Flying Journal - Getting Serious Again
Area ol' timers may remember long-time Ozarks radio personality, Bill Ring. Bill was fond of saying, "When
you're too busy to go fishin', you're too busy!" To paraphrase Bill, "When the high point of your flyin'
month is shopping for a plane, you must not be flyin' enough!"
Sad, but true. At least the airplane shopping last month involved actually flying some airplanes. For a while I was afraid the high point of my aviation month would be watching two crazy geese performing reckless nap-of-the-earth flying over the golf course and fields at South County Park in St. Louis.
I had just dropped Dianne off at a dog show in the ice arena building in the park. I started back to the motel to grade papers, when I was struck by the beauty of the spring morning scenery. The park is set on a hill and ridgeline, with verdant fields stretching down to the golf course winding through the bottomlands. I parked in the shade, lifted open the tailgate of the van, and sat in the shade grading papers, listening to the birds singing.
At least four times I was startled to see this same pair of madly honking geese fly by and down to swoop across the greens. At first I wasn't sure if they were fighting, or courting, or just showing off. They flew in a close wingman formation, like A-10s on attack runs.
I couldn't have been more amazed when maybe half an hour later, a mile or two farther north into town, sitting in the parking lot outside the Jack-in-the Box, I heard, then saw, the same two geese flying the same formation and behavior past the school across the highway.
It was an inspiring sight and I do believe it's sometimes good flight instruction to observe how the birds and the bees do it, but it would also have been sad if that were more fun last month than my own flying. Actually, I have been a little discouraged lately. I had that URI this winter that lasted for weeks. I thought I had 2 IFR students lined up to fly every week, but airplane issues and schedules and health and weather conspired to slow us down.
I also encountered a former student, in fact the oldest student I have yet taught to fly, but he had already quit flying after just a few years. I've heard pilots (or former pilots) say, "I got to where I wasn't flying enough to stay safe." For the first time in my flying career, I began to worry about that myself. I remembered Larry Harmon reminding us to "stay current and proficient."
No single incident, really. Mostly, I started feeling a little uneasy taxing across the under-construction airport at SGF. Only flying once every week or two for a while, the taxi pattern was different every time. Was I really so attached to the "way we used to do things?" One day we were requested to "hold short of Uniform" but we were on the east side and Uniform is on the west side. I guess, now that I think about it, 2-20 was only being used for taxiing, so I guess I could have held on the closed runway, but short of the taxiway on the other side. I'll bet the airlines love that long taxi as much as we GA-ers do.
Then a pilot and I were practicing landings at several local airports. Local radar seemed to be OTS at SGF. We THOUGHT the radio getting progressively scratchy was due to the intercom batteries getting low. Since we were expecting the intercom to fail, and we had easy fixes via hand-held mike, we were not too concerned. But that complacency, since we THOUGHT we knew the cause of the symptoms, led us to NOT realize the alternator had failed and the scratchiness, aside from the condition of the intercom, was a result of the airplane battery going dead. While not a bona fide emergency in CAVU conditions, we almost didn't get the bird back into Class C airspace to home base and local repairs.
Then we realized the hand-held transceiver hadn't been charged in a while, either. Kind of starts to sound like one of those "chains of events." As soon as I realized the problem, I turned off everything but one radio. The remaining radio brightened slightly and got us a clearance back to SGF. The battery was already too low to transmit the transponder on 7600, but SGF radar was out anyway and pilots had to report positions until "in sight."
The radio died completely as we taxied off the runway. Light signals backed up by cell phone got us back to our tie down. No big deal, just a little flying adventure, but either one or both of us should have picked up on the alternator failure. That could have been serious in IFR or really congested airspace. Anyway, just another unwelcome reminder that maybe I'm not quite as sharp as I'd like to be.
Fortunately this is easy to fix at this stage. I am current, but I'd like to be more proficient. Only a month more of school, then I hope to fly many hours this summer, and pursue additional training, either gyroplane instructor and/or ATP. That ought to whip me back into shape. I'm probably due for another primary student, too.
Meanwhile, it does often seem darkest just before the dawn. I finally got to have a great flying experience this month. It worked out that a long-time family friend had no practical way to transport herself to her brother's funeral in Bloomington, Indiana. It was a day I had no classes, so I offered to fly the plane if she'd buy the fuel. The airline connections were awful and over $500 for short notice. I found a plane to borrow. The weather cooperated. We arrived after the lunch rush and the friendly FBO let us use a courtesy car all afternoon. My friend and her relatives were so appreciative that it worked out. I'll bet most of them would have driven three hours to get her but they thought flying three hours was special.
It was an uneventful flight, quite smooth. Furthermore, it was one of those flights that will beat the airlines and most of all, it was for a good cause. Ah, yes, I absolutely MUST fly more, like I used to.
Stay current and proficient, and enjoy your flying!
[Copyright 2002 - Earl Holmer]