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From the Desk of the Chief

From the Desk of the Chief

Jesse Gamueda, Chief Pilot WVFC


Always have an out!

This may have been the best advice that I’ve ever gotten from…. Numerous great mentors!

I remember beginning to learn to fly when I was 15 during an intro, thinking that the watching the pilot flying this COOL Cessna 152 was similar to watching the super bowl!  I was amazed.  Then from there the concepts introduced to me were profound.  But over the years, I think that the one that has stayed with me the most and that I’ve heard from great instructors over various professions was this; “Always have an out”.  As I have gotten older I realized this phrase was repeated by the firefighters that I looked up to, the police officers I trusted, the special operations teams that trained me, but probably the most important place where it’s not stated much is in aviation!

I first learned this phrase as an 18 year police cadet.  It seemed foreign to me for such professionals to worry about anything.  To think that someone with a badge and gun could be stopped from doing their duty was beyond me.  Same thing as a firefighter, my instructors would say, don’t let the fire trap you!  Always have an out.  Amazing!  To think that a firefighter could be trapped by smoke or fire seemed imaginary.  And then when I heard it as a private pilot, I was shocked. My instructor - an ex-army helicopter silver star recipient said this and I was almost floored.  He said it almost as if it was gospel. And I definitely believed this man to be more than a mere mortal.  Perhaps not a god, but a demigod, just maybe! 

What does this mean to have an out? From day one as a private pilot we are taught a lot of scenarios that introduce us to numerous dangers that wait if we make a mistake or if the airplane has an unforeseen issue.  Statistics prove that over 70% of the time it’s pilot error.

Just because you have an engine failure isn’t the end of the world, it’s really not that big a deal if you have an out.  It merely means that you are going to take action to get the aircraft down without power. Without missing a beat and depending on your instructor, you are thinking…aviate, navigate, communicate, or – airspeed, best landing spot, checklist. You get the idea.  To always have an out is simple - ALWAYS believe in your soul that something can go wrong but when it does, you are ready immediately to deal with it.

Engine failure at 100 feet, you are landing straight ahead, 45 degrees left or right and that’s it.  You don’t start screaming and asking forgiveness for texting your naughty parts to someone you shouldn’t have.  You simply think ok, that’s an engine failure, I checked the 3 spots available to me and I commence to land.  Here is another example; you are toying with the idea of making it back to KSQL or KPAO without fueling because you’ve done it a dozen times before, and then even though the fuel gauges are indicating zero, you’ve been told your whole aviation career that those gauges are always wrong. So you attempt it and this time the gauges were right.  Well what do you do?  You don’t think about how embarrassing it’s going to be to land off airport and be ridiculed by your friends, the chief pilot or the worst of all…the media.  You establish best glide, find a suitable place to land and let someone know your location and you should be able to land not only without power or fuel, but hopefully without too much damage to your pride or your aircraft.

I write this article a little tongue in cheek hoping that everyone takes it seriously.  The fact of the matter is this; in my whole career I’ve been party to some pretty AMAZING and truly remarkable operations that have gone awry, yet we didn’t scream and cry and jump ship.  We merely engaged our back-up plan or our never planned at all scenario and relied on our training and had an out.  More often than not as aviators we never plan on those things that just might bite us in the tail.  But if you are prepared it doesn’t matter because we’ll have an out. You never quit trying to stay alive and flying that aircraft until it comes to a complete stop without any more momentum.

Although I did not site more examples, I believe that the point I am trying to make in a short monthly article is to always be in this state of mind!  Always be conscious of what could go wrong.  I am not saying that you need to become a doomsday prepper.  I am saying that while enjoying your flight from point A to point B, in the back of your head, you are thinking – that’s a nice landing spot.  Oh yeah, the fire extinguisher is under my seat.  Oh I ate too many fries at the greasy spoon! 

In closing I hope that this article finds you well and that I didn’t just amuse myself in the office for the last hour!