None of us are perfect. I’m probably less perfect than most, but by the grace of God, good training and procedures, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the joy of flight for more than a decade. Along the way, there have been many bumps in the road. A very smart instructor once told me, “You need to learn from the mistakes of other pilots because you may not live long enough to learn from your own.” While that may sound frightening to most people, there is a lot of truth in that statement.
While sitting around a hangar telling flying stories, I realized that many of us have made the same mistakes – sometimes more than once. I compiled a list of five mistakes that are common and can be very serious or even life-threatening if not managed quickly and accurately. Hopefully the worst outcome is a hand to smack the forehead of many pilots. Please heed the warning so as not to repeat what many before you have experienced.
- Taking off on one magneto. This is much more common than I originally thought. Many of us don’t want to talk about it, but by a show of hands one evening, we found the percentage of pilots that have made the mistake of not having the ignition set to both magnetos to be very high.
- Not retracting flaps after take off. So you got a sign-off for a cross-country flight. Lots of stuff going on and you take off, communicate on the radio, turn off the landing lights, turn to the correct on-course heading, start the trip/fuel timers, etc. And then you fly 38 minutes and while downwind abeam the numbers, you go to drop that first notch of flaps and realize that they are already down. Face palm.
- Inadvertent flight into IMC. Normally, this happens because you are focused on something else besides looking out the front of the airplane. Common distractions include setting up the navigation radios or GPS, looking at the ground for reference maneuvers, or texting while flying. It’s going to happen. Keep calm and fly the airplane. Trust the gauges, engage the autopilot (if equipped), retreat toward alternate VMC weather and don’t be shy of asking for assitance.
- Forgetting to remove chocks or tie-down rope. This is probably the most common. You do the preflight, but it’s windy and you need to run inside to get the window cleaner so you leave a chock down to keep the airplane from being blown away. Upon return, you’ve forgotten about the chock, clean the windshield, hop in and try to taxi. Wow, it’s taking a lot of power to get out of the wheel rut…[insert favorite expletive].
- Landing with low fuel. The FAA’s definition of “low fuel” and mine are completely different. For VFR flight, you are only required by regulation to have 30 minutes of extra fuel on board. This is ridiculous and, in my opinion, ranks as the absolute WORST mistake you can make.
The point is you’re not alone. Any mistake you can walk away from relatively unscathed should be viewed as a valuable learning opportunity.
Care to add to the list?