Saturday, August 11, 2007

PIREP: Pilot Error

Looking back on my performance during my flights over 13 days, I decided it would be good to summarize some of the errors I made. They say you learn from your mistakes, but that's not quite true. I believe you can learn from your mistakes if you examine them. Hopefully, others can learn from my mistakes as well.

Have the charts and info you need at hand
I went to some trouble and expense to figure out what aviation publications I would need for this trip. In all, I spent close to $200 on sectional charts, Airport/Facility Directories, Instrument Approach Procedures and Low-Altitude Planning Charts for all the places I planned to fly. There were so many that I repurposed an old flight bag just for charts and publications. It weighed 18 pounds, which gave me an idea what airline pilots drag around in those big leather totes.

On the first day of the trip, after my brief stop in Santa Monica, I flew the first leg of Route 66. It was also the first time I flew out of state. As I cruised across the California desert and visualized my landing in Bullhead, AZ, I suddenly visualized the A/FD with the airport information in the 18 pound bag in the baggage compartment. If you are a pilot, you know the old mantra about the three things of no use to a pilot. Well, in addition to fuel in the truck, runway behind you, and sky above, I propose to add charts in the baggage compartment. The consequences were minor, since I had multiple other sources of information, from the sectional chart to the airport info in my Garmin 396. However, the A/FD is the complete and authoritative reference.

My pre-engine-start checklist includes "charts available," and I am usually very tood about it. However, I wasn't used to needing different charts every day. After this experience, I made a mental note to update my chart set each morning. I have to admit that once or twice more, due to plans changing during the day, I ended up needing a chart not in hand. Luckily, I had Lisa along later in the trip and she was able on one occasion to scramble over the seat and help me out.

Electrical equipment off before starting engine
This one was a blatant checklist failure on my part. It is clearly listed in the before starting engine checklist, which is one of the lists I use most faithfully. However, on starting one time later in the trip, the low voltage warning light came on. I looked down and saw that all the aircraft lighting was on from my pre-flight check. This puts undue strain on the charging system, but more importantly it highlights the importance of really looking at the items on the checklist, not just reciting them like a prayer of some kind.

Taking off from Evanston, WY (EVW)
The field elevation at EVW is 7130. I have to check but it was one of the highest, possibly the highest airport I visited. The runway is a good long 7300 feet and I knew that even at that elevation 96934 had more than adequate takeoff performance. When departing, I took the runway and applied full power. As always, I checked the instruments to insure I had good engine power. The prop was turning 2400 RPM as required and the MP was about 23 inches--lower than the 29 you look for at sea level but to be expected at this elevation. As I watched the airspeed indicator, it seemed to be coming up slowly. At sea level, it might have set off a mental warning to abort the takeoff, but I attributed it to the reduced power at 7000 feet combined with the reduced bite of the prop in the thin air.

I hadn't given myself an abort point but I was just starting to consider an abort when the plane decided it was ready to fly. The instant it cleared the ground, it leapt forward, as if it had been released from a mysterious pull. It took me a few moments to puzzle out that I was the mysterious pull. My feet had been resting on the brake pedals and surely riding the brakes. Luckily they don't have any affect once off the ground.

I learned very early in my pilot training to keep heels on the floor during takeoff exactly to prevent this. To my recollection I never, ever had a problem with it. During your takeoff, you want all the acceleration you can get, so the last thing you would ever want to do would be to accidentally ride the brakes.

Two lessons from this experience: choose an abort point, especially at an unfamiliar airport; and keep those heels on the floor.

Evanston again
Two goofs on one flight. A sure sign it was time for a break.

After taking off from Evanston, I had a good flight over to Salt Lake City. As I popped out of the canyon at the edge of the SLC Class Bravo, I was calling up SLC tower for assistance in the transition. After giving all the information for my request correctly, they came back and asked me to say again my position. According the controller, my transponder wasn't showing up on their radar. A quick look down at the transponder and I saw that it was still in standby mode. I quickly flipped it to the correct setting and all was fine.

Like most pilots, I have a "taking the runway" mnemonic. Mine is "lights," (landing lights and strobes on), "camera," (transponder to Altitude mode), "action." (mixture rich, prop full forward). I must have missed it this time.

Three in one day
Same flight, once last time.

My flight from Evanston terminated in a fuel stop at Lovelock, NV (LOL). It was the longest flight segment of the trip, possibly my life. Everything went quite smoothly. I was up at 10500, cruising along with my supplemental O2. As I approached LOL from the north, I got the weather and checked the runway info. Winds were variable at 5 and the runway was 1/19, more or less due north/south, with left traffic. I visualized entering the 45 for left traffic from the north, and then completing a normal pattern. Five miles out I made the required radio call on the airport frequency. I announced my intention to enter the left 45 for runway 19. As I arrived at the airport I announced I was on the left 45 for runway 19. Then I looked over at the runway threshold to my left. It was marked 19, when it "should" have been Runway 1. Oops. I did a quick mental calculation and realized I had reversed the directions in my head. I announced a corrected location as I entered the left downwind for Runway 1.

That was the last error of the trip, at least among those I recall. I'm certainly not happy about any of them, but I discovered them all in time and never allowed a chain of errors to build.

In my next posts, I will list cool things I did and saw, along with some more statistics as I have time to assemble them. My intention is to keep this blog alive as a journal of my flying experience, for as long as I get visitors. I have had a few offline messages from readers. I hope some of you will post your comments for others to read as well.

I will see you in the air.


Blogger Rob said...

Well Cap'n, It's nice to know I am not the only one that makes those little goobers!

1:14 PM  
Blogger JRB said...


Saw your picasa web photo album flying around the SF Bay. Do you have any advice for such a tour such as which controllers to talk to rules to follow, etc?


2:13 PM  
Blogger livingnoprah said...


See my latest post. I hope you are inspired. Please let us all know how it turns out.

2:43 PM  

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