Monday, June 16, 2008

Airplane Goes Fast. Pilot Goes Slow.

We were ready to start, but there were two pedestrians walking in front of the airplane, George Jetson (not his real name) and Jane, his wife. I waved.

George is a local businessman with offices spread over a large area, and he has a very nice high performance single. He is very smart, and has at least one Ivy League degree that I know of. He has continually upgraded his plane's avionics and recently installed a new engine. I have flown with him a few times and he struck me as a conscientious pilot.

So I was surprised when I heard him ask the tower for a midfield intersection departure. "That's a bad idea," I told my student, who has already come to understand that I consider anything other than having the tail in the weeds a waste of runway. "What's his big hurry, anyway?" No runup. Did he even check that the controls were free?

We went out to the practice area for a productive session, did two patterns, and exited at midfield.

"There's something on the taxiway over there," I said, "Don't hit it." The object was right on the centerline, and he has come to understand that I consider being off the centerline without a reason to be as bad as wasted runway. But we had a reason.

I looked down as we passed the debris. It was a fuel cap. It looked like the kind of fuel cap George's plane uses. I pointed it out to the tower, opining that it might have been George's, and the tower agreed.

Big lesson time. "Airplane goes fast. Pilot goes slow," I said in my best Zen master voice. "This is what happens when you rush things. He's lucky it wasn't something worse." I was thinking about all of the airplanes that had tried to launch with various pieces of equipment attached, or control locks in place, or no fuel. I knew a guy who launched in an MU-2 with a fuel cap off; luckily it was during the day at a tower controlled field, and the tower saw the fuel spray behind him. He later said that the MU-2 didn't have the control authority to overcome a big fuel imbalance...

George called looking for his fuel cap before I was done debriefing my student, thus saving himself from what I had planned as a gentle chastisement. Knowing him, I am confident that he is mortified by his error, and I hope that he has learned his lesson.

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