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Let’s Get Real, My Friends!

By Radek Wyrzykowski

March 2018 - Imagine yourself in a cockpit. You are at 3,000 feet. It is late summer in the Northeast. The air is humid, but it does not restrict your visibility. It is relatively fresh at your altitude. To your west, the Catskill Mountains stand majestically with their unique beauty. Your Cessna 152’s engine runs smoothly, and the distant chatter of different airports on your radio’s common traffic advisory frequency reminds you of your recent checkride. You want to shout, “I am a pilot!”

You keep adjusting your power to stay at your altitude, but suddenly you realize the throttle is fully opened and your rpm is dropping steadily and quickly. As you remember from your written test, this could be an indication of carburetor ice. You remember from your textbooks and instructor to expect an initial drop and then a steady increase of the engine’s rpm when you apply carburetor heat. Promptly, your hand pushes down the carb heat handle, and suddenly something unexpected happens: The engine starts sputtering and feels like it is going to quit. You panic. You’ve never had an engine failure before, and you definitely don’t want to have one now. Your hand automatically turns off the carburetor heat. You relax as smoothness comes back to your engine’s low rpm. The unanswered question plays in your mind. What could it be? A few seconds later, the engine suddenly quits.

This story is real and fortunately does have a happy ending, with a power-off landing at a nearby airport. However, it didn’t have to end in an emergency if the pilot had known that ice melting in the carburetor will produce temporary water in the fuel supply. There are many stories like this in both VMC and IMC flight conditions.

Too often after reading NTSB reports about someone who crashed, we hurry to judgment and try to fault the pilot for what we call a “stupid” decision. That, we say proudly, would never happen to us!

Most accidents are the final result of a chain of merely wrong decisions. At the point of the crash itself, which usually lasts just a few seconds, those decisions are irreversible. No pilot would wake up in the morning and say, “Today I want to do something stupid and crash.” Yet crashes still happen.

Practical, real-life knowledge is what will make someone a good and safe pilot, but it will only come with experience. As much as it’s needed and necessary, no government regulation or FAA-mandated training will ever make you completely safe pilot with no room for improvement. We can and should self-regulate our experience, setting our own standards well above FAA minimums. I firmly believe we have a responsibility to help others learn from our mistakes and to learn from the mistakes of others.

You can only do this in a community of people willing to share their own experiences with you. EAA’s IMC and EAA VMC Club programs offer just that.

Through your local EAA IMC/VMC Club and its growing collection of member-submitted audio/visual scenarios, you can learn different ways to handle real-life challenges and emergencies, engage with pilots of all experience levels, share your experiences, and take part in fellow-pilot assessments. There are no right or wrong answers. The idea is not to find absolute answers but to develop balanced thinking and learn from each other. It may save your or a fellow pilot’s life someday.

Adding IMC or VMC Club programming to your chapter’s offerings is free, creates added value for current chapter members, and brings the potential to attract new members.

Many chapters that have adopted IMC or VMC Club programming have seen a boost in membership participation and new member additions. Visit the IMC Club and VMC Club pages on EAA’s website to learn more.

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