Sunday, May 11, 2014

But I had a job to do...

The experienced pilot was a successful businessman who had accumulated enough money to fill a hangar with beautiful classic airplanes, and he held a local aviation group in thrall discussing how he found and restored and flew them.

He'd been flying for a long time, and of course the conversation turned to how good we have it now.  These are funny conversations in aviation: nobody, and I mean nobody, talks about the good old days.  It's always "Man, we have it so much better now..."

"Let me tell you about GPS.  A few years ago I had one of the first GPS units in my Queenstar (the type has been changed to protect the guilty, but it's a pressurized cabin-class twin).  It was about this big (arms outstretched) and the screen was about this big (fingers pinching a quarter).  Well I was headed into White Pigeon (a well-known mountainous airport) one day for a job and it was beautiful VFR except for about 5 miles of fog covering the airport.

"But I had a job to do and I had to get in there."

The textbooks call this get-home-itis.  I started to squirm in my seat.

"So I set the GPS to navigate to the airport and followed it down into the clouds."

I squirmed a lot more.  No mention of setting a known waypoint on the final approach course, or following a published approach (there were none then), or extending the centerline, nothing.  Just "the airport" and I suppose he approached willy-nilly without any plan for a missed approach.  He had no idea where the GPS thought "the airport" was.  In all likelihood the airport reference point wasn't even on a runway so he was lining up with a 50' hangar with a remote altimeter setting so maybe he'd miss it by an inch or so if he was lucky that day.

"So got down to about 100' (one hundred feet!  At an approach speed of about 110?!?) and sure enough about a quarter mile (a quarter mile!  At an approach speed of about 110?!?) I saw the airport and landed.  Boy that GPS was great."

I was very uncomfortable.  I didn't want to rain on this guy's funeral procession, but that kind of crap (there is no nicer word) has gotten more pilots killed than almost any other kind of crap I know.  But (pardon my crudeness) if I spoke up I'd be the kind of asshole CFI who gives CFIs a "bad name."  So I held my tongue.

But one of my students was seated next to me.  I leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Don't do that," I whispered.

By the way, that approach speed was 110 knots indicated. At 5,000' MSL, the true airspeed is 10% greater, so call it 120.  That's a mile every 30 seconds, one-half mile every 15 seconds, and one-quarter mile every 7.5 seconds.  He had 7.5 seconds of forward visibility.  Now a glance at the GPS plus the time to refocus at a distance is probably about half of that.  If he had hit something he would never have known what happened.


At May 12, 2014 at 2:26 PM , Blogger John Ewing said...

Hmm ... Guess I'm one of those a-hole CFIs 'cause I would have pointed out this fellow's failure to recognize the hazards associated with cooking up one's own instrument approach.

If he was aware of the hazards and was willing to accept the risks, then he has extremely high risk tolerance.

You've probably forgotten more about mathematics and statistics than I ever knew, but it seems like the odds of this sort of behavior working out well are pretty low and it just a matter of time before these folks get selected out of the gene pool.

Or perhaps he was just blowing smoke?

At May 13, 2014 at 8:08 AM , Blogger Lane Clayson said...

Luckily this guy has nine lives. I realize the names were changed to protect the innocent, but reputations speak loudly. Hope no more super cool aluminum goes with him.

At May 13, 2014 at 9:40 AM , Blogger Dr.ATP said...

John has correctly shamed me into speaking up & a link to the post went to facebook which a lot of said local aviation group will see. Lane has demonstrated that my attempts to scrub the story were in vain. This guy has done a lot for aviation in our area (hence my deference) but he's also bent a lot of metal. I think someone needs to say that he is someone whom we do not want acting as a role model for pilots.


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