I am a Moron.

by Berck

As I was preparing to walk out to my plane from dispatch this morning, someone called my attention to a runway diagram on the desk. Runway 16L/34R was closed today and we were to use 16C/34C instead. They explained that if we were using the south runway, we should do our runup on runway 8-26, which is also how we should taxi to the center runway. Take the taxiway up to 8/26, turn onto 8/26, cross the east runway and hold short of the center. No problem.

As my student completed her checks after starting the engine and prepared to taxi, I noticed that her altimeter was reading about 185 feet high. It was the first flight of the day, and she’d failed to set her altimeter to the new, lower pressure. Since this was the flight before her final check ride, I decided to see if she’d catch it by herself.

It’s important to let a student learn from his own mistakes whenever possible. If I can let them make a mistake and discover it themselves, they are far, far less likely to repeat the mistake than if I catch the mistakes and point it out to them. For instance, when a student is cleared for a straight-in approach to runway 16 from the north arrival for the first time, I’ll talk him through it. The next time, however, I don’t say much of anything. As a result, it doesn’t occur to him until we’re on about a half mile final that they really might need to slow down to the approach speed of 65 knots, get the flaps down to landing, etc. So we come screaming in to final at about 120 knots, flaps up, usually a little high to boot. At about a half mile final, at which point it’s entirely too late, they say something about “Whoa, I’m really fast.”

The not-so-good student will attempt to drop the flaps at 120 knots, which will probably result in damage to flap system. I’m ready and slap his hand out of the way as he reaches for the flap control and demand to know what at what speed we can put the flaps down.

The slightly better student will pull the power to idle to try to slow down, realize that he needs to get even slower to put the flaps down and pitch up a bit to get the air speed under control. He’ll do so, get the flaps extended, and realize that he’s absurdly high, but tries to save face by forcing the plane down to the runway. He can’t do it, and invariably I instruct him to go around.

The even better student will realize that there’s no way to get the plane configured in time and initiate a go-around without my prompting.

In any of these cases, the student generally won’t make the same mistake next time we fly a long straight-in approach. But if I simply warn them a mile out that they need to slow down, they’ll make a decent approach. Is that better? Nope, because the first time I don’t say anything they’ll wind up fast.

The danger with letting a student leave a mis-set altimeter until they discover it is that I need to remember that it’s mis-set. If I stop thinking about it for even a moment, I’ll become occupied with something else, and next thing I know I’ll flying around 185 feet low. So as we taxi, my mind is glued to the mis-set altimeter. I wait and wait for her to get to the flight instrument callouts while she taxis, but she’s not. “How about your flight instruments?” I ask.

“Airspeed indicator zero. Well, wait it’s not quite indicating zero, but I guess we’re going fast enough for it to read a little, is that okay?”

“It’s fine, just make sure it reads zero when we stop.”

“Okay, uhh, attitude indicator, no more than five degrees pitch or bank, altimeter six thousand, uh… six thousand seven hundred and uh twenty. VSI zero and no flags.”

“Turn left here on 8-26,” I tell her and continue, “What are the limits of the altimeter?”

At this point I’m getting annoyed. She’s just read that the altimeter is 185 feet high, and hasn’t even realized it!

“I don’t know, Sir, it’s not in the callouts?” “No, it’s not, but it is in the standard operating procedures, and you should know it. But how far off is your altimeter?”

“I don’t know.” Never good. As we come to a stop in front of the runway, I have her turn for a runup, explain that the limit for an altimeter is +/- 75 feet, and that she should know field elevation by now, and that the altimeter is reading nowhere near it. Furthermore, the reason it’s reading nowhere near it is that she hasn’t set it. We get that straightened out, and she does her runup.

That completed, I tell her I’ll go ahead and call tower since she’s confused about where we are and where we’re going because it’s so abnormal. I tell tower that we’re holding short of 16C on 8/26 and request an intersection takeoff. Runway 16C is 4500ft long, but 16L (the one we usually use) is 3500 ft long. At the intersection of 8/26 and 16C, there’s 3500ft of runway to the south, the same amount we normally have. While in general I would prefer to have the extra runway available for takeoff, if everyone back-taxied on the runway for takeoff, it would take forever to get us all airborne. So since I know I’ve got the same amount of runway as I usually do, and takeoff distance was only calculated to be 1900ft for this flight, I’m comfortable with an intersection takeoff. Tower clears Talon 22 for takeoff, which seems strange, because I’m in Talon 15. I respond that I’m it was Talon 15 that just requested takeoff clearance, and they clear me for takeoff. I pull onto the runway, smoothly apply full power (Normally I let the student perform the takeoff, but in this instance, she was confused enough I’d decided to just give her the aircraft on the takeoff roll.” “Engine instruments in the green, airspeed alive, you have the aircraft,” I tell her. Just then I hear over the radio, “TALON 15 Takeoff clearance CANCELED, HOLD POSITION.” Without thinking, I pull power to idle and stop, not more than a couple hundred feet from where I started. I wondered what was going on. “Talon 15, turn left on taxiway echo, then left on 8/26 to runway 16 center.” At this point I’m thinking “Huh? That’s where I am…” when it hits me. I’ve turned onto the *WRONG RUNWAY*. Instead of being on the center runway like I thought I was, I was actually on the east runway. Which was closed. I can’t begin to express just how stupid I felt.

Fortunately, I didn’t get into any trouble; I’m merely bearing the brunt of my colleagues’ laughter for the time being. “Wrong Way Nachzen” is going to be my moniker for some time, I’m afraid.

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