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Old 03-19-2013, 11:08 AM
LettersFromFlyoverCountry's Avatar
LettersFromFlyoverCountry LettersFromFlyoverCountry is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: St. Paul, MN.
Posts: 4,826
Default Regret and the 'no go' decision

(Reposted from Letters From Flyover Country)

Sometimes, I think I'm too risk-averse to be a pilot.

For the past six weeks, I've been planning a trip to Arizona with my youngest (25) son. We're both big Cleveland Indians fans and wanted to spend a couple of days watching the Tribe. My friend, Darwin Barrie, offered to put the RV-7A up at his airpark and give us his truck for the week to use.

And so began weeks of planning for the trip, which -- for me -- consists of six weeks of worrying, playing "what if?". I pored over the charts and established the best route. I consulted with Darwin on the best approach into Phoenix' airspace. I'd go to sleep at night thinking of the approach and memorizing every mile of the route, the fuel stops, and the time.

Last fall, I met a gentleman who was kayaking from the Northwest Angle of Minnesota to Key West. He'd started in June and hoped to reach Key West on New Year's Eve. He actually reached it last week. But when I talked to him at the time, I was planning a trip to Massachusetts. "I'm a little nervous about it," I admitted.

"If you're not a little nervous," he said, "you're not going far enough."

As I prepared for this trip, I heard his words. Constantly. The nervousness was fine, I told myself, because I'm going far enough. It's good.

About two weeks ago, the weather discussions at the National Weather Service regional sites (they reallyare very interesting and informative reads) began to encompass the departure weather -- today -- and more "worrying" as the "what ifs" grew to encompass every section of the route, weatherwise. What are my limits? What are my alternates? How prepared am I to make the no-go decision?

Of course, it's impossible to know for sure that far out what the weather will be, which necessitates more "what ifs."

Although a blizzard came through Minnesota yesterday, I was fairly confident we'd be able to get out of here this morning. (I'd already scrapped a Monday departure last week on the basis of the the weather data I'd been gathering for a week and analyzing every four or five hours). The gusty winds were to die down to about 20 knots this morning, I checked the airport yesterday and they'd done a good and quick job removing the blowing snow, and the sky was supposed to be scattered clouds at 2500 feet. It would be cold, but I was fairly sure we'd survive the three-hour trip in high headwinds to Lexington, Nebraska, our first fuel stop, and be able to get out of there before the winds were forecast to pick up there. The rest of the trip looked weather-good. I started dreaming about being one of those people who posts trip pictures on Van's Air Force.

I'd earlier been concerned about getting Patrick home in time for a shift he had scheduled on Sunday, and a test at school (he's in the nursing program) for Monday. So I bought a $550 refundable one-way ticket on Southwest from Phoenix to Minneapolis for Saturday for him, and figured if need be, I could stay in Phoenix for a few extra days and fly back alone. But at least he'd be back in time.

Otherwise, we'd plan to fly back on Friday, maybe Saturday if the weather was good from there to here.

He was excited for the trip, especially with temperatures here 20-30 degrees below normal for this time of year. All of Minnesota is experiencing seasonal disorder, as is custom, and a couple days of watching baseball was the perfect antidote. It would have been a fabulous flight down and a great experience between father and son to remember forever.
This is why I built an airplane.

I spent yesterday on final preparations for the plane, plugging in the engine heater, organizing what's staying and what's going, and trying to figure out how close to gross weight we'd be. As it turns out, I learned just how quickly two 170-pound pilots and baggage can exceed the 1800-pound limit on an RV-7A with a full load of fuel. It'd be close.

Late last evening, flight plans filed, plane ready, peanut-butter sandwiches and water packed, I made one last weather check before a go-no go decision, only to discover the weather discussions from the National Weather Service sites from the Texas panhandle (Dalhart, TX was a fuel stop) all the way to Minneapolis began mentioning precipitation and clouds for Thursday into the weekend, where they had mentioned none previously.

But it's impossible to know at this early stage what sorts of clouds and what kind of precipitation. Steady rain? Showers? Low clouds? High clouds? Clouds I can snake around or clouds that keep me on the ground? Clouds that beckon me to fly scud? There was no way to know for sure. The two main computer models -- one from the U.S. and one from Europe -- disagreed on what might happen. The European model was suggesting the system would stall over the Dakotas through Monday. The U.S. model said might not.

Now I had to make a decision: Which one to believe? In previous analysis of weather discussions, I felt the European computer models were more accurate, so I chose to believe them.

Then I thought about trying to fly home, and running into ice, or low clouds and not being able to find a way through. I started to think about Get Home-itis, when the urge to get home forces pilots to make bad decisions. I thought about forcing Patrick to get in a plane on Friday to try to make it home before things (maybe) got bad -- and then getting stranded in Kansas, with him missing his work shift and his test -- rather than waiting a day and putting him safely on an airliner, and I thought about me sitting in Phoenix waiting for springtime weather to be good from Phoenix to Minneapolis, paying for a motel, not getting back to work on time at a place that isn't as excited about what I do as it once seemed to be.

And then I called the trip off.

I called Patrick and told him. "It's OK," he said, although I knew it wasn't. He's already scheduled the days off. He'd already given his car away to his girlfriend to use because hers is on a bad tire. He'd already packed. He was looking forward to the experience, and somewhere along the trip, I was going to teach him the ins and outs of flying.

His goal on the trip was to play catch with his father on the hill beyond the right field at the Indians' park in Goodyear (even though they'd be on the road for the two games we'd watch, but the Reds play at the same park). "Don't forget to pack your glove and ball," he said a few days ago.

The day this morning dawned bright and sunny, though cold and windy. But it's a beautiful day to fly. "All that worry, and for what?" I said to myself as I set one foot out of the bed, and then another. My back was aching from yesterday's snow shoveling. I read the paper then sat in the rocking chair by the front window, bathing in the sun, and found myself thinking, "I'd be landing in Lexington right now."

And that's my punishment for the next few days. I'll watch the Indians game tomorrow and think "I'd be there right now," and even worse, I know my son will be doing that too. I will spend them wondering if I made a bad call.

Although I'm hoping a blizzard comes flying through the Plains on Friday on into Monday, it wouldn't surprise me if the weather turns out to be flyable, which will be an even greater punishment -- the knowledge that we could've done the trip and we missed out on a great experience. Together.

We're taught early in our flight training to use good judgment, and that many pilots have regretted trying to fly when they shouldn't.

But they don't tell you about the other kind of regret. The regret that maybe I was too cautious.

The regret that I missed one more game of catch with my son.
Bob Collins
St. Paul, MN.
Blog: Letters From Flyover Country
RV-12iS Powerplant kit
N612EF Builder log (EAA Builder log)
Last article: "Gonna Finish This Sucker" (Kitplanes)
Waiting for the avionics kit (backordered: chip shortage)

Last edited by LettersFromFlyoverCountry : 03-19-2013 at 05:37 PM.
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Old 03-19-2013, 11:31 AM
RV8iator's Avatar
RV8iator RV8iator is offline
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Saint Simons Island , GA
Posts: 1,651
Default Put your toes in

Hi Bob,

Nice perspective about judgement and knowing your own limitations.

I can't and wont' find fault with anything you said and it's absolutely your decision and you should abide by it once it is made.

I would offer however, that in order to actually get your confidence up in you and your plane you are going to have to just jump on in and try the water. They say judgment is what you get with bad experience, but you have to get the experience.

Long term weather forecasts are iffy at best. What I like to do if I have even half a chance at completing a trip is go have a look see. You can always turn back, stay longer, or with the speed of these little airplanes, go a different way.

I know carrying your son put extra pressure on you, but you had a way to get him SAFELY home in time with the airlines and you had extra time IF the weather bottomed out.

Like I said, I will NOT second guess a pilot for his own decision about HIS safety and comfort level, but I would encourage you to get a little nervous.
Jerry "Widget" Morris
RV 8, N8JL, 3,200+ hours on my 8.

VAF #818
Saint Simons Island, GA. KSSI
PIF 2007 - 2022

I just wish I could afford to live the way I do
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Old 03-19-2013, 11:43 AM
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Snowflake Snowflake is offline
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Sidney, BC, Canada
Posts: 4,331

This should be posted in the "Safety" forum. Excellent summary of the decision points leading up to a safe decision to stay on the ground, and fly another day.

There's a large difference between "wanting" to go somewhere, and "needing" to go somewhere. If I "need" to be there (ie. for work, etc.) i'll go commercially.
Rob Prior
1996 RV-6 "Tweety" C-FRBP (formerly N196RV)
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Old 03-19-2013, 11:52 AM
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rv7boy rv7boy is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Austinville, Alabama
Posts: 2,498
Default Grapefruit league

Bob, we need to convert you to being a Cardinals fan, or at the very least, a fan of the Grapefruit league. The distances are about the same from Minneapolis to Phoenix and from Minneapolis to West Palm Beach, but at least you wouldn't have to fly over those big mountains.
Don Hull
RV-7 Wings
KDCU Pryor Field
Pilots'n Paws Pilot
N79599/ADS-B In and Out...and I like it!

?Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights;
it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." Miriam Beard

Last edited by rv7boy : 03-19-2013 at 02:40 PM. Reason: corrected grammar
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Old 03-19-2013, 11:56 AM
pvalovich pvalovich is offline
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Ridgecrest, CA
Posts: 439
Default Options

Weather will always be a guesstimate. About the only surefire way to resolve your concerns would be to build extra days into the schedule to handle the "what ifs". The other thing I do in long range flight planning is to plan alternate routes. Going from CA to PA I always have a central, northern and southern route planned - at least to the stages o identifying fuel stops.

The RV provides amazing flexibility. Last year weather drove me to a further north route than I planned - but using Foreflight, Weathermeister and XM weather out of Colorado Springs, I was able to skirt the weather to the north (keep the green stuff to the right of the 496 screen) and select one o the many airports in Iowa for refueling. Had never even heard of Ft. Dodge - but there I was.

Force yourself to be realistic but cautious. As Dave Kerzy, RV guy and former U-2 test pilot asked me when I was discussing avionics capabilities for my -8A: "Do you realize how many hotel rooms you can book for the price of some of those all-weather avionics capabilies?"
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Old 03-19-2013, 12:08 PM
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bsacks05 bsacks05 is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Warner Robins, GA
Posts: 1,187

I struggle with this often. I have learned to try not to build too much anticipation before a trip. It is hard to think you let someone down by cancelling a trip so I make sure there is a healthy dose of "we'll see" involved in the planning.

I am going through this right now with my father. Every year I call him from Sun N Fun and tell him how fantastic it is and how he should come with me some time and it looks like this will be the year we do it. I explained to him that I have flown to SNF for the past 6 years and have never had to cancel due to weather, but usually have to modify my plans a little because of it. So, he just bought his airline ticket from D.C. to Atlanta with the understanding that if we can't go, then at least he gets to spend a few days with us in Georgia. Even though I am trying to downplay my excitement, I am really buzzed about him coming along this year! (I hope he doesn't snore )

I agree with the "let's go up and take a look approach" and if you happen to need to land somewhere other than your destination, then it is all part of the adventure.

Most "normal" people don't realize how important weather is to us. They think we can just hop in and travel somewhere. Those closest to us know differently.
Bruce Sacks
RV-9 N659DB - Flying since 7/1/06
Hatz CB-1 - Fabric covering with Polyfiber.
Warner Robins, GA
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Old 03-19-2013, 12:29 PM
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Quincy, Florida
Posts: 680
Default planning


I plan my trip and then wait for the time to leave. If things look acceptable, I take off. If there is any hint of doubt, I stay on the ground and accept the way things turned out. Also, if things go bad while I am at my destination, I stay until things improve. CAVU is a must, no matter what. I made one mistake fooling with weather about 32 years ago and I told God that if he let me live through it, I would never do it again. I haven't and I'm proud to say that I've enjoyed many beautiful VFR flights since that day.

Don't worry yourself to death about a trip. If the weather is good when you leave, enjoy your flight and consider the weather again when it is time to return. If you're grounded at your destination, enjoy the town and spend the money required to stay and enjoy yourself. The weather will eventually improve for a beautiful flight home. You don't have to leave the ground if the weather is iffy. Home will be there when you get back........just make sure you get back.
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Old 03-19-2013, 12:55 PM
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flyboy1963 flyboy1963 is offline
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Lake Country, B.C. Canada
Posts: 2,434
Default me too!

Bob, if you're still followin this; you sound almost exactly like me.
...except, I'm still too 'cautious' to even plan a trip like that!
I read about all the guys on here that fly to Argentina like it's a burger run, and it make it sound so simple.
.......but it isn't. You sound like you did all the right things.
I think I may try to tag along on a group trip to get me feet ( wings?) wet on a longer x-country. know, the kind where 4-6 planes all go to some air museum somewhere a day or 2 away.
The guy in the Mooney goes first, and calls back to say there's rain in the pass, or it's bumpy at 10,500, or whatever. The next few guys go, and if it's getting crappy, the fellow in the Champ decides to stay home. That's just how it goes.
After having my plane for 4 years, it may just be my turn to get out of the circuit, and post some nice photos!
Perry Y.
RV-9a - SOLD!....
Lake Country, BC
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Old 03-19-2013, 12:58 PM
Rupester Rupester is offline
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Mahomet, Illinois
Posts: 2,195
Default I'm with ya, bro'

I go thru the same mental machinations and planning ... for DAYS ... before a trip. I would have made the same call you did ....and felt exactly the same way after pulling the plug. That's our punishment for being older and a tad more conservative when it comes to safety. In my 20s and 30s I was bulletproof. Not today.
Terry Ruprecht
RV-9A Tip-up; IO-320 D2A
S. James cowl/plenum
(Dues paid thru Nov '18)
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Old 03-19-2013, 01:02 PM
BobTurner BobTurner is offline
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: Livermore, CA
Posts: 7,929

Never ever kick yourself for making the no-go decision. If at least a few times you don't end up on the ground wishing you were up there, then for sure there will be times when you're up in the air wishing you were on the ground.

That being said, a lot depends on "have to be there". Even United doesn't always get you there, so when you do go the mental attitude should always be that you might end up in a motel room somewhere, maybe for days. Having an instrument rating will make it a little easier but will not change that fact.
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