Boy, that was dumb

In most aspects of life, we often learn by experience, and often the best teachers are dumb decisions or dumb mistakes. You learn the hard way not to rub your eyes with soap on your hands, or not to bite into a slice of pizza straight out of the oven. In flying, you may learn the hard way to verify that you really did untie the airplane before leaving the parking spot. If not, the rest of us will enjoy laughing not with you, but most assuredly at you. Did you forget to switch tanks in your Cherokee? The silence you soon will hear will guarantee you that you will not make that mistake again.

I’d like to use this post to hear from you, the readers. I will admit that I have done a few dumb things that will remain my knowledge alone (none of the above were mine). Unfortunately, I don’t what the statute of limitations is on a few of my mistakes (translated: I am a bit embarrassed by them), but I will admit to one that goes back to my student pilot days. I could make a strong argument that I had some implicit help in this one, but I will also take responsibility for it as well.

When I was ready for my long solo cross-country (the rules were different then), I was told to plan a flight from Bay Bridge Airport to Charlottesville, Virginia (CHO), to Williamsburg/Jamestown and return. The easiest leg was clearly going to be the one from Jamestown back to Bay Bridge. All I had to do was follow the Chesapeake Bay. It was so simple a blind man could have done it. It’s also the only part that went according to plan.

The problem with Charlottesville is that the airport was at the very bottom corner of the sectional. The arrival from the north was supposed to be made easier by a rather unique-looking lake, whose shape (I was told by my instructor) would make it nearly impossible to miss. Key word: nearly. It never even dawned on me to take the adjacent sectional…and nobody suggested to me that I should. I mean, just because one has a road map of Ohio in the car does not mean that one needs a road map of, say, Pennsylvania. Right? Right?? Right!

So, on the (hazy, summer) day in question, I got down to the CHO area with no problem. But the lake on the ground…well, it was blue. But I could not convince myself that it was the lake I wanted. As I looked at the sectional and the ground, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. I also realized that I had to be very careful about not flying off the sectional, or I’d be an airborne Christopher Columbus, with no idea of what was out in front of me, and unlike Chris, I didn’t have an extra three days with which to work. To make what could be a very long story short, I called Flight Service, and with their help (and with me being asked to squawk 7700), I came to realize that I was right where I needed to be. In retrospect, it was obvious I should have had the Cincinnati sectional in addition to the Washington chart, and in this case, I should have trusted my instincts. But I did trust in and use my training in getting resituated. Ironically enough, CHO soon became one of my favorite airports to visit, both via general aviation and with the airlines. Go figure.

So, what’s your story?–Chip Wright


  • Gerald Moon

    During my first long cross-country (with instructor aboard), I learned that it is possible to be led astray by dumbly following only one navigation source.

    Over the Eastern Plains of Colorado, there are very few features to navigate by, and my instructor had forbidden use of GPS for this trip. We were navigating by VOR from Fort Collins-Loveland (KFNL) to Sterling (KSTK) 80 NM away. It took about 20 minutes of flying by pilotage alone before we picked up the Sterling VOR on NAV1, dialed in the OBS and began happily keeping the needle centered. Shortly, however, I became aware that the one feature between KFNL and KSTK, a reservoir, wasn’t where it was supposed to be. We were flying straight toward it, whereas the line on my sectional was well north of it. Fortunately, this sircraft was equipped with a second NAV radio, so we tuned it to STK, centered its needle, and promptly began turning left to keep it centered. I then found a tower on the sectional that should pass less than a quarter-mile to our right if I were back on the right course. Less than a minute later, we spotted the tower right where I had predicted it would be.

    Based on the differences we were seeing, we concluded that NAV1 was off by about 6 degrees. Now, whenever I go cross-country, I make sure to familiarize myself with features I’m likely to see along the route and have the VOR tuned and verified to back up the GPS. Haven’t gotten lost yet!

  • Jim Williams

    During one of my solo cross country flights I landed at a small airport and taxied to parking so I could review the chart and get myself oriented for the next leg. I left the engine running and set the parking brake on the aircraft (Cessna 172 Skyhawk). While I was looking at the chart the brakes started slipping and the aircraft started slowly powering itself towards an aircraft thart was parked acrpss the isle. I happend to look up in time to step on the brakes and avoid a messy collision. However, I was so close to the other aircraft thart I had to shut down the engine, get out of the aircraft, and push it back so I could taxi it without hitting the other aircraft. I was so shook up that I had to go for a walk before continuing my next leg. Needless to say, since that time, whenever the engine is running I hvae never let very many seconds go by before I look outside. Also, I keep my feet on the brakes when the engine is running. I view the parking brake as something to be used after the engine has been shut down.