A Flight I Didnt Take by Fred Quarles

It was almost Christmas and time for the annual migration south to see the grandparents. Over the river, (hopefully not through the woods), to grandmother’s house we go).

The weather had been bad the day before, and today, things were reporting 300-400 foot ceilings, with drizzle. It was really a gray day.

I had worked on into the afternoon, and was feeling somewhat washed out, having been up late the night before working to get last minute details completed. The crew had packed the bags, made up the flight plan, and we went out to load the plane.

Everything got weighed, and carefully loaded. It was getting late, and I still wasn’t feeling right because of the low ceilings, but I was feeling the pressure to get going.

Having a family sitting in the waiting room, asking when we can leave, always creates pressure. Stop, get a weather report, ceiling goes up a 100 feet, check the weather, ceiling goes down a 100 feet.

Go back to the weather report, check for places to land in an emergency, (nearest place was Charleston, S.C. 300 miles away – next nearest place was Daytona about 500 miles away).

The weather was going up and down, mostly down. Everything on the plane seemed to be working alright, maps in place, fuel reserve ok, weight and balance checked, but I was tired and it was getting dark.

I filed the flight plane, got the plane loaded, called the tower, got the clearance and started to taxi out. Sitting there in the cabin, I checked the maps and course out one last time, did a engine out drill in my mind and scanned the panel, thinking about the mental discipline necessary to keep the plane straight and climing, should I lose an engine on take off into a 400 foot ceiling.

As I looked up at the instruments and the far end of the runway, I had the sensation that my scan pattern didn’t fall into the right place. My eyes just didn’t focus where they should.

As that happened, tower gave me my clearance, but things just weren’t right. I decided to call it a day, get a good night’s sleep and try again, early in the morning.

We taxiied back in and put the plane back in the hangar.

The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, we got up and went to the airport. Ceilings had gone up to 600 variable 800. I was feeling better about things now. The sleep helped. Visibility had gone up to about 2.5 miles, so we would have some maneuvering room if we had problems on take off.

My eyes fell naturally where they should. We got in the plane, called tower, picked up our clearance, taxied out and left.

After about 1000′ in the clouds, we broke into the clear and climbed on out for an uneventuful, but beautiful flight, over the river and over the woods to grandmothers house 690 NM away.

The passengers had griped mildly about the delay, but, it had to be that way. Some days, it’s better to go back to bed.

Fred Quarles