A Cautionary Tale


A Cautionary Tail~Guest Blogger Nick Garrod, CFII/ATP

The air, like the sea, can be unforgiving. Mistakes can go one of two ways, be a teachable moment or be a tragic life-changing event. As a professional pilot and CFII, I take stock of my own mistakes or errors in judgement as ways to achieve personal growth and development as a CFI. If I can prevent the same lapses in judgement in others and especially my students, then I can potentially save a life. The following story is a great example of how I made many small mistakes that, on a different day, could change the course of my family’s lives. This blog is a cautionary tale. Do not test any of the actions I took on this flight, rather LEARN from my mistakes.

This event happened in June 2012. I had just over 1,000 hours total time, about 500 hours as a SIC in a CRJ 200, and several hundred hours as a CFII. At the time, I flew for a regional airline for 2 years having not flown a single engine aircraft since I started.

About a month after receiving a checkout in a Cessna 152, I took my wife up for a sightseeing flight around downtown Detroit. The checkout consisted of .5 hours and 3 landings, but I was textbook “hazardous attitudes macho” and felt confident in the aircraft since “I flew jets every day I could handle a small C152”, first mistake. As it turns out, it was also windy and had a direct crosswind right at the aircraft’s maximum – no problem, second mistake. I casually scanned the weather and did my walk around, and after starting the aircraft, the first thing I noticed was the push to talk button didn’t work on my side. I attempted a fix but after 30 secs of trying, I just swapped the plugs on our headsets and used the push to talk button on the other yoke - no big deal, third mistake.

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We took off despite the windy conditions and turned towards downtown Detroit to see the sights and, as we approached Detroit City Airport (KDET), I checked in with since I planned to fly near their airspace. I said we planned to go take a lap around downtown and then head back. The controller advised there was an active sporting event TFR, to which I immediately did a 180 and apologized for my mistake, embarrassed because I forgot to check, fourth mistake. As we continued to fly, the wind was getting worse, so we headed back to the airport.

At this point, I checked the weather and since our departure the winds had picked up. They were now above the limit of the C152 and gusting even higher. Again, my macho attitude took over as I thought, “I do crosswind landings every day. How hard can this be?” I lined up, configured, (fifth mistake) and crabbed into the strong wind to maintain center line. While it was a battle, I managed to keep it lined up. I got over the threshold, pulled power to idle, dipped the wing and kicked the rudder. The wind was too strong for the aircraft and I immediately found myself blown over the grass. I decided to do a go around and it got worse. I applied full power and put the flaps up to takeoff setting, a procedure that you do in a jet, not so much in a C152. At no more than 20 feet off the ground, the stall horn went off, more than halfway down the 2300-foot runway, and staring at trees.

I pushed the throttle past the stop and worked the controls just trying not to stall all while the trees getting closer and closer. The plane was hardly climbing, the stall horn was still screaming, and I finally realized the series of poor and avoidable decisions that could have easily prevented this dire situation. Moments before I nearly collided with the tree-tops, a gust of wind gave me the lift clearing us by what felt like inches. With no other option, we went around the pattern for another attempt and this time I planned to be pushed sideways and forced the aircraft down on the runway. I apologized to my wife and we got out and went home.

Every time this flight comes to mind, I see the mistakes more clearly. I think about the times I told my students not to have hazardous attitudes, to conduct a proper preflight that includes weather, NOTAMs, TFRs, and an examination of personal minimums before the flight to help make safer in-flight decisions. Despite how I train my students, I did none of these things that day. Because I flew a jet, I was over confident in my ability to fly that aircraft and handle the weather. The outcome of that flight would have been significantly different if not for a single gust of wind - I was just plain lucky. Because I survived, I made a career assuring that I am not only diligent in my preflight planning, I learned the value of humbling myself to the sometimes-unforgiving sky. I use this story as a teachable moment for my students. I personally help make sure my students make good decisions during training, referring to  moments like this that demonstrate that only they can prevent their own bad judgement once they eventually earn their Private pilot certificate, especially since I was ATP at the time! It is never a bad thing to admit that you are not comfortable and either not go flying, or in a multi crew environment hand the controls to the more experienced pilot. It is always better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground.

Nick Garrod CFII/ATP, Corporate Pilot







Blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace independent, professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinions or position of the National Association of Flight Instructors. NAFI does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented. Readers should note content may appear in various media, including print, email, enews without further notice.
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Comments on "A Cautionary Tale"

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Deb K Gangwish - Saturday, November 07, 2020

It’s not easy sharing mistakes but I thank you for your reflections on that flight and the chain of events that lead to a humbling day, a day that changed you and an example of how vital sound ADM is to keeping aviation safe. This story sticks in my head because I can feel you in the seat of that 152 - it will help me be a better pilot and it will help me in my ground school instruction - a fantastic “hook” to attach book knowledge to real life ADM. Thank you!

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