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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

There I Wuz!—Case of the Missing NOTAM

#blog #aviation #avgeek #article

Originally published in Plane & Pilot Magazine
August, 1990 issue as "Flight I'll Never Forget: Listen Up!"

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THE CASE OF THE MISSING NOTAM

I had been flying for a Phoenix-based charter company for about three months, had a few years' flight instructing and 1300 hours in my logbook, and had already settled into the company's bread-and-butter run: the Grand Canyon tour. Now, as an experienced tour pilot—or Ditch Driver, as we called ourselves—I could almost do it in my sleep. . .
Perhaps that was what I was doing on this day.

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I should have hired a Private Dick to find my head that day.

The sun was just peeking through the office window shades when the Flight Service Specialist answered the phone. I absent-mindedly rattled off the flight plan, all the while crunching weight and balance numbers on a calculator. The weather brief was just that—brief—as I knew it would be: severe clear and not a cloud in the state. CAVU, as we called it, "Ceiling and visibility unlimited.
Another boringly perfect fall day in Arizona.
"All Navaids operational," the briefer continued, while I pondered a glitch in my weight and balance calculations, "NOTAM (Notices to Airman) out for 'temporary' landing runway three."

"Psst, hey buddy, you seen this pilot's missing noggin?"
"Runway three," I muttered, "thanks. Once we're airborne, we'll call you on one twenty two point six to activate." I hung up and finished writing the final c.g.
On the way out to the plane, something in the back of my mind whispered, runway three...wonder why he bothered saying that. The tower doesn't even open for another hour....
The thought slipped away as Debra, our office manager,introduced my passengers, four tourists from Japan. I smiled and led them to our Cessna Centurion.
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I was an experienced, professional "Ditch Driver"...so why did I ditch my brain?
The hour-and-a-half flight up was smooth and uneventful. But as the Canyon neared, my workload increased dramatically.
Flying through the Canyon, the Ditch Driver switches into hyperdrive: fly the plane, narrate the tour, watch for Ditch traffic, radio checkpoints to others, and listen for other Ditch Drivers transmitting checkpoints.
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"Cessna seven eight Victor, you are cleared to land . . ."
I had my hands full, but continued with confidence—no,overconfidence.
"On your right we have Confucius Temple," I sang into the intercom as we soared past that natural rock statue. I keyed the mike and annouced crisply, "Canyon traffic, Centurion seven eight victor, Confucius, eight point five, westbound."
I punched the number two radio monitor button and a second voice spoke into my headphones, superimposed over the number one radio chatter:
"...Grand Canyon airport information Mike, time..."
"On your left," I continued, "is my favorite, the giant rock scorpion."
"...altimeter two niner niner seven, temporary landing runway three...."


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". . . on TEMPORARY Runway 3."
I set the altimeter and announced, "Centurion seven eight victor, Scorpion Ridge, eight point five, inbound for the airport."
Again I had missed that single, subtle word, temporary.
As we sailed past the south rim, I flipped to Grand Canyon Airport Tower frequency.
"Canyon tower, Centurion seven eight victor, Cocopah Point,landing with Information Mike."
"Centurion seven eight victor, enter on a right base for three."
"Roger."
"Centurion seven eight victor," came the call on final as I was glancing around the cabin to check my passengers' seatbelts, "cleared to land, temporary runway three."
Turning back to the controls, I answered, "Cleared to land, roger."
"Hey, Numbnuts!  Bogie at 12 o'clock!"

On short final, I noticed something strange on the runway.  An object of some kind. As we neared, the object grew to the shape of a man, two men, three men on the runway!
The Twin Otter behind me calmly asked over the radio, "Hey, isn't that guy lined up on the wrong runway?"
Suddenly, the word TEMPORARY flashed through my thick head.
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"Seven eight victor, go around! Men and equipment on the runway!"
I was ramming the throttle in as the tower called, "Seven eight victor, go around! Go around, men and equipment on the runway!"
The workers, alerted by the sudden surge of power, scattered. As we aborted the landing and climbed back out, I frowned at my startled passengers, pointing to the workers on the runway as if it were their fault.
The Japanese watched in amazement the frenzied rout of escapees.
I continued around the pattern and landed—this time, on the parallel taxiway, the temporary runway 3. During the slow taxi to the ramp, I mentally cowered from the reproachful eyes of the controller, construction workers, and the other professional pilots who surely must have seen my blunder.
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This story is now filed away in the There I Wuz arsenal of cocktail party stories. But down inside, when I tell it with a wink and a smile to a captive (and, I make sure, nonflying) audience, deep down inside I know it was nothing to be laughed at. It is an embarassing reminder of my own stupidity, when I almost let complacency get the upper hand.
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Now, when I find myself tracing the same old route from point A to point B, I remember: always pay attention. . . .
For if you write off a flight as just another routine, one day, your plane might write you off.


Case solved.
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8 comments:

  1. LOL - Love that post!!! Not all of us can admit when we - well - left part of the brain at home that morning - probably in the missed cup of coffee on the counter!! :) Thanks for sharing the - suspense :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, Mark, I can always count on you for an enthusiastic reply!

      And yes, pilots learn best from theirs and other's mistakes! Hence the popularity of P&P's "Never Again" series, and AOPA's "I Learned About Flying From That" (both of which I've, sadly, contributed to, LOL!)

      If you haven't yet, click the link to read "Grand Crisis Over Grand Canyon." It's a similar story, and you'll be scratching your head all the way up to the end, lol!

      Oh, and PS—Just got an email from you dad who read my novel. He said he loved it! So happy for him...gonna write him back soon...

      Cheers!

      Delete
  2. This is great. And... we've all been there. But, I have to ask you an important question. Is hiring a private dick to find your head, kind of like the blind leading the blind? :) Excellent post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha good point, Karlene, spoken like a true female...er, pilot!

      I played around with that line quite a bit (no pun intended), but decided it was just too good to pass up, LMAO!

      Thanks!

      Delete
  3. Entertaining post but salutary lesson contained within!

    D'ya know, sometimes I am driving along in a little world of my own and completely fail to notice the satnav telling me to take the next left as I go sailing past - lesson here, don't ever get in a car with me!!

    All the best!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Dave, for stopping by from the UK!

      Haha we all get into that hypnotic zone, even in the airplane. Human nature, esp. when you've done something a hundred times!

      Two pilots in the cockpit is the best safety device ever invented ;-)

      Delete
  4. Brilliant post. Every time i read your posts I cant wait for the next one really good entries.

    :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Blundells! Another visitor from the UK I see, great! :-D

      I have several coming up I know you'll love. The next one on UFO's I think is particularly fun!

      Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to comment any time.

      Delete

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