OVER ONE’S HEAD

Ever been tempted by an opportunity you knew you weren’t prepared for, and wondered what was the right thing to do? Me too. I had logged less than fifty hours of total flight time when it was suggested I start giving commercial rides in exchange for free use of a newly minted single seater, the Lark IS-29. I thought hard for about a minute and then turned the proposal down, not ‘cause it would be illegal, but because I knew I wasn’t ready, for commercial rides or the sexy new bird. I would regret that decision, half-heartedly, until I finally flew an IS-29 years later, and realized I’d actually passed a kind of intelligence test back when. Turns out the cute little Lark has an treacherous way of stalling and immediately spinning, with no warning of any kind. Knowing what I know now (and who I was then) if I’d wandered away from the airport in that ship with my ‘skills’ at the time, I almost certainly would have gotten low somewhere and spun her in. I can never prove this of course, nor can you prove otherwise.

But that’s not the whole story, either. At a very different time and place (only a hundred hours later in my logbook) I took the same intelligence test again, and failed. The temptation this time was giving dual flight instruction with a private rating, to be endorsed by someone 200 miles away — who happened to be the designated examiner if you can believe it! Still cross with myself for wimping out earlier, I foolishly accepted.

I was admonished to teach only what I knew, but with 150 hours total time I knew close to nothing. Not the best place to start, I thought, but one does have to start somewhere…

So naturally, my first raw primary student began drifting off from alignment with the runway on late final. That happens all the time of course, and I’ve dealt with it, now, about a thousand times. I’ve learned to expect it and have multiple ways to correct, but that day all I could do was improvise. Cringing to stay off the controls as much as possible, I waited a couple seconds too long before finally intervening, and suddenly there were trees between us and the threshold.

At certainly the last possible moment, I jammed both a right and a left turn to get around a dead Tamarack. We almost sneaked by — severing its top six feet with a wingtip. If it had been alive, or if we’d had a wing lower than the 2-33’s, we may have never reached the runway.

Turns out that tree had been impinging on required airspace clearance and would be cut down by DOT weeks later, weeks too late for our poor wingtip.

Et cetera, et cetera. The price of OJT without good information and guidance.

Ah, but the next year I formally bagged my CFI, and that made everything okay… Right?