LIVE AND LEARN
It was a typical winter day in coastal British Columbia: low stratus with drizzle and enough visibility to see the radiator ornament as I drove my car to the airport. I had just soloed the day previously, and wasn't about to let a little weather deter me from another exciting aviation experience. I'll admit I was rather proud of my accomplishment, and I had invited my next door neighbor to go for a spin with me. We planned to fly to a city across the mountains where I had heard a great restaurant existed. On our way to the airport, my neighbor expressed some worry about the trip. "Don't worry about a thing," I reassured her. "Their hamburgers are apparently excellent."
By the time we found the field the drizzle had become a heavy steady rain. This concerned me a great deal as I didn't want to get my shoes muddy. On checking with the local operator of the flying club we learned that my regular airplane, a Stinson Station Wagon was down for engine repairs again. However, the operator was a fine judge of character and when he saw my disappointment he assigned me another aircraft, C-GIFR, which turned out to be a Beechcraft Baron. "It's practically the same as the Stinson," he told me when I discovered that there was a spare engine. "Just remember that you have to retract the gear after take off."
After a quick pre-flight check (I noticed the tail wheel was missing but didn't say anything to the operator for fear he would cancel the trip) we got aboard and began looking for the starter key. Just then he came wading out to tell me there were severe thunderstorms and turbulence at my destination and warned
me to be prudent. I assured him that, as a child, I had never been afraid of thunderstorms.
The take off was uneventful, but we did use what seemed to be a lot of runway for an airplane with two engines, even if it was downwind and I had forgotten to release the parking brakes. We climbed into a solid overcast at about 100 feet and this was a disappointing as I knew my neighbor was looking forward to seeing beautiful scenery below. The air was actually fairly smooth but ice kept building up on the Windshield making it difficult to clearly see all the clouds that surrounded us. For a pilot with only 5.6 hours of flying time I thought I was handling the plane very well, although for some reason, things kept flying out of my pockets and sticking to the roof. My neighbor, Ellen, didn't seem to notice: she just kept staring at the windshield with a sort of glassy expression. I guess the altitude or pounding rain
Suddenly the left engine quit. No warning, nothing. It just quit. Ellen made a gurgling noise, which was the first thing she had said since we departed. I explained that there was nothing to worry about, as we had another engine that we hadn't even used yet. Ellen must have felt better when I finally figured out how to start that second engine because she dropped right off to sleep. After about two hours it became obvious that I was going to have to descend if I was going to find the airport under the clouds between the mountains. I eventually found a road, but it was difficult to read the signs during the lightning flashes in the heavy snow. Numerous cars ran off the road when we passed them confirming that flying is a lot safer than driving. Some time later, I did find an airport but had to fly around the tower a few times to confirm it was the right one. They were very friendly in the tower and flashed numerous colored lights as a welcome. So I landed and slid up to the parking area(the operator should have mentioned that you have to put the wheels down again for landing.) Everyone there was besides themselves with excitement. It was obvious that they had never seen a Beechcraft Baron before. Ellen was still sleeping so I had to have help carrying her to the restaurant. Well I certainly must admit I learned a great deal from that trip and would like to pass on some good advice to other pilot travellers: "Don't beleive everthing you hear - the food was terrible!"
While I have taken the liberty to modify the story the results are the same. In this adventure-land the Anti-Hero saves his bacon. However, in the real world this fellow would have been a statistic within the average of 179 seconds that a non instrumented pilot lasts in cloud. Worst still he would have taken an innocent victim with him. Perhaps I'm straying from the crux of the matter. This fictitious pilot has an attitudinal
problem. Decades ago I attended a COPA AGM in Penticton where the guest speaker was a psychiatrist and Dr. Georgina Busch told us of the prevailing characteristics of pilot. I was stunned. We possess the following human characteristics: Anti authoritarian, Stubborn, Risk takers and Opinionated and often rash with our decision making. If some or all of these characteristics are part of your flying repertoire, you need to be much more cautious with decision making.