Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Trip of Choices - Part 1

Every time you go to fly, you make a choice. The main choice is to go or not to go. From that is the depth of your preflight, what weather you're willing to go through and around, how much fuel you leave with, how thorough your walk around is. Each choice can have a different outcome and a chain of choices can unfortunately lead to an accident. This weekend was full of choices and hard ones had to be made to avoid such a fate.
Grandma's backyard

It was Labor Day weekend, and my grandmother is 87 years old living in a remote area of upper Michigan, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Many call it "gods country" and the name is quite fitting. The original plan was to leave Thursday night for lower Michigan, then continue on to your final destination KCMX, Houghton County Memorial Airport, the following morning. I should be used to the fact by now that most of my plans never turn out the way I expect.

Bob got called on a job and had to work, so I had to decide if I would delay my trip substantially or go without him. I spoke to my brother in lower Michigan who was driving to meet the rest of my family there and we thought it would be fun if I picked him up and we continued on together. It would be the great sibling trip. But that plan didn't work the way I hoped either.

Don't get between a man and his sandwich!
Luckily, Bob only had to work one day, so we waited to depart on Friday and the two of us would pick up Michael in my company Cessna. Weather looked OK minus a few pop up storms. We kept a close eye on them and headed to the airport and loaded up the plane mid afternoon. Once packed and checking the weather again, however, we saw many pop ups and lower cloud layers. We decided that without weather on board and me not being instrument current, it was safer to delay the trip one more day. We would depart in the morning.

The morning came and went. IFR prevailed and there was low visibility and clouds between us and my brother. It was all expected to burn off around 10AM and we ended up waiting until 11:30 when it eventually did. We were finally off!

I departed runway 5 out of Frederick and turned north towards our destination. I did two 360's to get above the clouds before the mountains and it was smooth sailing above the deck at 6,500 feet. Bob pulled out his sandwich to eat en route and Turbo slept peacefully with the backseat all to himself for now. The plane soon smelled like onions and puppy breath. 

A half hour into our flight an overcast cloud layer developed above me and I was sandwiched comfortably between the two. After awhile, though, they got closer and I soon couldn't make out the horizon as there was so much white around me. I was still in the clear, but wouldn't be for long. Not trusting the airplane instruments due to my recent flight on them, and not being instrument current, I knew I shouldn't let this go on for long. I preceded along a few minutes more and when the clouds didn't clear I informed center of my intentions. I carefully performed a course reversal and headed back towards the broken cloud layers and ultimately, back to Frederick.

I was pretty upset. I wasn't headed to grandma's due to my lack of currency. I was really looking
Happiness is a sleeping flying puppy
forward to sharing that flight with my brother and being PIC the whole time versus splitting responsibilities with Bob. It was my fault we weren't going. I was really hard on myself during the trip back and was a bit off my game when we got closer to Frederick. I vowed to get current and stay that way. I soon had to shake off my emotions and focus on the landing ahead.

The clouds were broken at about 4,000 feet and I was very high within 5 miles of the airport with another plane coming in for landing from the west. I informed FDK I'd be spiraling down and took a few spirals to get below the clouds and and to see the runway. I did this at a pretty high rate of decent and believe it upset Turbo's ears as he barked at us several times while landing and he had never done that before. I'll have to be more careful in the future.

Three planes were waiting while I was on final. "Just great!" I thought sarcastically. It's always good having an audience after the burst to my self esteem I had previously in the flight. It probably wasn't the prettiest approach but my landing was adequate and I was quickly off the runway and got clearance to taxi back to the north hangars. I taxied in, turned the plane around and let out a large exhale as I took the keys out of the ignition.

What would my next choice be? 


  1. Great job making the hard decision. That's the mark of a good pilot.

    All the NTSB reports I read seem to start with, "It looked a little dicey, but I continued..." It's nice to read your story which has a different decision at the critical moment.

  2. Colin is right on the money.

    YOU have to be the one to break the chain. Good choices made for a safe return. I'm sure you will be making that trip in the near future, IFR current and maybe Bob will share some of that sandwich.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Good call, even though it sucks to cancel. I've had to nix at least one trip last-minute this year due to weather and plenty of others in the past. Your motivation to get IFR current seems like the same motivation for me to get the damn IR. :)


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