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Training Tip: Bad decision, good landingTraining Tip: Bad decision, good landing

After tweaking my back on a tennis court last weekend, I know two things: If a chance to fly comes my way today, the answer is no, and I hate the way I feel when I take ibuprofen.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Grounding yourself is a tougher call when the pressure to fly is high. Many pilots have learned the hard way that being your own advocate is an easy test to fail.

A report filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System chronicles a flight instructor’s attempt to fly back to Ohio from Florida with a student pilot in a Cessna 172 before a snowstorm reached their destination. Rerouting for weather led them a merry chase, and while airborne the CFI developed a sinus headache, prompting diversion to buy medication and a growing, perilous determination not to get stranded in an out-of-the-way place.

As these stories go, the diversion airport was unattended, with no pharmacy near. The instructor’s headache had subsided, however, so they departed. Back came the headache, prompting another diversion… you get the idea of the 745-word narrative.

Drama aside, the flight’s true hidden peril is highlighted in the report’s 32-word synopsis: “A C172 instructor and student pilot, attempting to fly ahead of a building weather system, diverted to avoid worsening weather (and) discovered a quarter inch of ice accumulation on ‘flight surfaces’ after landing.”

Pilots with colds tend to sneeze at being sick, and student pilots may also sniff at the idea, only to encounter unexpected consequences. After taking a decongestant and flying on a dual lesson despite a cold, “I had forgotten to lock the airplane, so I trudged back out to the flight line to lock it up,” a student pilot recalled. “The key wouldn't work. Then I realized I was trying to lock the door of a different airplane.”

Perhaps such disoriented behavior explains why the medicine’s label cautions users against operating heavy equipment, the student added.

Physical ailments and side effects of their remedies aren’t the only reasons to stay out of the sky. A stressed-out pilot departing hastily on a two-hour cross-country right after a family argument found strong winds waiting at the destination when a low-pressure system failed to expedite its forecast exit from the area. Skill and focus avoided a mishap, but a good landing doesn’t excuse a bad decision to fly.

Sketchy scenarios, best left on the ground next time.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Planning, Aeronautical Decision Making, Flight Training
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