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Planning makes perfect

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Engineer 4
Engineer 4
Posts: 1720
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006

Planning makes perfect

Unread post by islandflyer » Mon Apr 09, 2007

Planning is something that as pilots we are taught every step of the way – plan your flight, plan your fuel requirements, plan based on the weather and the weight or load being carried, et cetera, et cetera. Woe unto that pilot who neglects his planning. He or she is considered foolhardy, a nuisance, or at worst, a dangerous pilot.

I did not consider myself any of those things. I had selected my destination – St. Lucia’s Castries airport because it was quiet, and the approach up from the south offered quite a view to my passengers of the majestic Pitons and forested slopes. I had chosen my ride (actually, the only one available) – 8P-ASN, the C172XP at the Light Aeroplane Club in Barbados, a 195HP beast that flew like a brick. I chose my passengers (all girls, naturally), including my sister since I wanted to have some sort of respectability to this exercise, and that the parents of the real object of my attention would not get suspicious. My fuel, flight planning, maintenance, everything was set. My friend had arranged our pickup contact to meet us in St. Lucia and take us off to the beach for the day. All was well.

We met up earlier that morning at the terminal, then I dashed over to the Club to pick up the aircraft, which I had gone over the evening prior. With full tanks I could make it over and back without a problem, everything was in order. I started up and taxied over to the north side to complete the official paperwork and process up my passengers. I remember the Customs guys looking on as I swaggered out, with 3 girls sashaying behind. Life was good. After a little issue with starting the engine (why does this always happen? :D ), we were off at 9:41 a.m. OK, we were later that I wanted by an hour, but the day was still young. We climbed out and set course, with me prattling off information while 3 excited girls pressed their faces to the plexiglass windows looking for fish, whales, boats, anything really.

Descent was as planned and the approach into Castries was fine, and I was forgiven for the slight bounce on landing. We cleared Customs, and met our guide for the day.

I guess the plans started to unravel from before we even left the ground at BGI, we just didn’t realize it. It only became obvious later that afternoon when we were looking for a taxi back to the airport. You see, it was December 26th, the day after Christmas, so there was no transportation to be found. Our late start on the flight was also a factor, since we figured we would still try for a full day lazing around. After all, why come so far only to feel rushed? Anyway, we eventually found a ride and got back to the airport.

But this time it was really late, after 5:00 and the controllers were hesitant about letting me go since by their estimates, I would still be in the air after sunset. There was another flaw in the planning, my over-confidence. I reasoned that Adams would allow me in since by my calculations I would be in sight of the island at “official” sunset, and as a Bajan pilot I was intimately familiar with my airspace. Besides, I was in the middle of my instrument training in the US, so there was no danger. Suitable appeased, I was given a release and practically ran out to the aircraft. An abbreviated walkaround, hurried clecklist, and away we went. Instead of returning the way we came to get a last look at the Pitons, I chose to go direct, climbing to the north to avoid rising terrain straight ahead then turning on course as fast as possible. As we thundered along, my heart was in my hands wishing, hoping…then the call “8P-ASN, Adams has denied your clearance into Adams airspace. You need to return to St. Lucia.” My mind raced. Do I ignore the call and take my chances? One more trick “St. Lucia, 8SN. We’ll like to continue to the boundary and file Special VFR into Adams. The PIC has instrument time and the aircraft is instrument equipped. Expecting the boundary in 5 minutes.”

Silence, then the inevitable reply, “8P-ASN, negative. Adams has denied your clearance into Adams airspace. You need to return to St. Lucia.” :oops: . I could see the disappointment in everyone’s eyes as I slowly turned around and headed back to Castries. Then the other failing in the planning became obvious; where will we stay? We only had enough money for a few drinks and snacks at the beach. Where will we stay? How do we break it to the parents, who are expecting us by now?

Back on the ground at Castries (I landed with the runway lights as it was now almost dark), we made calls to Barbados, then to our contact who allowed us to sleep over at their house on the couch until the morning, when we faced an amused controller and a long quiet flight back home.

Planning is something that is very important, but equally important is the ability to recognize when something that occurs may have an effect on your plan, and that it actually ok to change the plan. Experience is a great teacher!

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