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Sensing the Oncoming Chain: What a difference a day makes


Staff member
Northwest Arkansas
I had scheduled to give a scenic flight for some friends of friends in the C180 this past Saturday morning. I had looked at the TAF the night before and while "doable" it was definitely going to be windy. I woke up feeling fine and drove to the airport early to make a fuel run to another airport a few miles away. Lost in thought on the way to the airport I missed a turn and had to "recalculate" my route. When I got out of the car I noticed it really was windy, but still not that bad. My passenger was an Air Force guy who had bounced around in a lot of different planes over the years. His daughter was a thrill seeker so I suspected they would be just fine.

Pre-flight, etc, was all great and the short takeoff roll confirmed the healthy wind. Only in the air a few minutes I had already hit my head on the roof once from turbulence. Ok, this happens when you are long in the torso.

Next, I listened to the ATIS at the nearby airport I was going to and then called an airport tower twenty miles away to tell them I was coming in and where I was. They were understandably confused because I was calling the wrong tower on the wrong frequency (in my defense 133.3 and 133.0 are pretty close..). Even as they instructed me that ATIS information Bravo could not be current since they don't even have an ATIS, I knew what I had done.

Ok, over on the right frequency I call the tower I am heading for and they say, "17B winds 020 19 gusting 34 would you like runway 3?", "No", I said, "I'd like runway 19 as I am going to the city pumps". "17B, Are you sure you want 19? wind now 020 23 gusting in the 30s". "Oh, sorry", said I, "I meant runway 1".

At this point, the little voice in my head - the one I never used to listen to and rarely heard, said "Ok bucko, that's three or four things in pretty quick succession making giving a ride today a bad idea". The voice was right. I landed, taxied up to the pumps, called the riders and let them know today was really out of the question due to turbulence and was there any chance they could go in the morning?

While it would have been a terrible day to give a ride - as confirmed on the flight back to the home airport and more head strikes - more importantly I had made three (albeit individually very small) goof ups that morning. It felt like the start of a chain, and experience reminded me that often we don't like what is waiting at the end of the chain.

The next morning we were met with some of the smoothest air I have experienced in a long time. It was the kind of flight where there is no sensation that you are moving other than the ground appearing and receding. Absolutely perfect flying and a perfect experience for the passengers.

It was very much worth the wait - on all accounts.

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Good job, Steve. Sometimes the hardest part is after the recognition, actually taking action to stop the process. We humans seem to be pretty good at finding reasons not to do that.
I can't keep count of the number of days I drove to the hanger but decided not to fly. Even on nice days. If the head and heart are not in it stay on the ground.
Yep. After 2 strikes its really time to hing it up.

Most accident reports seem to be several mistakes added up to make one bad ending.
Good call, great judgement.

You're a pilot I'd fly with any day. Or not . . . as the case may be! lol

I heard second hand of one guy up here a few years ago bang up his cub 3 times I think in the same day? or 2..... something like.. land in snow flip (prop #1).... something else(prop #2) bring skis flip, land back at his lake and go zipping right into the shore and took gear off(&prop 3)....he ran out of props

and that made me remember that 2 day crash course thing about 'chains of bad decisions'....
My self imposed limit is 3 goofs and I am not doing anything serious.Lose my keys,miss the turn,bang my head on a strut,GROUNDED!

I was told this "3-goof and grounded" scenario years ago by a now gone west flight instructor. On that day during my commercial float check ride I hit my head on the lift strut (cut), the loose C-170B-180 water rudders wouldn't turn down wind (had to sail back to shore), then the pilot step broke off and cut my hip wader and leg.

The check pilot was a big rig pilot that flew freight around the world. He suggested we meet the next day and start over when the luck was better. And it was.

Had a friend who would stand in front of his 210, and sniff for "a disturbance in the Force", looking for cues from his subconscous re anything wrong...

*I have a lot to say about precognition, but it's complicated, and far better suited for a campfire. And a beer or two...

**getting a new knee three weeks before JC this year, so won't be there again this year.