Posts Tagged ‘solo; solo cross-country; lost; 7700;’

Boy, that was dumb

Monday, October 10th, 2011

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