Mistakes Were Made - An Aviation Error That Saved My Career

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Mistakes Were Made - An Aviation Error That Saved My Career

Helicopter and air traffic control tower

Mistakes Were Made - An Aviation Error That Saved My Career

Mistakes Were Made - An Aviation Error That Saved My Career

By Byron Edgington

No pilot goes through an entire career without making a few bone headed mistakes. Unless that pilot's career is remarkably short, say three weeks or fewer, he or she will make mistakes in the cockpit that, looking back to, they will shake their head, wondering how they survived. In my 35 year career in the cockpit of several commercial and military helicopters, I made my share of such 'opportunities to learn'.

Most pilot error accidents are the result of a chain of failures building on themselves, ending up in one monumental mishap, and a pile of twisted aluminum. The ones no one ever hears about end up as post-landing bar fodder, and, if egregious enough, as long-lived aviation lore. Flying mistakes are normally unforgiving; but once in a while the aviation god smiles, and forgives our all too human oversights. Here's one of mine that seemed fairly innocuous at the time, but could have had disastrous consequences instead of the somewhat amusing outcome it did. I once landed at the wrong airport.

Takeoff had been uneventful; the cross country portion of the flight almost boring, which may have contributed to the landing confusion. I was in a military helicopter, a Bell UH-1H model Huey. I'd taken off from Don Scott Field, on the north side of Columbus Ohio, destination Akron Canton Airport. I'd been to CAK only once, as fourth ship in a formation of Hueys. I knew the general layout of the field, its appearance, runway orientation and overall position on the state map of Ohio. But, having never actually navigated to CAK myself, only followed the number three Huey in that one flight a year or so prior, I didn't really commit the route to the pilot's brand of muscle memory, the necessary map reading and concentration required to navigate to a place. This was, however, no excuse for missing an entire airport. Any pilot worth a nickel can find an airport, even on his or her worst day. It's the reason map symbols, airfield names and such are printed. Plus, names of towns are on water towers, after all.

I could have claimed that, since helicopters have no need of a runway, the landing surfaces and their orientation at CAK would not have mattered all that much to me. Again, a seasoned pilot must be able to absorb as much as possible about a landing facility. By regulation, the pilot must familiarize himself with every aspect of the operation as well, so there are no excuses, period.

The flight proceeded uneventfully, until I reached a point about halfway between CAK, and Akron regional airport located in, of all places, Akron Ohio. I'd been to AKR exactly once as well, as number three Huey in a five shipper six or eight months prior. So Akron's layout and general appearance were pretty vague to me as well. The only truly outstanding characteristic of AKR is the air dock that defines the west side of the field, the cavernous hangar used by the Goodyear blimp. This building, if you can refer to something roughly the size of a small planet as a building, resembles a huge beached whale washed up by some glacial force, and deposited where it is. Then the authorities awoke in some distant past, saw the promethean structure, and decided to build an airport around it.

The hangar is, in other words, something that should have identified AKR for the likes of me. And it did, after a fashion. Remembering the air dock from one or the other of those prior missions, and then seeing the outlandish sized structure on the horizon, I mentally locked onto it, and pointed the nose of my lone Huey toward it. 

That would have been a fine thing, but I was flight planned into CAK, fully 18 miles away, and lacking any such distinguishing characteristics such as beached whales and the like. No matter. I mashed the transmit button, reported on CAK tower frequency that I was inbound with the ATIS, and could I please have a landing clearance? The tower fellow responded with a clearance direct to his airport. On toward the air dock, and AKR I flew, already prepping the cockpit for my descent, and the happy completion of yet another mission. At this point the reader may feel free to insert the common aviation phrase 'Fat, Dumb & Happy'. 

Imagine the surprise to the tower operator at CAK, when, after several minutes had elapsed--helicopters being slow, but not that slow--I had not yet appeared.

Now imagine the bewilderment, if you can, in the mind of the tower operator at AKR when, from the south, growing larger and larger in his vision, a lone Huey whop-whopped into view, entered the pattern, and proceeded to land on his taxiway, unannounced, and indeed without clearance. They may still be sharing this tale at AKR. Thank God it was before YouTube.

The tale has a happy, and to my great relief unviolated ending. The sign listing Akron Regional Airport may have done it; the fact that the tower kept flashing a light into my cockpit may have helped, as well. It became eminently clear to me, and rather quickly, that I had indeed landed at the wrong airport. In a frantic and embarrassed blur in the front office of the Huey I reassessed my position, gathered the necessary information on the Akron tower frequency, and gave the fellow a shout.

Tower operators are, to my great relief, a generally sanguine lot. The fellow immediately offered me an out, inquiring into the status of my radio equipment. Unashamedly, I took the excuse for what it was, requested takeoff clearance over to CAK, "Where I can get it looked at", and was granted passage. With my armpits steamy hot with shame, and a deep nod to a chuckling aviation god, I took off, angled toward CAK, and landed without further ado.

It was, as they say nowadays, a teachable moment. And I took it as such. It's safe to say I never again landed at the wrong airport. But it was moments like that which showed me just how dangerous complacency could be. The event could had ended much worse: I could have interfered with an aircraft actually conversing with Akron tower; I may have landed in the middle of a closed airport, or closed section, or done any number of perilous things, all because of a head-up-and-locked condition that has bitten many a pilot.

This incident and a few others, I feel, actually saved my career. I flew for 35 years without an accident, damage incident or violation, and I believe it was because of the few embarrassing but survivable events like this early on that taught me how easy it could be to start a string of minor incidents that, with each additional twist and turn result in a true final approach. And as they say, flying isn't dangerous; crashing is.

Byron Edgington is a retired commercial & military helicopter pilot with 35 years, and 12,500 hours in the cockpit. Byron has flown over 25 different types of aircraft, on four continents, and over 1.5 million miles, carrying over 100,000 passengers safely & without incident. Byron Edgington is a writer and public speaker, and author of the soon to be published memoir The Sky Behind Me.
Contact the author at:


Article Source: https://EzineArticles.com/expert/Byron_Edgington/232040


Byron Edgington

Byron Edgington is a retired commercial & military helicopter pilot with 35 years, and 12,500 hours in the cockpit. Byron has flown over 25 different types of aircraft, on four continents, and over 1.5 million miles, carrying over 100,000 passengers safely & without incident. Byron Edgington is a writer and public speaker, and author of the soon to be published memoir.

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