Lessons Learned In a Bad Situation by Clint White


Lessons Learned In a Bad Situation by Clint White

Every pilot in his or her career makes mistakes. It is said if you don’t scare yourself in the air at least once you haven’t really flown. There are few replacements as good as experience for a teacher and especially during early in my career when that lack of experience put us in a situation that could have been dangerous, but what is important is what I learned from that situation…

In the late 1990s pilots didn’t have all the weather tools that are available now. Computer modeling on app and other items we take for granted on our app based phones simply did not exist. XM weather in the cockpit was still in the future. In many cases we predicted weather models looking at the prog charts and maps posted in the FBO or flight school. (WSI did exist however).

I had student doing a cross-country flight for his private certificate during a summers day in Michigan. The weather was clear with a chance of thunderstorms both at our departure in Pontiac and our destination of Indianapolis with a return in the evening. The charts did show some storms, but not necessarily the forecast of what was to come. We decided the trip was a go as the student also was close to their check ride and we wanted to check the “cross country” box. So we departed in a Cessna 172P (no GPS or Radar). Everything was “steam gauges” then.

Departure and arrival at Indianapolis was uneventful although the WSI was showing a building line of  thunderstorms near Pontiac. My student and I decided that we would have enough time to arrive back that evening before the weather hit and departed Indianapolis late in the afternoon under a hazy sky…

On the way back the Convective Sigments began. The way ahead looked more and more threatening as we pressed on. Realizing the situation was not favorable we started to look for a way out by turning around. Unfortunately our way back was blocked as well and the line of thunderstorms were closing all around us with no good alternates. The situation looked bad…

Actually we were trapped!!! Severe weather all around us (you could see the lighting in the dimming sunlight) and no way forward or back. It was time for some quick decision making for the situation we got ourselves in! This was a true emergency!

I quickly got on the radio with ATC and called for help. We made our VFR flight an IFR flight and I took over the controls. We asked for help around the weather. By a stroke of luck an Aerostar was ahead of us on the same route with weather radar. He quickly became our “pathfinder” and we basically followed behind in the few holes in the weather. We could easily see the lightning all around us as we were hard IMC at this time. Needless to say we were neverous…ok downright scared

After about 40 miles of picking through the weather we broke out near Pontiac at night to VMC weather and could see the airport with extremely violent weather approaching from the north. Basically constant lighting. We quickly executed a short (visual) approach to the airport, landing smoothly JUST before the rest of the line of weather hit us while taxiing. It was a CLOSE call!

What are the lessons learned from this situation….

First of all, have not ONLY a plan A but a plan B and C too. As soon the weather turned we simply should have landed at the nearest available airport rather than pressing head.

I should not have been influenced by the need to complete my students training the need to “complete the mission” was too big a influencer in the “go-no” decision.

In addition, the best decision sometimes is to simply not do the trip at all. We could have stopped at any time especially in Indianapolis, but we trying to “beat the weather.

Lastly, DON’T be afraid to call for help! If have an emergency, state it! It much easier to fill out the paperwork on the ground (if necessary) then potentially putting yourself in a fatal situation because you “don’t want to deal with it”. ATC can and IS a valuable resource. They want to see you complete the flight just as safely as you do. Frankly they saved our bacon that day!

In conclusion, we ALL have had situation that have scared us good. It’s the lessons we take from those situations that makes us better pilots in the future.

Have you had a “close call” or a situation that gave you a good scare in the air? What did you learn? We would love to know in your comments.