Tales from an FAA Inspector
And All I Wanted To Do Was Go Have Breakfast!
by Al Peyus
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News
I got the call at 8 a.m. this morning. My friends
were getting ready to head over to the advertised pancake breakfast at the
airport that is about 100 nautical miles away from me. They were only 25 miles
from the airport and decided to drive over because it was so close. They said it
was clear, sunny; cool (temperatures currently in the high 40's and going into
the low 50's for a high), and that I should hurry and get over there because it
was such a beautiful day and lots of people were expected!
Now I am really excited and
pumped to get there! We have been talking about this little fly-in for most of
the last two weeks. The local weather has been full of nasty wind and rain for
the past three weeks and we really were looking forward to getting back into the
sky! I hadn't had a chance to fly in over two months!
I grabbed my flight bag, coat,
hat, and money and headed for the front door. Reality hit as I opened the front
door and started outside. FOG! I could barely see the end of my driveway! This
is a real bummer! After a few minutes of grumbling, complaining, and moaning, I
decided that I really should start looking at what it was I was intending to do
and how. Was grabbing my flight gear the proper way to do all that was required
for a preflight? So, back to square one!
How many of us have started to
head to, or even arrived at the airport, with the intent to fly because it was
what you had wanted and planned to do for quite a while and at the same time
thinking about that fun fly-in everyone has been talking about? It is so easy to
do. Your friends call and tell you the weather is great there and the fun is
about to start and that you had better hurry over because there was little room
left to park airplanes. Off we go, grabbing the gear and heading for the airport
all the while thinking about and looking forward to the great trip and all the
fun to be had as soon as we arrive!
If we are unlucky, we make it
out our front door and start toward the airport. If we are really unlucky, we
made it through take off and a few miles into the flight before the weather
shows its ugly face or we realize we have left out a very important part of the
preflight: charts, approach plates, airport information, etc.
So where did I go wrong this
My eagerness to get to a
location that has been discussed for a while and to do something I would really
like to do had clouded my judgment. To further exacerbate the problem were
friends who called and told me that the fun was about to begin, the weather was
great (at their location!), and why wasn't I there with them yet? The excitement
of the planned trip, the notice of clear and perfect weather, and the draw of
friends telling me to hurry over so that I would not miss a second of the fun
can start us down a path that I would normally never travel! Peer pressure is a
powerful drug that has hard implications even long after I have left my teenage
years behind me!
Let me start from the
beginning and see if I can point out what did happen versus what should have
Just because my friends were
75 miles away and were in beautiful weather does not mean that my weather for
departure was going to be the same! My eagerness to get to the pancake breakfast
was driving the urge and desire to get there! It was also blocking the normal
patterns I would follow before I finally decide to go to the airport to check
out the airplane. So, what did I do wrong?
To start with, taking someone
else's weather description for MY weather was not good. Even going as far as
starting to gather my flight gear without further looking into the flight was a
gross error in judgment! And I know better! Never allow eagerness of others or
the desire for a planned engagement take over when training and experience is
My first step should have been
to check in with a weather briefer! What was the weather at least at my
departure, destination, and possible alternate airports? What about en route
weather? While I was at it, what about special use airspace? Were Temporary
Flight Restrictions (TFR's) being placed between my destination and me? If so,
how long, what areas, and what altitudes where they?
Now that I know the weather,
what about me? Was I fit to fly? Have I checked my own personal limitations? Was
I within what I had programmed as my own limits for flight? Was I rested enough
to head off for a long day that was going to include friends, eating, and having
fun before I was going to head back to home? The FAA has a great little pamphlet
that helps pilots to set personal limitations to keep them from going off into
the wild blue yonder stretching their own limitations and experience. It is
called 'Personal Minimums Checklist' and can be found at
http://www.faa.gov/education_research/training/fits/guidance along with
'Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide.' We all should be using them!
Not only should I have checked
my personal limitations, but what about me? Was I taking any prescribed
medication that would affect my flying skills and judgment? What about the 'over
the counter' medication for the allergies I keep fighting? Are any of them going
to interfere with me on this flight? Will the sinuses cause a problem with my
equilibrium that would invite some unplanned excitement along the way?
The weather calls for
Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) for the first portion of the flight to the
breakfast. The destination is forecast to have near perfect weather until around
1400 hours local. Then there is the possibility of scattered thunderstorms
coming in with rain, hail, and lightening! Now that made me sit up and take
notice. I had forgotten what autumn weather could be like. This is my first
flight after the 'official' run on summer! Am I ready for a day of potential
hard IFR flying after a day of eating and partying? When was the last time I
flew IFR? When was the last time I was with an instructor to check my IFR
skills? Does this all meet with the personal limitations I have set for myself?
Before I even consider taking
off, am I current to fly IFR? It has been two months since my last Visual Flight
Rules (VFR) flight, but what about IFR? While looking at the weather again I
begin to ask myself is that really enough to make me safe to handle this flight?
I know it makes me legal and 'current' but does it make me competent?
Although the flight is going
to be about one hour for each way, and I can carry a full tank of gas, what if I
need to divert because of the thunderstorms? First I need to understand where
the storms are going, how fast, and how severe. Is there a way I can fly around
them if necessary? How long will that take? Where will that take me? If I have
to set down at an alternate, will there be fuel available and someone to pump
Well, since I am only going to
be in the weather at take off for the first 1,500 feet and then clear all the
way to the destination I feel good about that part. The flight home might have
Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) only on the en route portion so that
also seems doable to me right now. And, more importantly, it falls into the safe
area of my personal limitations! So far so good! So, what else do I need to
Oh, yeah! The airplane has
limitations also! There are several items I need to check on it to make sure it
is safe, current, and legal to fly VFR and IFR! Let me check the VFR stuff
first. It's airworthy. The latest maintenance (the annual) was accomplished last
month. That took two weeks that kept me from flying for part of the past two
months! The ELT battery was replaced just before summer started so that is good.
The radios work great and the navigation, although old fashioned, still does the
job. So, VFR I am OK.
For IFR, what else do I need
to make sure is checked? That's right! The pitot-static system, the altimeter,
air speed indicator, and vertical velocity system need to be checked by
maintenance. Yep! That was signed off last year during the aircraft's annual and
is good for one more year! So, what about the aircraft's VOR? When was the last
time I checked the VOR accuracy? Well, thankfully there is a VOT checkpoint on
the field I can use at my home airport before I head for the departure runway! I
will make a mental note to do so and log it in the VOR folder I keep in the
That takes me down to my
charts, and approach plates. Are they current and do I have all that I need for
the flight? Let's see. I need departure and approach plates for both my
departure and arrival airports and at least one other alternate airport. Do I
have those and are they current? What information is on the plates that tell me
if there are special actions required to either land or takeoff from any of
them? Do I need to plan on a special climb gradient or are there obstacles I
need to be aware of? I had better take a closer look at each plate for each
airport just to make sure because right now I have no idea what one I will be
I guess I am ready to head to
the airport now. I have all my gear. The weather briefing is complete. I have
checked every thing against my personal minimums and limitations and am still
good to go. I know what inspections have been accomplished on my airplane and
what is needed for the IFR portions of the flight. My flight bag has all the
necessary VFR and IFR navigation departure, approach, and en route plates, and
charts needed for today. And I have had the good sense to tell my wife when I am
to depart, where I was going, and when I was planning to return. I think I have
the 'myself' covered! Now I am off to the airport to check out the airplane and
make sure what I think I know is correct!
After my preflight inspection
I called the weather briefer one last time to make sure there have been no
changes. Not only changes in weather but airspace use and those pesky TFR's. No
changes! That's great! My tanks are filled with the proper grade of aviation
fuel (no one snuck in Jet-A or tried to put auto fuel in the tanks) and the sump
drains were properly checked. One last stop to the restroom and I am ready to
head off to a great pancake breakfast!
And to think that things
almost started off on the wrong foot. I came close to getting myself into a
situation that I would not have appreciated. It all started because my friends
and I have been talking about and planning to attend this fly-in for almost a
full month. We were excited it was coming around and were ready for it! At least
I thought so. It was hard to stop and think like a professional pilot when the
friends called and stated telling me how great the weather was and how fantastic
things were looking for the breakfast. Just the incentives I needed to jump the
gun and start off on a trip that would have been very ill planned and prepared!
I could have gotten into the airplane without the IFR plates and charts, or
flown off with little regard to the airplane's required checks for IFR flight.
In the middle of scattered thunderstorms is not the place to find out the
altimeter, airspeed indicator, and/or vertical velocity system was not up to the
There is no record or
historical data to show us how many flights that ended in unfavorable situations
have started this way. But we can only surmise some have! So what can we do to
stop it from happening to us? Our best opportunity lies in our bag of tricks
that include training, expertise, common sense, and a professional attitude
toward all flights. We need to be able to have the professional ability to set
aside the prodding and urging of friends and associates trying to get us rushing
off to the airplane. We know what must be accomplished and in what order. We
have been trained to make everything we do in aviation in a correct, proper, and
methodical process when preparing for and initiating a flight.
We must always be ready to
check the 'myself' with our own identified personal limitations and
restrictions. We also need to check the weather, the airport(s), and the
aircraft, and plan the needed fuel before each flight. If the weather conditions
are beyond what we have set for ourselves, why push it? If the weather is beyond
what we have become comfortable with, why fly into it? If the aircraft is even
one second out of any required inspection or check, why fly it? If our approach
plates or navigation charts are out of date by even one day, how can we safely
use them? Although the fuel has grown to be a very expensive item, why would we
limit it and place ourselves in a position to have to fly more direct then we
Yet every year, several pilots
do just that and end up being statistics for the rest of us to try and learn by.
How can we stop this from happening to us? We must rely upon all of our
instruction, experience, and mature judgment to try and mitigate the risk
hazards and not allow impetuous actions to lead us down a path we will not like.
Remember, there are at least four major items that need addressing before any
flight can be initiated: the pilot, the environment, the aircraft, and the
necessity of the flight!
Stop! Think! Plan! Consider!
Decide! And all this is accomplished before we get in the aircraft. We are all
professional pilots! We exhibit that professionalism by using our training,
experience, mature attitude, and all the tools at our disposal to plan fully and
properly each and every flight we make!
Al Peyus is an Aviation
Safety Inspector in Flight Standards' General Aviation and Commercial Division.