Monday, February 27, 2012

An Article About What Ifs And How They Can Help One Deal With Tough Situations

I thought that I would try something new. Instead of dealing with particular known or actual situations I would try an lead us to anticipate and thereby fend off possible disastrous scenarios.

I’ll start off with an actual flight I had shortly before hanging up the headset for good. My chief co-pilot, my wife and I were returning to the Beaufort, NC airport at night. Although a fairly seasoned flyer at the time, she was still nervous in the right seat. The WHAT IF started with: What if we have to land in a hurry because of an engine problem? A good question, as we were flying at night in an A-36 Bonanza, a single engine plane. I thought for a bit and replied, “Just look at the Garmin GPS and note the airports.” Then I showed her how we could move the cursor to the airport symbol and get an immediate heading and distance. This helped her anxiety by keeping her busy, while accomplishing an important mission, helping keep us safe by planning ahead and thereby minimizing a What If.

Another somewhat more complex situation occurs when the weather is the prime consideration. This What If involves both pilot instrument capabilities and the amount of fuel aboard or range. Here I can relate an experience I had many years ago, before being instrument rated. Flying a Piper Cherokee with three passengers, we left Syracuse (SYR) heading for Boston (BOS). Great tailwind so time enroute a piece of cake. Weather VFR but some question at our ETA in BOS. Checking weather along the route still AOK but the KBOS forecast was getting downgraded to snow showers and some possible IFR. We kept on, passing good VFR alternates with impunity. When about 30 miles out of KBOS approach advises “BOS is IFR what are your intentions?” As I wasn’t IFR qualified I was stuck. Gulp, now what? As I looked at the fuel gages I realized that I was at about ½ full. The alternates we passed inbound to KBOS were now in and out of IFR also. So I turned around and advised approach that we were returning to Syracuse. Great except that now instead of a big tailwind we a big headwind. The long and the short of it: we just made it back to KSYR with about 20 minutes of fuel in the tanks. All alternates on the way back had become IFR.
The moral here is to assume the worst and plan for it!

Another What If I have thought of over the years is this. Suppose you are on a long flight in a single or a twin in unstable weather, ie VFR /moderate IFR that could go to low IFR at any time. Let us say that you are reasonably competent at executing an ILS approach to low minimums(200 ceiling with 1/2 mile viz). As you are talking with approach you find out that the field is closed, weather has gone to 0/0. Also there is no alternate available with in your fuel range. Just when you are starting to sweat, the engine lights start to blink a warning. What are you going to do? The only thing you can, unless you have a parachute, shoot an ILS and hope for the best. Just fly the needles and set up a low sink rate until ground contact is made. It is better to crash on the field, where help is available, then in some parking lot or farm field.

One other scenario. What If there is no ILS available. If you have an IFR certified GPS, fly it to the runway, line up and do a descent as before. The GPS accuracies are supposedly to 3 feet. Better than VOR or ADF and the parking lot. You can practice some of these things in good weather and your confidence will improve.

So you don't get caught with no options, think these hypothetical situations out ahead and plan to use them when needed. Without any plan, panic is sure to set in, with a predictable outcome.

What Ifs may never come to pass, but at least you may have thought things through before they actually occur.