A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard
this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer
statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of
"there are no old, bold pilots.")
Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner,
master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us
-- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you
may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be
something we might never have considered before, or something that
didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized
it for the practical test.
Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you
through the Aero-News Network.
One of the things I always asked new Private students is how
they plan to use an airplane, to get a better idea of how to slant
the training they receive.
My student Mark had completed everything needed for his Private
pilot experience requirements except some night dual. We had
practiced full-stop takeoffs and landings for a little over an hour
the previous week. Mark was an executive in a multi-location
business, and he planned to fly on a lot of business trips, so
while I was making sure he was well trained in all the Practical
Test Standards requirements I had reached an agreement with him
that we'd do a little extra work on things he'd need to eventually
be a business pilot, specifically night cross-country flight and
practice toward an eventual instrument rating. Tonight we were
planning his first night cross-country, from Sedalia, Missouri 100
miles almost due south to the tower-controlled airport at
Weather reports were as spotty as the small towns in the hills
and lakes south of Sedalia. Columbia Flight Service reported a high
overcast but excellent visibility on that cold, autumn night. Mark
and I preflighted the Cessna 152 and carefully arranged the cockpit
so everything we'd need was close at hand. The Cessna's four-banger
Lycoming coughed to life and, after an appropriate warm-up and
Before Takeoff ritual we launched off Runway 18, making the
slightest turn to the right to align on a deduced-reckoning
magnetic course that would eventually allow us to pick up the
It was dark. Sedalia, about 20,000 front porch and business
lights strong, slid astern and the lights of crossroads-town
Lincoln and hamlet Windsor beyond were right where the
red-illuminated Sectional chart said they should be. That's when
things started to look strange.
The ground lights began to flicker in and out. It was eerie
plunging in and out of darkness, something Mark had never seen and
I was not expecting. We could still see down, so we weren't in
unexpected clouds. Something made me turn on the landing light,
however, and suddenly it was like flying through a hyperspace
star-field in a science fiction movie. Snow! Visibility forward
along the ground was dropping to almost nothing.
I could see it was a major disappointment for Mark (who, as a
businessman, had difficulty scheduling time for flying lessons),
but I turned off the landing light and told him we had to divert
because of weather. Sedalia was still glowing bright in the
Cessna's rear window, so he made a careful, standard-rate 180°
turn and in moments were out of the snow shower, logging another
uneventful night landing.
Mark soon passed his checkride and at last update was flying a
turboprop to further his successful business. I don't know for
certain, but I think a then-low-time CFI cautioning him to turn
around at the first sign of conditions beyond his and the
airplane's abilities may have helped promote an attitude that was
keeping him safe alone in a very different type of airplane.
Aero-tip of the day: Don't just hope things
will improve when adverse weather develops unexpectedly. Make a
change right away, before conditions deteriorate to disaster.