May/June 2002 Base To Final

Base To Final
by David R. Aldridge, Editor

I finished the Commercial rating not long ago, and CFI immediately came into view as the next target to be acquired. A brief read through the materials to prep the brain seemed in order, and I was about half way through when I met a guy we’ll call Bill.

I was sitting in the cockpit of a Cessna 182-S, reviewing the systems I’d not had the energy to fully dive into before completing the Commercial. I wanted to know a lot more about GPS, the two axis auto pilot, the little things that make flying a new high performance aircraft easier and safer.

It was a warm sunny day, and I cranked the leather seats back into lounge mode to relax and enjoy some pleasure reading of manuals. Soon enough, I feel asleep with a pen in my mouth, looking like bum on a bench.

Bill came up at some point, tapped on the window, and I propped up. He’d rented the plane for a few hours, so I had to vacate my bench. We talked for a while, and he seemed very interested in sharing information about the plane, which he hadn’t flown in a while.

He seemed a little unsure of himself, but I figured maybe he was just rusty with the 182. He finally asked if I felt like sharing an hour and do some local touch and goes. It seemed like a good opportunity to get time, CRM and overall brush-up, so I agreed.

Meanwhile, my little voice was mumbling something about this guy not seeming to sure of himself…

I watched Bill do the preflight without a checklist. He did more of a cursory review than a thorough look-see, and the little voice mumbled slightly louder. I walked to my van to get my headset, and the little voice barked. “This guy is NOT sure of himself. Do NOT get in that plane with him…”. But, I wanted to fly that day, wanted to save money, wanted to make something of the day…

Once inside the cockpit, Bill’s unsuredness increased. He even apologized at one point, saying that being with other pilots often made him nervous because he felt like he was being judged and critiqued. I lied through my teeth and said I was not doing that at all. I told him (a half truth) that I was thinking about the almost full moon and wondering about a girl I wanted to take flying at night. The little voice began to grumble.

His start-up, taxi, radio communications and run up were all pretty lame. He barely glanced at his checklist, just kind of moved through things. We were cleared for take-off, and the little voice reminded me that I was, indeed, an idiot.

The rest happened quickly. No checklist review of leveling off to land over at Oxnard, low and slow approaching the runway, sloppy radio work, a confused response followed by an abrupt 45 degree nose high, uncoordinated turn out of the pattern with a fully deflected ball.

I had not seen the ground from such an unusual angle before at such a low altitude. I was sure this was it.

Bill leveled off and I calmly said, “That scared me.” He knew the flight was over at that point, so we returned to Camarillo. On the ground, I pointed out everything I’d noted, since he did in fact ask for a critique of his flying. But, I didn’t read him the riot act, because he was riding his motorcycle that day. I could just see an upset pilot running a red light…

The lessons for us both were many.

Little voices are rarely wrong. I won’t tune mine out again. Maybe I could have handled the plane had the situation escalated, maybe not. I should never have let it get that far in the first place.

The FBI recently acknowledged not listening to a few little voices of their own. There are lessons lurking everywhere…