The problem with unanticipated emergencies is that when they happen it takes forever to identify them. Things like engine failure or blocked instrument probes are common enough among the bug smashing piston pilots that it’s something we consider every single flight, and preparing for those emergencies is the primary focus of initial flight training and instrument flight training. We pay lip service to other less common emergencies but their rarity doesn’t detract from their lethality. During one trip to Florida one of the rarer in-flight emergencies threatened to end my flying career, but thanks to a small piece of aluminum I lived to see another day.
In the two years that I’ve been flying there have already been a number of moments that I will never forget. From my first solo lap around the traffic pattern to my first time flying an airplane through the clouds my adventures in aviation have included some amazing experiences that make all the hard work (and hard earned money flushed straight out the tailpipe) worth it. That said, there’s one flight that I took this year which will probably always remain my favorite flight of all time, and the story starts three weeks prior in the beginning of August 2015.
Yesterday I posted an article about losing my radios shortly after takeoff from Provincetown airport. The little bit of troubleshooting I did in the air led me to think that I might be dealing with a moisture problem, which would be consistent with some of the other problems I had found on the plane. I had been having some issues with the intercom picking up noise from the rotating beacon and the mechanic back in San Antonio believed this might be due to a grounding issue with the electrics. I thought the radio issue might be related. Now that the rain has stopped I went back to have a peek and pretty much confirmed my suspicions.
A few weeks ago I took and passed the practical exam for my instrument airplane rating and I have been putting it to good use ever since. One of the more complicated things about the instrument rating are the emergency procedures while in instrument conditions, and especially the lost communications procedures. That’s where I had some trouble during training, but with a little studying I eventually figured it out and aced that section of my oral exam. Little did I know I’d soon be needing to use that knowledge in a real life situation less than a month later.
When I did my initial EMT training (basic) I always had the goal in mind that one day I would move to the next level and do my paramedic training. Basic EMT stuff is cool, but there are very few drugs they let you touch. Being a newly minted private pilot is basically the same thing — you can go fly around, but the limitations of that certificate make it impossible to do many of the cool cross country flights that you’d want to take. With my EMT training, I figured there would be time for that P later and working as an EMT-B would be rewarding enough in the meantime. I never made it, and I was determined that I wouldn’t let my flying career take the same path. So as soon as I had paid off my private pilot debts I signed up for a Part 141 instrument school, and six months later I took and passed my check ride.
When I went for my private pilot checkride, the right seat was occupied by a DPE named Jim Higgs. While a checkride should be a time for the student to prove his competency and show off his nascent skills I still learned things on my checkride. While taxiing back to the ramp afterwards Mr. Higgs admonished me that as a new pilot I should be always ready to cancel my plans if things weren’t going well. He suggested a three strike rule — if more than three things go wrong, cancel the flight and fly another day. Jim Higgs passed away last week (circumstances unrelated to aviation), but his words were ringing loud and clear in my ears this past weekend.
For the last couple weeks I’ve been prepping for a flight around Cape Cod. This would be my first chance to take my parents flying since getting my Private Pilot certificate, and I was really looking forward to showing off what I had learned by giving them a view of the Cape that they had never seen before. Everything was set — the airplane was rented, the weather looked good, and the passengers were willing — but something happened that I’d never experienced before. I had to reject the takeoff.
My parents are aging hippies looking to retire. So naturally, they have gravitated towards Wellfleet, Massachusetts. They bought a house up there with the plan to eventually move in and live out the remainder of their days among other Grateful Dead fans, and in a few days I will be heading up to join them for Father’s Day weekend. ever since I passed my OpenAirplane check ride I’ve been using every opportunity to fly in new and interesting places, and with any luck this weekend will be no different . . .
When you’re in a car, if you forgot something you can always pull over and figure it out. When you’re in an airplane, you’ve got what you’ve got. That gear becomes even more important when things go wrong in the air and you need a backup or a way to troubleshoot the issue. Part of the challenge of flying is making sure that you have all the gear you need for your flight when you leave the house, and to make sure that it includes some good emergency equipment as well as your normal flying gear. Over the last year I’ve put together a pretty nice flight bag for personal flying in Texas, and I figured it would be a good idea to open it up and show what’s inside.
As soon as I left flight school and started renting airplanes on my own, I realized that there was a gaping hole in my basic pilot skills. I could do steep turns and turns around a point without breaking a sweat, but there was one skill that is neither tested on the private pilot practical exam nor is it on the curriculum for many flight schools. It’s a skill so essential in the real world that you will do it every time you go flying. The skill: refueling the airplane. I actually had to look it up online to see how it was done before renting an airplane, and the lack of good resources was a little disturbing. So as an effort to “pay it forward,” here’s the quick and dirty how-to for topping the tanks.