My flight to North Carolina this past weekend was one of those scenarios that causes me to have anxiety dreams about flying days before the actual event.
I had signed on to join Pilots’n’Paws’ “Operation Special Delivery” fall flyout. This fine organization helps to connect pilots with animal shelters around the country. The volunteers pull dogs, cats, rabbits, and other small animals out of high-kill animal shelters; pilots sign up to fly them to rescues and, hopefully, new homes. Once or twice a year, Pilots’n’Paws puts together a large event and moves hundreds of animals in a day. Last weekend’s big flyout originated in Hinesville, Georgia.
My Piper Cherokee 140 gets a little uncomfortable after three hours. Rather than fly all the way to Hinesville, I opted to go to Pinehurst, N.C.—about three hours from Maryland via Cherokee—where I would pick up dogs from another pilot, and fly them back up to West Point, Va. A third pilot would be waiting at West Point to transport the dogs to an airport in New Jersey.
So far so good. I’m instrument-rated but not current, so the next step was to keep fingers crossed that the weather would cooperate.
I asked my daughter, Maddie, if she would like to join me for the dog run, and for once her jam-packed college senior schedule permitted it. Things were coming together! Except…
We are getting a lot of morning fog in Maryland. If I tried to launch Saturday morning for North Carolina, I might be grounded for who knows how long until the fog burned off, and it would put the third leg of the long day behind schedule. OK, I’d fly down Friday afternoon, get a hotel room, and be at the Pinehurst airport as early as needed. Except…
My daughter said she’d leave College Park by 2 p.m. With luck on our side, we’d launch from Frederick no later than 4 p.m. I didn’t want to land at a strange airport at night.
I could feel the pressure of the mission mounting. If I wasn’t able to get to North Carolina, the chain would be broken and the dogs would have to be moved to other airplanes. But I would have my daughter on board, so it was crucial that I not allow get-there-itis to overwhelm my decision-making process.
At some point that week, I previewed the forthcoming Air Safety Institute online
course, Weatherwise: VFR into IMC. This great new course, optimized for use on the iPad, is coming out soon. It includes a video snippet with our own Rod Machado talking about how to break the mission mind-set. Rod said something to the effect of, “Don’t ask yourself what you have to lose by not flying; ask yourself what you have to gain.”
With those words, everything came into focus, and the pressure eased. If morning fog created a delay, so be it. I could launch late, or I could cancel altogether. Cancelling the flight would be hard, but if it had to be done, I would have the conviction to do it.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to cancel. We were able to make the flight down to North Carolina on Friday with plenty of daylight to spare. On Saturday, we were at the airport bright and early—but our Georgia pilots were grounded because of morning fog, so we had a pleasant wait at a nice FBO while Pilots’n’Paws volunteers provided a free lunch. The only downsides to the day were unseasonable heat and haze (90 degrees!) that made it rough on the poor dogs while we were on the ground.
In the end, I transported two dogs, enjoyed a wonderful weekend with my daughter, and worked through a go/no-go scenario with tools that will serve me on flights to come. It doesn’t get much better than that.—Jill W. Tallman