Winter Callback: What Would You Do?

By Scott Spangler on January 12th, 2011

Immediate gratification is one of my guilty pleasures, especially when it comes to the interactive editions of Callback, the online publication of NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System. And there is some pilot ego involved as well, a chance to feel quietly superior—or stupid—depending on the decision you make.

ASRS CallbackIt works like this. Callback gives you three situations, with at least one from airline and general aviation operations. Each are real, derived from the NASA report filed by the pilot involved. After you read the situation you pick one of four choices then click the “What would you have done?” link to see what the reporting pilot did.

I like the airline situations because it gives me a Walter Mitty moment in another pilot’s shoes.  I got two chances to play in this issue. In the first situation I was flying an MD-80 on an ILS through a 500-foot overcast, heavy rain, and a microburst alert as he passed through 2,000 feet. The problem? The left throttle would not reduce the engine’s power beyond half speed ahead. The captain and I did the same thing: divert.

In the second airline situation I was driving a Boeing 767 around an airport with 1 mile variable visibility in snow. The tower cleared me across the runway ahead of another jet that seemed to be following only half of its “position and hold” instructions. I stompted on the stoppers, just as the captain did. Unlike me, the captain had the first officer radioe the other plane to stay put.  

The GA situation separated the two airline events. It didn’t start well because I was in a Cherokee, an airplane I don’t fly because of insufficient leg room. The plan was to shoot some practice approaches at a nearby airport, but instead of the forecast VFR morning skies the airport was below minimums in fog and haze. The pilot passed the time cleaning the airplane and doing the preflight in non-sequential order.

JetWhine-ATCLater in the day a ceiling formed that allowed an IFR departure. On climb-out the Cherokee wouldn’t rise above 500 fpm without a loss of speed and the rpm was lower than expected. (With his unsequential preflight, he forgot to remove the cloth-covered foam plugs that kept birds out of the cowling, even though they had REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT tails on them.) I didn’t like the three options: return to the departure airport, declare an emergency, or continue above the clouds to the destination. So I went with the last choice: ????

Call me over-cautious, but when I was flying IFR I liked to do all my practicing in VFR conditions, usually with my instructor in the right seat. This arrangement not only gave me a safety pilot, it ensured that I hadn’t developed any bad habits or not given something important its due attention.

To wring every bit of value out of the practice, I bought lunch if my CFI could trip me up with an unexpected emergency or two.  We had to reign things in a bit after she hit me with a partial panel and gear failure while flying an NDB approach, but ATC enjoyed it.

Had I been practicing this in IMC, I probably would have filed a NASA Report, just to cover some of my excursions. And then I might have ended up as a Callback example, which is something I hope never to achieve. – Scott Spangler

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