In aviation there is an important focus on ADM. Aeronautical Decision Making. It is the way to answer a question like, “Is it safe to fly from Santa Monica to Catalina today?” and “Can I put all this stuff in the plane with these people and fly over there for lunch?”
A lot of accidents are the result of incorrect decisions. Not all, because there are some random events, but you can trace accidents back and find a chain of events and decisions that lead from “everything looks fine,” to “oh no.” In case you are curious, ADM is not a science and, from my reading, there is a lot of wiggle room. Making a binary decision like go/no-go for a flight is very complex because you are taking a lot of factors into consideration. But having a framework for what things to consider for a decision and a way to work through the information available to you, a way to be rigorous about making the decision makes a huge difference.
There are people who restore planes. Old planes. Planes from World War One when my grandfather learned to fly. When Dexter was in his first year of college one of his suite mates disappeared after a semester because his father was killed in a small plane accident. It turned out that it was in Paso Robles, where I flew for my check rides. When I looked into it, I read that it was a faithful model of an antique plane. A plane so old that it had no throttle, only an on-off button for the engine. It was at idle or it was roaring along. And, much later, I learned that the part of the plane that failed was in a spot where it could not be inspected.
When I am getting ready for a longer flight, I read some of my previous blog entries that cover the same territory. It reminds me of the things I know about the airports nearby, maybe something about the weather patterns. Who knows what wisdom I have gathered but has slipped out of my active recall.
So I read my entry about my last flight down to Ft. Worth to drop the plane for its annual inspection. With that reminder, I knew that I’d want to fix a lunch. And maybe a snack. In the end, for my Thursday flight, I had my breakfast sandwich from Flour Bakery with a Coke on my drive down to Norwood. Then, as I flew from Pittsburgh to Louisville, I had my Bagelsarus poppy bagel with smoked salmon, some walnuts and strawberries, and a Coke with a cup of ice from the FBO. As a snack as I made my way onward to Little Rock, I had a bunch of grapes. When I woke up in Little Rock, I had a bottle of Mexican Coke with me from my luggage (impossible on a commercial flight) and a warm sticky bun from Flour Bakery and my morning Coke. That meant I made it all the way to Ft. Worth without having a meal in a fast food joint. In Dallas I went to Hillstone for an excellent lunch that carried me all the way back to Cambridge and my warm bed at home.
Near the end of his life Sam Shepard, playwright and actor, divorced his wife, got in his pickup truck, and started to wander.* I’m nowhere near that point and would like to stay with Nell until the end of this ride, but I think I understand Shepard’s compulsion a little. There is something you get from a random drag through a series of places, a look at humanity through the lens of interest and curiosity with no other motive. Once the Lyft driver, the counter person at the FBO, or the hotel clerk knows that you no longer want something in particular from them, carry no animosity or judgement as you approach, you might see a moment of their true self. Just a story, maybe a banal comment about the city you are in, it’s hard to know. The possibility is there.
Dexter is pursuing his PhD up at the University of Ottawa. It is an eight hour drive from Cambridge, which he and I have done a couple times, but that burns a whole day for each direction of the trip. The little plane makes it in two hours up and a little longer on the way down, in calm winds. Lately it seems that the way up is two and a half hours and the way down is about the same with the stop, but we’re fighting that mean North wind.
(On the way down because we have to stop in Burlington to clear United States Customs, which treats a returning citizen much worse than Canada treats visitors. To clear customs on the way north I call ahead, answer a few questions, and then use a nifty little app on the phone (ArrivéCAN) to tell them that I have a negative Covid test, a plan for isolating myself, and where I’m landing. There is always the chance that they will show up with some customs agents in a van, especially since I am landing at a major airport and it would be a short drive for them over to the FBO, but so far that hasn’t happened in Ottawa. (It happened once in London, Ontario, I’m certain because I pissed off an American Customs and Border Patrol agent in Michigan flying home the summer before.) On the way south I need to show my passport and a bunch of FAA documents and answer too many questions. It should just be an app. I could do the same thing entering my own country: land, call, report my landing time, and place, and know that there was a possibility that I was going to have to wait for the customs van to show up at Norwood.)
Not on purpose. I am an inveterate rule follower. Montessori forever, man. One of the things I like about aviation is that there is a place for everything and everything has its place. And there are little tricks to remember the myriad, spiraling, layered regulations that you need to follow. Here’s one: ARROW. It is what you are required to carry on each flight. Your Airman certificate, the Registration for the aircraft, your Radio station license, the Operating manual for the aircraft, and the Weight and balance calculation for the flight.
It is hard to describe how great it was to open this Tupperware bento box at a mile above and a few miles south of Pittsburgh. The challenging times we’ve been through have made me sensitive to the cardboard I am usually willing to shovel in as I cross the country. After four hours of flying those strawberries were mind-altering.
But the bagel is getting ahead of things. (Although since I am ahead of things I should point out that Nell’s banana bread is an excellent breakfast to *start* a long flight on.)
This is too soon after an accident to say for sure what caused it. But I can talk about accidents in general and probably answer a few questions. And, because of the technological advances we have made in the last few decades, we already (just hours after) know a lot more about the accident that killed Kobe Bryant (and the other passengers, including his daughter) than we will ever know about, for instance, the accident that killed Otis Redding.
As Nell and I crossed the country (my thirty-third flight across in a little plane) we were very lucky with weather and spent almost no time ducking around thunderstorms, which was supremely fortunate for a summer flight.
On our evening descent into Cedar Rapids there were a few moisture-laden clouds still hanging around. With ADS-B and ATC watching me on radar, and with the evening hour dropping the little plane number to just us as far as I could see, we were a little relaxed about the cloud regulations. I will fly through something gauzy in that instance. Continue reading →
This was a flight that would have been considerably more difficult in the single engine DA40. In part because as I was departing Friday Harbor (FHR) I was climbing into the clouds at the same time as I was crossing water. The forecast along my route of flight said that there would be four thousand foot ceilings a lot of the way, so technically I could have just flown VFR at 3,500 feet from Friday Harbor, past Seattle, down to the west of Portland, over Eugene, on to Roseburg and then cut through the hills to Medford. Then it was meant to clear up. Continue reading →