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Training Tip: I just want to get down

When a pilot who took off for a “quick and easy” local flight found wild turbulence aloft and low-level wind shear awaiting below, the initial reaction will sound familiar to many pilots: “I both consciously and subconsciously just wanted to get on the ground.”

Photo by Mike Fizer.

This was no time to throw caution to the winds by flight-testing a hastily improvised method of escaping difficult conditions. But that response—commonly referred to as “get-down-itis”—is at the root of many accidents.

When a pilot enters this state of mind on a cross-country flight—often after encountering treacherous weather or mechanical problems—it goes informally by the name “get-there-itis” (or “get-home-itis” if the flight is headed in that direction).

If those terms resemble names of illnesses, no coincidence. Get-down-itis differs mainly from the others in having a runway within easy reach. But a runway within easy reach is not always reached easily, as the Cessna 172 pilot on that quick, easy flight learned.

Before takeoff there had been hints to call it off. The flight service briefer “mentioned that there was an AIRMET (see Aeronautical Information Manual page 7-1-13) for moderate turbulence below 8,000 as well as an urgent PIREP for low level wind shear at an airport about 30 NM away.”

Surface wind was “33014G21KT”—right down the runway and acceptable, the pilot thought, for taking on conditions “to push my personal minimums.” 

The line attendant fueling the Cessna also had an opinion, telling the pilot, “Good luck with those winds,” the pilot wrote in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

During taxi, wind buffeted the airplane, and the pilot briefly considered scrubbing the flight. “Almost immediately after passing 1,000 feet I started to experience moderate turbulence. Shortly after the plane banked 30 degrees to the left in under a second without me changing any flight controls. I decided to abort my flight immediately.”

Here’s how get-down-itis excels at compounding your misery.

With winds variable from 270 degrees to 350 degrees, the pilot decided to try landing on a wider, “safer” runway despite accepting a serious crosswind component—resulting in a four-bounce porpoise and a scary go-around involving the inadvertent buzzing of a church usually used as a noise-abatement landmark.

Then the better angels of the pilot’s nature provided the cure for get-down-itis.

“After gaining my composure I set up for a base entry to runway 33, like I should have in the first place,” the pilot reported.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

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 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, Aeronautical Decision Making, Student
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