As a celebration of AOPA's 75th Anniversary this month, Never Again podcast offers this special vintage episode "Snakes Alive!" by Max Karant, originally published in the 1959 issue of "AOPA Pilot" magazine.
More than 25 years ago I bought a used Beech Baron 58. Within a week of my purchase, a longtime mechanic friend phoned: "I don’t mean to meddle. Be leery of Beech fuel gauges. Know your fuel by time and fuel burn."
It's not unusual for a pilot who flies regularly at night to suffer an optical illusion concerning lights. The most common one is seeing Venus low on the horizon and thinking that it is an oncoming landing light. There is an infinite variety of other visual traps. I have had two experiences, one as a pilot, and one as an air traffic controller.
My friend glenn co-owned a 1968 Cherokee 180 and wanted to visit a mutual friend who was staying at a cabin in Happy Camp, California. He was slowly taking lessons, so we flew together a lot. The little Cherokee was a basic VFR airplane with questionable VOR reliability, but everything else worked fine. I was confident as a 100-hour-plus pilot and looked forward to the trip from Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose to Northern California. The weather forecast called for some clouds, but I knew there was VFR weather inland a little over the Central Valley and along Interstate 5. This was long before GPS or even Loran, so it was going to be pilotage and dead reckoning all the way.
In 1985 I had purchased a low-time creampuff 1955 Cessna 180. N9370C was based at Camarillo Airport, roughly halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California. The 180 Skywagon is slightly bigger than its counterpart, the Cessna 170, but flies as well with no bad habits. The big 225-horsepower Continental up front provides great performance, and I suspect it will lift just about anything you can stuff in its cabin.
For months I had been planning a dive trip at Cayman Brac, one of the Cayman Islands. My nonpilot “co-pilot” Lynn and I have gone on many dive trips in my Piper PA–32-260 Cherokee Six. (Please note that Lynn is a male. For some reason, my wife of 25 years won’t let me go on flying/diving trips with single females.)
At 10:25 on Easter morning in 2010 I held up my hand to shield the sun as I searched for the traffic at my two o’clock, 1,000 feet above. The air was smooth at 11,500 feet, above solid clouds and the rugged Washington Cascade mountains below. My family—parents, wife, kids, spouses, grandchildren—had gathered for the holiday that weekend, and now I was getting everyone home.
It was a typical overcast winter morning at Portland International Airport in Oregon, with ceilings running around 1,400 feet agl and reported tops at about 7,000 feet msl. Ground control had just rattled off our clearance to Rogue Valley International in Medford, Oregon, clearing us to 10,000 feet. There had been no pilot reports of icing. The briefing called for conditions to remain overcast with ceilings around 1,200 feet. Deteriorating conditions and possible snow were forecast for later in the day, but well after our estimated arrival time.
A mid-air encounter with a plastic grocery bag initiates a chain of maintenance headaches for a 2001 Cessna Skylane 182T pilot. "About 50 feet above the runway a large white plastic bag. The prop immediately shredded the bag with seemingly no ill effects. However, at 400 feet, there was the unmistakable smell of burning plastic..."
I was returning to Frederick, Maryland, from Winter Haven, Florida. My Velocity’s Lycoming IO-360 had been unusually hard to start in Winter Haven, almost causing me to miss my IFR departure window. After a quick break and fuel stop in Waycross, Georgia, the Velocity was again very hard to start. Approximately halfway between Waycross and Lumberton, North Carolina, the engine shuddered, and then returned to normal. Scanning the instruments, I found nothing unusual. The engine then began a vibration that was anything but normal...
"Get-there-itis," maintenance issues, and an inaccurate forecast conspire against a cross-country Cessna pilot. "I was a disoriented, low-time VFR pilot in IMC, without a working radio, in Class C airspace, near a large airport. I knew this was often how accident reports began - or ended..."
Although it seems ridiculous to an outsider, operating in less than marginal VFR weather is common in the Louisiana oil field. I was in a Cessna 185 amphibian, engine idling, pointed into the 30-plus-knot wind, holding position in the ship channel southeast of New Orleans. Unfortunately, in the chaos that led up to this point, I forgot about the fist-sized hole in the right float...