This has been making the rounds in aviation circles lately:
This hasn’t happened to me yet but I have had some flight plan foibles before.
Shortly after I earned my private pilot’s license in 2010 I wanted to spread my wings and fly. I decided to take myself out for a $100 hamburger at Albert Whitted field in St. Petersburg FL (KSPG.) The day was Florida VFR, hot and bumpy but solid flying weather. I decided that I would do something I had never done before and file a VFR flight plan. It was one of my first cross-countries as an Official Pilot, and I thought: why not?
I preflighted and made sure everything was in order, and then called flight service to file my flight plan. Tail number, type, color, souls and fuel aboard, route of flight, altitude, ETE…it all went smoothly. Cessna 6490L, C152, orange, one aboard with three hours fuel, GIF-LAL-SPG at 2,500 then ducking under the Tampa class B to cross the bay. Should take me maybe 35 minutes.
Flight plan filed, I hopped in and cranked the motor. Taxi and takeoff were uneventful. As I flew West, I noticed my groundspeed was slower than I’d planned. I had failed to consider the winds aloft and there was a strong westerly at altitude, pushing directly on the nose of my tiny Cessna 152.
But who cares? Flying is more about the journey than the destination, and going slow means logging more time…
…unless you’re on a flight plan.
It dawned on me that I would be touching down 15 or 20 minutes later than filed. By the time I called flight service to cancel my flight plan they’d be looking for me. My thoughts went to horror stories of people inadvertently causing a SAR launch and then being footed with a $10,000 bill*.
Suddenly I was sweating from more than the Florida heat. I was talking to ATC and considered asking them to tell flight service I was late; however I didn’t know how to ask and these were busy approach controllers. I also thought about calling flight watch on 122.0, but by then I was ducking under the Tampa class B, probably too low to get service. I decided to just ride it out and cancel on the ground.
Tampa approach handed me off to SPG tower. I made a right base for 36 as I crossed the bay and moments later I was cleared to land. Landing was quick and sweet and I turned off at taxiway Alpha. Taxi to the restaurant via Alpha, cross runway 7.
Halfway down Alpha I looked out my window and saw a hangar across the field. Outside the hangar with the prop turning was a Cessna 182 from the Civil Air Patrol. My heart jumped. Dear God I’m 20 minutes late! They’re looking for ME!
By the time I parked and shut down the CAP plane was holding at the end of runway 7. I jumped out and gesticulated frantically, pointing at my tail number and waving like a lunatic and generally hoping that they would notice me and turn around. Either they didn’t see me or they disregarded me as a madman. My heart fell and my wallet deflated as the 182 roared down the runway and headed East across the bay.
I picked up my phone and called flight service, fully expecting to be in trouble. The briefer answered and I spoke like a coked-out auctioneer.
The briefer calmed me down and told me that through some glitch my flight plan had never been activated. The CAP launch was purely coincidental.
I was off the hook but I felt like a real Dilbert.
Like any good pilot, I learned from my embarrassment. The root problem was inadequate flight planning. I failed to factor in winds aloft because they weren’t usually a huge deal at my altitudes. Now winds aloft are part of my flight planning every time.
Anybody who’s flown more than a few hours has made a mistake. The important thing is to learn and grow from it instead of ignoring it and pretending it didn’t happen. Live, learn, and carry on.
* I’m not sure how true these stories are.