Saturday, July 25, 2009

Not taught in school

I have now been flying in northern Canada for the past three years. As I continue to build my experience, I would like to share my stories in hope others don't make the same mistakes.

It was definitely nothing they teach you in school. It was my first summer and I was flying a C-172 from Fort Mac to a small community north. The trip would take me roughly three hours to complete. I was flying an RCMP officer who needed to pick up a broom and a bat as evidence for a court case.

To start the day off, I woke up and my car was covered in a nice thick layer of snow, the wet stuff, so you know it will stick to your under-powered Cessna. I got to work at 5:30am and the computers were down so I got a half ass weather brief from the flight service guy in Edmonton. His advise was to hang out and wait, but I had to go, we needed that broom and bat! We get airborne and I'm right into it. I was flying just above the trees until I was about 50 miles north when it started to clear up. I followed the river valley north; what I could see of it, and than continued direct once the weather improved. Upon landing I got to work chipping the ice from my wings as the RCMP officer went to town. On the way home, the weather conditions hadn't improved and the visibility was very marginal with low ceilings.

I know what your thinking, why did he go flying? At the time, having only a few hundred hours and feeling the pressure from the officer, I choose to go. Many low time pilots will get themselves killed doing the same thing I did. Here are a few tips to better prepare yourself for a similar situation:

1) ALWAYS know your route - what I mean by that, know your altitudes along the route. This is best done on a sunny day when you can focus on what obstacles may be an issue. Find the highest point along your route and than add a buffer. Also keep in mind, during the winter months when its cold, add additional attitude to correct for the Altimeter error.

2) Briefing - the Flight Service guys know their stuff, believe them. I know it's going to be a challenge to deal with your passengers but you need to stand your ground. Learning to say "No" will become easier and easier as your experience builds. Find out about the weather along the route and what's coming up next. Call people in the town you're are heading too, especially if there isn't any weather available.

3) Your equipment - DO NOT take an aircraft with little to no instrumentation into marginal weather, PERIOD.

4) You - unless you know your terrain and are comfortable, don't take off. It's a lot easier wishing you were flying rather than wishing you were on the ground.

For those pilots reading this, please take note, Cessna's don't like ice, nor do they perform very well in it. Also on my return, I choose to take a short cut and a radio tower passed off to my right above me. Make a plan and stick with it. Good luck to all, fly safe and keep the rubber side down.


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