How To Make The Correct Difficult Critical Decision

Difficult Critical Decision:  “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were flying, than in the air wishing you were on the ground ” – unknown

A few days ago, I participated in the 2018 Kansas Air Tour.  Flying in this event has been on my radar for two years, and was one of my 2018 goals.  To say I had planned for this is an understatement, but the morning to depart arrived.  Little did I know that early in the trip I would be faced with a difficult critical decision.

At the crack of dawn, I headed for Cook Airfield.  It was a perfect day.   I had spent the previous Sunday afternoon prepping and polishing my red coupe to within an inch of her life.  Oiled, fueled and aired up, I loaded my carefully packed and weighed flight gear into the luggage area, did a pre-flight and pulled her out of the hangar.  With the start-up checklist complete and a “clear prop” shout, I pulled the starter handle and taxied out.

A Great Beginning

The first leg of my flight was from Cook Airfield to Wellington, KS where the tour actually began.  A short 12 minute flight plus ground time got me to the ramp just after 8 AM.  I joined the 50 or so airplanes participating in the tour, the local high school band, 4th grade students and city dignitaries who were gathered to kick off the event.  Compass Rose Skydivers opened the day with the American Flag unfurled from above.

At this and the other stops, students interacted with pilots as they looked at  airplanes. One young girl got a  close look at the red Aircoupe.  She was subdued during our chat but later I saw her telling her fellow students all about my airplane.  They are listening!

Next stop, Hutchinson, KS.  a short 50 miles away, I made it there in just over 30 minutes.  The extra eight turns outside Class D airspace because the controller was too busy, added another 15 minutes flight time.  We heard from the AOPA Regional Representative while here, then headed for Junction City, KS.

 Difficult Critical Decision Time

After a walk around and routine oil check, “clear prop” and start-up, I requested to taxi to runway 22.  A normal run-up and magneto check, but then as I pulled the carburetor heat, I felt something “give”.  When I pushed the knob back in, engine power did not come up.  I tried a few more things, and sometimes the power came up, a sometimes it did not.

This is that:  Difficult Critical Decision point.   Is this a go or no-go?   First, a bit of background:

Carb heat is needed in certain climate conditions to deal with carburetor icing.  When ice builds up the engine will begin to loose power, you need heat to melt the ice.  You also put carb heat on when landing so icing does not build up at low engine RPMs.

Pilot Speak During A Difficult Critical Decision

Rationalizing sneaks in:

  • “Climate conditions this day were not conducive to carburetor icing, so this is not REALLY a safety thing….”
  • “My plane could generate enough power with carb heat on to take off and fly.”  How do I know?  I have forgotten carb heat once or twice and was able to take off. (wondering all the while why the engine felt sluggish – oops!)
  • Maybe I could go ahead and take-off to see “if it cleares up in the air”.
  • and a few other “I really want to continue this tour” thoughts.

Then my years dealing with aviation accidents kicked in and I called ground to taxi back to the ramp.  Decision made.  I felt right in spite of disappointment at all the planning, expectation and resources gone for naught.

Before shutting down, I called the Fixed Base Operator (FBO) to have someone come out and look things over.   I then called the Air Tour frequency and let them know I would not be joining them in Junction City.

 Difficult Critical Decision Confirmed

The initial look over revealed that the carb heat door shaft had come loose from the control lever.  This means the carb heat door opened and closed at will.  This would mean engine power could fluctuate and the door could even begin to flutter, or worse come loose.  Right decision.

Not to be defeated – I found someone to work on the plane, who just happen to have worked on it before,  rented a car and did the tour anyway!  I hit the overnight stops thus having a great time chatting with fellow pilots at Salina and Great Bend.

We knew the weather was iffy for the third day as a cold front was headed our way.  As it turns out, I could not have aflown that day and been grounded further away from home.  So, I drove back to Hutchinson, picked up my repaired Coupe and flew her home the day after the tour.

A huge shout out to Midwest Malibu and Wells Aircraft at Hutchinson Regional Airport for taking such great care of me and my baby in our time of need!

Not Just For Pilots

Difficult Critical Decision times come our way frequently, and not just for pilots.  Pilots train to recognize these moments so that we don’t push through when it is unwise to do so.  I have dealt with many an accident where this kind of critical thinking does not occur.

Difficult Critical Decision making is useful to anyone to avoid emotions overriding good sense.  For instance:

  • That relationship you know to be less than the best?
  • That food choice or substance you use?
  • How about that thing you want to buy on credit that is not necessary?
  • Or even those words lurking on your lips or your social media keyboard better left unsaid?

You can do the same as I did:  think about how the “accident report” would read if you push forward.  It may not be life or death, or is it?

What  Difficult Critical Decision  have you made that turned out to be a blessing?  Perhaps one that you regret?  Feel free to share (or not) but don’t forget to subscribe!

I am a former air traffic controller, pilot, Aircoupe owner, married 42 years to a great guy. We live in a 125+ year old historic Victorian, enjoy cats, vintage anything, precious friends. My passion is Giving Lost Stories A Voice – Giving Found Materials Fresh Form and Purpose!

5 thoughts on “How To Make The Correct Difficult Critical Decision

  1. Well done, Nancy—and, thanks for the application to our everyday living.

    As Safety Officer for our C-130 unit, and having read countless accident reports, I too have seen “…many an accident where this kind of critical thinking does not occur.” It’s called “human error.” In other words, it can’t just be blamed on mechanics, weather, or fate. AND, most importantly, it was avoidable.

    1. It is a blessing to have been so keenly trained. Some might think it makes one fearful but I have found quite the opposite. When thinking in this way in all facets of life, you are less likely to find yourself surprised and broadsided. Of course, it helps when one follows a biblical worldview – the book of Proverbs is full of “critical thinking” tips!

    2. Just had a similar situation with my plane. I’ve been practicing for our local chapter’s aerobatic competition in Lamar that was this weekend 5-7 Oct. A couple weeks ago I developed a leak in my electric fuel pump that seemed to leak only during inverted flight. Also, my constant speed propeller was slinging a little grease. My first thoughts were to nurse the plane through the competition and fix it after, besides, my conditional inspection (annual for homebuilts) was due in October as well. I fought with the decision contemplating all my practice, desire to compete, missing out on the camaraderie with the other pilots, etc. One thing I have gained with all my flight experience is wisdom. Wisdom told me to fix the issues, there’s always next year. It turns out the weather would not have let me fly home from Lamar, so I would’ve been stuck there, and I got to celebrate my grandmother’s 98th birthday with her. Win Win. The book of Proverbs! All about wisdom!

      1. Wow Mark – First, I learned a new term I will be needing: Conditional Inspection, since, if all goes as planned, in a year or two…. I will be the operator of an EAA sport biplane. Second, it is not uncanny how these kinds of moments are so personal since we all have agency, yet the commonality is so strong. Thanks for sharing (and reading) .

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