Listen Up, Then React


My buddy in his Warrior and me in a rented Skyhawk met up somewhere over southeastern Virginia, on our way to a fly-in beach for the day. We both had people aboard our planes, eager to put their feet in the Atlantic Ocean and catch some rays before flying back home that night. We had worked out the timing, locations and plans days earlier, and so far, so good. We were in a very loose formation cruising south at roughly the same speed.

One big part of the plan was to stop in Elizabeth City, N.C., to refuel, mainly so we wouldn’t have to worry about it on the way home later that day, when we’d be tired and sandy. We both got the ATIS at Elizabeth City a few miles out. I was more concerned about winds than I was the Notam or remarks portion of the broadcast, so I didn’t “hear” the part about the airport closing in a few minutes for an air show. It would be shut down for a few hours, starting about the time we would be landing. Although my buddy told me over the frequency, and even the tower controller warned me that I’d be stranded for a few hours if I landed, I was on short final before it finally dawned on me what was going on. I told the tower thanks, but no thanks, added power and climbed out. We got fuel at nearby Manteo, and had a great day on the beach and flight home. But what was wrong with me that I couldn’t comprehend the ATIS and what my buddy was talking about?

There probably are a lot of multi-syllable words to describe my (lack of a) thought process in digesting news of the airport closure. One of them is fixation, in which I was so determined to stick to The Plan that I ignored facts that made it untenable. I “heard” the words, but didn’t grasp their impact. There also was some hubris, in that I was the high-time pilot among us and was spring-loaded to dismiss my buddy’s input.

But I learned valuable lessons from this episode. One, pay attention; there’s a reason a Notam or other comment is on the ATIS. Two, don’t allow your supposed greater skill to make you dismissive of another’s suggestions. Three, no plan survives contact with the “enemy.”

Learning Experience

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