Two Chairs, No Flying

Crucial tasks get missed when two partners fly together


Since purchasing our plane, my partner and I have been doing a great deal of flying together. We live in Minnesota, which means that for a significant part of the year, the days are very short. As a consequence, this winter we did a lot of night flying.

On one of our first trips – Minneapolis to Ely, Minn., on a lovely clear winter night – my non-instrument rated partner was at the controls. As we approached Ely from the southeast, we realized that we would be a bit high for the approach. Since we had the place to ourselves, we decided to simply execute a right 360-degree standard-rate turn to give him time to descend to a more comfortable altitude.

As we turned away from the airport, we were looking out over a 4 million-acre wilderness area. My partner had only the simulated instrument time required for his private pilot license and was ill-prepared for the loss of the visual horizon.

I am not an instructor and we had never discussed who would be in charge in the case of a problem. Suffice it to say that the experience made a big impression on both of us.

About a month later, we were on a trip from Lawrence, Kan., to Colorado Springs with me at the controls. Our flight originated late in the afternoon. After watching a beautiful sunset, we were prepared to complete the last 45 minutes of our flight in the dark.

Again, it was a clear night, but we were unfamiliar with the area and were concerned about terrain. We had filed and were flying on an instrument flight plan. When the controller called the field at 1:30 and 12 miles, we could easily see the beacon. I then began a visual approach for the field.

When we were handed off to the tower, I told the controller that I was having a hard time seeing the runway lights but was told the lights were on full intensity. A moment later, the controller indicated that we were below the minimum vectoring altitude, five miles off course and headed for terrain, and inside restricted air space. He advised an immediate climb and a left turn to a heading of 030 degrees.

It turned out that the beacon that we had seen was Butts Air Force Base, seven miles southwest of the Colorado Springs airport. This one really shook me up. What is particularly frustrating is that we have two moving maps in the panel and that we had two pilots on board. There are a lot of things that we should have done to catch this mistake. Since then, we have been evaluating our procedures and have agreed to always fly the instruments until we have the runway environment clearly in sight and confirmed by the radios.


Seeing Made Me a Believer
Women drivers. Theyre not just on the road, but in the air, too! Aint it great?

There is a problem unique to women pilots that they need to know, though, and none of my four instructors ever discussed with me. I had to learn the hard way.

I was scheduled to fly on a typical Minnesota summer afternoon: warm, sunny and humid. I changed before I left the office – hair in ponytail, skirt to shorts, heels to sneakers – so I could drive directly to the airport for my lesson. I didnt want to be late. I would be training with a new instructor and wanted to make the best possible impression.

My last instructor had dumped me (she said her schedule was just too busy), and I didnt want this new one to turn me away.

After the introductions and preflight, we took off in the 152 to review my level of proficiency at various maneuvers. I was glad I wore shorts – it was hot in there! But I did fine, and my new instructor felt he understood where I was in my training.

We turned to enter the downwind for runway 11 at the proper 45-degree angle and were slammed with the setting sun, right in our eyes. The airplanes visors were too short, and my sunglasses were little protection against the assault. My instructor commented that its all part of being a pilot – sometimes you have to fly right into the sun.

In addition to the sweat on my face, my eyes began to water. As my eyes watered, my water-proof eye make-up began to run. It burned my eyes terribly, making them water more, and wiping or rubbing them only made it worse.

The only thing I could do was squeeze my eyes shut to make the intense pain subside. So there I was, on downwind and totally blind. For what seemed like an hour I could see nothing at all; my eyes were completely inoperative. This had the potential for a full-on disaster.

I had to hand over the controls to my passenger, who fortunately was my flight instructor. He landed the plane uneventfully. My eyes were still watering profusely, my head ached and my face looked like a comic who got too close to the exploding dynamite as I stumbled from the airplane, contemplating how I would look or feel if I had been flying alone. I am forever thankful there was a competent person in the right seat to take over the plane while I suffered this emergency.

I will never, ever wear make-up again when I fly. Its a liability that could cost much more than my vanity is worth. And to be honest, my hair also looks pretty bad after flying, anyhow.


In Deep Doo-Doo Without Howdy Doody
I recently had an experience that has forced me to make a firm commitment to adhere to the strict guidelines that my CFI had given me in regards to flight planning and cross country flying.

He was always so particular and such a stickler for details, I had nicknamed him Howdy because he was such a Howdy Doody Boy Scout when it came to everything.

I recently took a cross country flight with three friends from Ft. Lauderdale Executive to Key West International for a day of sightseeing and shopping. I wanted to leave for Key West early so that we could get the most of the day and instructed my friends to be at my house no later than 8:00 a.m. Naturally, they all showed up late, tired from being out all night the night before, and generally not motivated to move very fast.

Rather than do my flight planning and obtain a weather briefing while waiting for my friends to show up (a mistake), I had planned to do it once I got to the airport. My instructor had always told me that no matter how routine the cross country flight or how familiar the route, I should always do a flight plan to set up check points, fuel consumption, time enroute and time between check points. When I got to FXE, I felt so pushed for time I decided that since all I was doing was flying along the coast and over the Keys for a 1.3 hour flight I really didnt need to plan a course or calculate fuel consumption. I got a standard weather briefing, did my preflight, loaded the passengers and was off to Key West for what was left of the day of fun and sun.

The flight down to Key West went somewhat smoothly, but since I did not sit down and do my flight planning, I did not have all of the different radio frequencies written down and didnt have a list of ground reference checkpoints with calculated times between, so I was a little nervous at times trying to locate exactly where I was and what my next radio frequency was going to be. Plus I had the distraction of having three passengers in the plane.

If I would have done the flight plan, I would have known exactly where I was at all times, known what my next hand-off frequency was going to be, and generally been more relaxed with the flight. We landed at Key West, took a taxi into town and had a very fun day.

When we decided to leave, it was kind of rushed. Rounding the passengers up, getting a cab to the airport, listening to them complain about leaving so early, paying the cab driver, paying the tie down fees, running short on time, and figuring that since I didnt do a flight plan down to Key West I didnt need to do a flight plan back (slow learner), all led me to forget one very important thing – I didnt check the weather.

We left out of Key West and due to heavy traffic, radio contact was terminated shortly after exiting the pattern. As we flew up the Keys, the clouds were getting thicker and lower and I was having to continually decrease altitude to maintain VFR minimums. We flew up past Marathon, but since I was not clear exactly where I was and distracted by maintaining cloud clearances, I flew right into the airport traffic area before dialing in the Unicom frequency to check for traffic and let others know Id be passing through.

This event, combined with the increasingly bad weather, and the stress of having Howdy on my shoulder giving me I told you sos was definitely raising the stress level.

I finally got to within range of calling Miami Approach to ask for flight following, but since I did not plan the radio frequencies in advance, I actually called Ft. Lauderdale International approach instead. I was eventually handed off to Ft. Lauderdale International and then to Ft. Lauderdale Executive.

By the time I was in contact with FXE, I was so bent on getting on the ground that I did not check the ATIS and did not pay much attention to the information the tower gave me other than the altimeter setting and the runway I was instructed to land on.

I was instructed to enter a right downwind for runway 8 and report midfield. When I reported, I was told that I was number 3 following a twin on the opposite downwind. My downwind was extended a bit for traffic but, because I didnt pay attention to the towers information on wind direction, I didnt realize that I was being blown toward the final approach course for runway 8. I was watching for the twin on the opposite downwind and going through my prelanding checklist, and when I finally did do a scan, I discovered I was flying 100 feet directly over another aircraft that was on final approach.

Fortunately the other aircraft was watching me and descended to avoid the collision, but it really shook me up. The tower had me do a 180 and land following that aircraft. Although I feared that Howdy, the other aircraft pilot, and the controller would be there to chew me out when I tied down, nobody was there and nothing was ever said.

Looking back on that day, I see that I ignored just about everything that Howdy had taught me from flight planning and cockpit management to traffic pattern flying and ATC communication. Before, it seemed like retentive over-planning, but I will never skip it again.


Absolutely, Positively Gotta Fly
Get-home-itis is not the only itis to be concerned with; I-gotta-fly-itis can be just as dangerous.

I earned my Private certificate for single engine land and gliders when I was 21, but two years later I was well on my way to raising a family and had to hang my flying desires in the closet. Thirty five years later, at a ripe age of 56, I decided to start flying again from scratch. I took the full course again and today Im glad I did. I never lost the ability to fly and land the aircraft, but I sure learned a lot of new regulations, navigation, weather, and safety. A lot has changed since my training in the early 60s.

Currently I have logged a little over 200 VFR hours and am one of the multitude of GA pilots who are financially limited. That means I can only log about four hours a month, which sets the stage for the I-got-to-fly-itis whenever the weather is VFR and a rental airplane is available.

I am a stickler for performing the pre-flight to the letter and I take no short cuts from start-to-finish on all my flights; however, on this one occasion I neglected fatigue.

I earn my living designing control systems for automation machines and includes the programming of their controllers. This mentally demanding job usually stays active in the mind beyond normal working hours.

One day I woke up about 4:30 a.m. and could not go back to sleep, so I decided to get up and go to work. By 5:15 I was on my 40-minute drive to work. I saw a clear star-lit sky. Ah-ha! A perfect day for flying.

Once I got to work, I accessed DUATS for a weather briefing and confirmed my earlier conclusion that it would be a perfect day for VFR flying. I gotta fly today set in and I anxiously waited for the FBO to open so that I could schedule a 172 for around 3 p.m. That would give me 8 hours at work.

As luck would have it, the first 172 became available at 5:30, and a last minute meeting kept me at work until 5:15.

By the time I started my pre-flight, I was physically and mentally exhausted. A small voice nagged me that I was too tired from my 14-hour day and that another opportunity would present itself soon. But the I-gotta-fly seed was planted and had grown too strong to nip in the bud.

I completed my preflight, taxied, took off and was soon cruising to a nearby airport about 20 miles away. I relaxed and felt so thankful to be flying again.

When I was about 5 miles out from my destination, Departure cleared me to squawk 1200 and I tuned in the destination airports ASOS. The winds were 170 at 8, a straight headwind for runway 17.

I had flown into this field many times, and done many touch and goes on all runways; but most of the time the active runway is 13. I announced over Unicom my approach intentions, entered the pattern properly and reported all my positions. Cessna 123 turning downwind for 17, Cessna 123 turning base for 17, Cessna 123 turning final for 17, touch and go, and remaining in the pattern. There were three other aircraft in the traffic pattern, which kept my attention on looking for traffic more than on my approach pattern. I turned final, and still had not spotted the other planes. I soon discovered why. To my surprise I was on final to runway 13.

Fortunately the spacing between the other traffic was far enough that no one was endangered by my blunder. In fact I dont think the other pilots had even spotted me and probably were not aware of my approach until I announced my mistake and my intentions on how I was going to join the proper pattern.

Maybe my age contributed to this blunder, but I think it was fatigue, I was just too relaxed, mentally tired, over-confident, happy to be flying, and repeating a maneuver that I had performed many times before. I simply neglected to be alert on all phases of what I was doing.

Dont let I-gotta-fly-itis overrule the basics for a safe flight – and that includes preflight, minor aircraft problems, weather, passenger pressure, rental fines, pride, and physical well-being.


Hay, What Now?
I eagerly preflighted one of the flight schools Cessna 172s. I had wanted to make this flight from South Florida to Tom Reilys Warbird Museum and Restoration Center in Kissimmee, Fla., several times, but the weather always had other ideas. But now it looked like I was finally going to get the chance to go. I filed a VFR flight plan and we climbed to our cruising altitude of 2,500 feet, just below the broken layer at 3,000 feet, and proceeded past the first two checkpoints without any problems.

We were making good progress, hitting our ETAs for the first two checkpoints within one or two minutes. But as we neared the third checkpoint at about noon the engine suddenly lost almost all power. It took a moment or two for the situation to sink in, but then I set to work troubleshooting the problem.

During this time the engine continued to lose power and finally backfired at least two times in fairly rapid succession. By this time we had descended to approximately 1,500 feet and it became clear that we were going to have a forced landing.

I told my passenger to tell me if she saw any large fields on her side of the aircraft while I was scanning mine. Floridas Turnpike, on my side, was quite busy, so I really never thought about landing there. On the other side of the Turnpike was what appeared to be orange groves and wooded areas – no good for keeping airplanes or passengers unbent.

My friend said she saw a large field and I immediately turned for it. I recalled hearing my Instructor say that brown fields are good because they usually mean dry land. Green fields, on the other hand, can be dry or soft or swamp. This one was definitely brown.

I dialed-up 121.5 on the radio and issued the Mayday distress call. A Delta Airlines flight answered immediately, asking us to repeat the transmission, which I did a bit louder, and a bit slower the second time. I dont know why I switched to 121.5, as I had been monitoring the Miami Center frequency and probably could have called-in the Mayday on that frequency.

We had descended to about 1,200 when the engine stopped coughing and windmilling, and the prop came to a complete stop. In order to remain near the field in which I intended to land, I had to turn away from it while descending and put the nose into the strong winds. During the turn I noticed that my airspeed had slowed to less than 58 knots (7 knots slower than the best glide speed).

This brought up thoughts of the engine failure and stall on take-off that had killed my instructor and two others at North County Airport the previous year, and I distinctly remember thinking you will NOT stall this airplane!

I pushed the yoke forward and completed most of the remaining checklist items. When I told my passenger to pop her door she stared at me and said What? I didnt have time to explain, so I just repeated the command as I popped mine. Seeing me open mine must have convinced her that I wasnt going to push her out, and she complied.

As we neared touchdown I tried very hard to slow us as much as I could – landing directly into the wind and keeping the nosewheel high as long as possible. Unfortunately, I did not anticipate how deep the grass was (actually 5′ tall hay!) and as we flew through it, it slowed us rapidly – dropping us the last few feet. This was the only bumpy part of the landing, and we even touched down on the main gear first. We rolled to a stop in about 75 feet, due to the extra drag from the hay.

I made sure both of us were fine, and then called the Delta flight that had answered my Mayday call, to tell him we were OK, and that the plane was in one piece and upright. I attempted to describe my position again, and he said hed relay the information to St. Petersburg FSS.

Unsure of the aircrafts condition and wary of the tall grass, I shut everything off and we both exited the plane. I took a moment to look at the landing gear, which appeared just fine, and then stamped-down the grass under the cowl to keep it away from the exhaust and to take a look at the underside of the airplane. There was no visible sign of oil streaks on the cowl, and the dipstick showed the same level as during the preflight, after I had added one quart. In fact, the airplane appeared to be without a scratch.

Looking in all directions we saw nothing but 5′ tall hay and trees. No buildings, roads or people anywhere, but we could hear traffic on the Turnpike and Rt. 60. We figured we were probably a mile or two from the nearest real roads and that the best course of action was to stay with the plane.

After about 10 minutes, I figured there was no danger of a fire, so I re-entered the plane and switched on the BAT side of the Master switch, and powered up one radio to see if rescue personnel were trying to contact us. I soon heard from a northbound aircraft, call sign Elite 348 and gave him our lat./long. from the sectional chart. Unfortunately, I made an error of 10 minutes in longitude that became clear later. After another 10 or 15 minutes an Air Force C-130, call sign Vader 43 called us. He was orbiting at the coordinates we had given, but we did not see him initially (due to my error). We soon spotted him to our east-southeast, and vectored him over us using the radio and he was able to provide GPS co-ordinates and radio assistance to the Sheriff and Fire Rescue personnel on the ground, who located us about 10 minutes later.

I was later told that the aircrafts magnetos had both been worked on the previous day and an incorrect condenser was installed on both. As a result, the points in both magnetos melted at nearly the same time.

Things that I learned from the experience:

Even though the clouds and a lack of an instrument rating prevented me from climbing much higher, I sure could have used the extra time to try to solve the problem prior to setting it down in a field. I also realize that additional practice emergency landings might have made getting through the checklist a less time-consuming process. It seemed as though my brain was sluggish for a good portion of the whole event; at least until I needed to only concentrate on the actual approach and landing. I have been second-guessing myself since the event over what I did and did not do.

One of the items they dont really put in any Pilot Operating Handbook or teach in any ground school is what to do after you put it down. I was worried about a possible fire after we touched down, so I switched everything off. There were obviously folks trying to contact us, because when I turned the radio back on 10 minutes later, I heard my call sign. A hand-held transceiver would definitely have come in handy.

Another item to think about is what you bring with you. Keep in mind the terrain over which you are flying. If you have to set it down it might be a while before someone can get to you. You might even have to walk out through scrub brush or woods, so it seems prudent to be wearing good footwear, and long pants.

A few items I didnt necessarily need, but might start bringing with me would be some water to drink and a mirror to signal planes.

Lastly, whenever you need to give your position to airborne rescue personnel, be sure to reference local radio navigation aids. I tried to describe my location relative to virtually non-existent towns, rather than simply saying I was 25 miles out on the 270 radial from Vero Beach.

I have come to the conclusion that given the total amount of time I had to react, it was good that I just made a decision to land and saw it through. Better that, than to have been distracted while attempting to remedy the situation and failed to fly the airplane.


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