Lousy Quotes for the Pilot

Amazing things can spill out of pilots’ mouths when they manage a particularly skillful response to an event that was initiated by their own stupidity — running out of fuel, for example. Lets take a look at one such quote, and what caused it.

I credit my training as a pilot for allowing me to make a safe landing.”
His wife was waiting for him at the airport, and he was slightly behind schedule when this pilot managed to run out of gas on his way home. It was nightfall as the pilot’s wife said she thought she saw his plane approaching, but decided it wasn’t him when it dropped out of sight miles south of the airport. He survived to offer that quote to the local paper.

Our intrepid pilot had a bad case of get-home-itus, and was pressing on in a long, cross-country leg at night. The leg put him at the limits of his plane’s endurance. Plus, he had a headwind. Apparently our pilot launched VFR and hadn’t really done any flight planning, other than to know where he was and where he was going.

Without a flight plan — or even a trip log — our pilot wasn’t able to determine how much fuel he had burned over how much time. He didn’t even note his time of departure as he left the first airport, so he had no way of back-calculating his fuel burn — assuming he would have thought of that. As he passed an airport on the way to his home field, he sensed that he was a little behind schedule, must have higher headwinds than normal, and that he might be low on fuel.

Some ten miles from his home airport, his engine sputtered and died. The prop quietly windmilling in front of him, our pilot decided to put his plane down on a nice, four-lane highway that was beneath him. He managed to make a safe landing, and pulled the plane off the road and into a driveway… to keep it from getting hit by traffic.

As the local sheriff showed up, with the media in tow, our now famous pilot made his presently infamous quote. Perhaps it should have read more like this: “If I had any skills as a pilot, I would have known the current wind conditions, and known my fuel level and expected fuel-burn. Plus, I would have kept track of my flight time, and time over each fix. Had I done that, I would have known that I didn’t have enough fuel to make it, and could have put in at another airport, instead of landing on a highway.”

If our pilot had exercised his skills — or paid attention to his ‘training as a pilot,’ he would have known that he was low on fuel, and been able to plan a fuel stop short of his destination. Instead, he won a headline on the local newspaper, and showcased his ineptitude for all who care to read.

Winds aloft forecasts are based on several scientific factors, but can be off by quite a margin. If you are fighting a headwind, the only way to tell if you have a problem is to take a gander at the groundspeed reading on the GPS (if you are so equipped) or to keep track of your leg times. Either step is incredibly easy and allows you to determine if — or just how far — the forecast is off. From there, you will know your options.

How much of a fuel reserve do you fly with? In my case, I maintain one hour of fuel on board, day or night, IFR or VFR. If something goes wrong, the last thing I need to have to worry about is whether I have enough gas to make it the rest of the way, or to my alternate. Our pilot ignored his reserves, or maintained such a small margin, that he was able to burn them away without noticing!

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t be the victim of a stupid quote. Take the time to plan your flights, and you won’t be surprised by running out of gas… or any number of other maladies. The embarrassment — and reputation — that you save will, of course, be your own.