By Paul Engstrom, Aviation Writer and IFA Member
pilot's surprise when, upon landing unexpectedly in a Nebraska
cornfield shortly after refueling and taking off with the fuel
selector on 'left,' he discovered that the left tank of his Bellanca
BL-17-30A was bone-dry.
Yes, he had asked
the lineman to top off both tanks. But had he double-checked before
departure to make sure they were full?
As this August
2002 report from the National Transportation Safety Board illustrates,
it's darn tempting to assume important things will get done, both
before and after liftoff, and that the status quo will prevail.
But you shouldn't
bet your life on it.
and one preflight tasks make the temptation even greater. As the
nuisances stack up, your complacency builds. Maybe you cut corners on
the preflight. Or assume the weather at your destination will be fine.
A private pilot
with 250 hours probably assumed the best when, in July 2002, he
accepted another aviator's offer to fly them from Farmingdale, N.Y.,
to Providence, R.I. Only after the Piper PA'28-161 skidded off the
runway at Providence during a crosswind landing and came to a
noninjurious halt did the private pilot learn that the PIC actually
was a student pilot with only 60 hours, not a licensed pilot, and that
his endorsements to fly solo and cross-country had expired.
We assume our
flying buddies are competent'and, at the very least, legal. But are
A third pilot
recalls the day he flew into a local airport, without a briefing, like
he had done at least 100 times before. Much to his surprise, however,
the airport was in special use airspace at the time, as a NOTAM
warned, because performers were preparing for an upcoming airshow.
incident,' the pilot said, according to NASA's Aviation Reporting
System, 'I learned never to take anything for granted in flying.'
It's safe to relax my scan'flight following has me on radar.
If there's a potential conflict with another aircraft, ATC will
Other pilots in the pattern are following ATC's instructions.
Other pilots flying near this nontowered airport are where they say
I must be the only one in the pattern. No one else is talking on the
The wind at Podunk Airport always blows from the north. No need to
check the windsock before I land today.
Surely the FBO will be open when I land for fuel.
As always, ATC will tell me to enter left downwind.
It's a clear day, so all other pilots can see my aircraft.
I've been an aviator for 20 years. There isn't much I don't know
It all boils down
to complacency, a real killer among general aviation pilots. You
simply can't assume your tanks were filled (or filled with the right
kind of fuel) any more than you can assume all pilots play by the
rules all the time.
Indeed, the most
important rule may be this one: 'Never assume anything.'
When he isn't
flying, Paul Engstrom writes and edits from Sebastopol, Calif.