The landing on Runway 28 was fine and my friends seemed to enjoy themselves, maybe too much, because they wanted to see another takeoff and landing. We all kept talking about how fun the flight was while taxiing back to the runway’s departure end. Cleared for takeoff, here we go again for a quick trip in the pattern.

I rotated and expected the plane to climb out. After clearing ground effect, the plane failed to climb and came back down to the runway and touched down! I was in disbelief and continued the takeoff. No joy a second time and the plane came right back down to the runway again.

The end of the runway was approaching rapidly after my third attempt, so I finally decided to abort the takeoff. There was just enough room to do a skidding 90-degree turn off the runway onto a taxiway. After coming to a stop, I told my passengers that maybe we were finished flying for the day. With their eyes still wide open in panic and grasping onto whatever was nearby, they quickly agreed.

During my taxi of shame, I noticed the carb heat was still on. At that moment, I realized that I failed to perform a pre-takeoff checklist before our second takeoff. I later found out that the plane had a bad run-up after my flight due to a magneto malfunction. Attempting a takeoff with the carb heat on and one malfunctioning magneto was too much for the 172 with three adults on board.

I learned two valuable lessons that day that are now passed on to my students as a CFI. First, never allow a previous perfect flight give you a false sense of security. This can cause denial when reaction needs to be immediate upon any abnormality, like during takeoff.

Second, do not allow unnecessary cockpit distractions and conversations keep you from doing a pre-takeoff checklist. Even a quick second run-up at the hold short line would have discovered the bad magneto and stopped the takeoff.

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