Butting In: Should You When Another Pilot Goes Awry?
Here's a quandary that may sound familiar. At my local airport, we have a pilot whom I'll call Joe. Every other pilot on the field assumes he will end up in a smoking hole. Do you know the guy I'm talking about? This is the guy who takes no advice seriously; who believes he is the best pilot on the field; who has convinced himself he can do anything in an airplane and that his airplane can do anything he asks of it. He's the guy who fails to acknowledge any limitations in his own skill or knowledge following an "incident."
Joe's most recent episode involved a slight excursion off the runway during landing. That day there was a fairly stiff, direct crosswind. I watched Joe make two aborted landing attempts from the north before he switched runways and attempted a landing from the south. Landing from the north is optimum for this runway; there are no obstructions on approach and a long grass overrun at the south end provides an extra measure of safety for a long landing. Landing from the south, however, requires an approach over tall trees and power, lines followed by a flare on a slight uphill gradient--even without the crosswind such a landing poses challenges for the unwary. Given all the disadvantages of doing so, why Joe made the decision to land from the south remains a mystery. One can only assume he believed a direct crosswind from the right was easier to handle than from the left.
In the end, Joe made it safely over the trees, but drifted left with the crosswind in the flare. He wound up in the grass after smacking two runway edge lights and adding a few dents to the bottom of the left wing and flap. Joe didn't mention the incident to anyone, but the airport manager noticed the knocked-over runway lights and the new dents on Joe's plane. When confronted, Joe admitted getting "a bit left of centerline" due to a "strong gust," but said he felt sure he had properly used his rudder to control the drift --like he'd been trained--and had remained on the runway. He asked to be billed for the damaged lights.
This is typical Joe. He blames a clear loss of lateral control during landing on a strong gust of wind while claiming he controlled the drift with rudder. But, you say, lateral control during landing is achieved with aileron, not rudder! Yup. This is the conundrum that is Joe; a magnificent (suicidal?) confidence in non-existent skill and knowledge.
This was but the latest in Joe's exploits. One recent morning he departed eastward behind a thousand-mile-long frontal system that had passed the night before. Joe's intended destination was on the other side of the front. When asked before departure by another pilot if he had checked the weather, Joe said he planned to get up to 11,000 or 12,000 feet and go over the top of any rain. Somehow, Joe lived through the experience, but not without a few interesting moments. During a particularly heavy period of turbulence, the compass was knocked from its mount on the glareshield. At one point, Joe said he lost 4000 feet in an un-commanded descent--in the clouds. He said only his "superb training" allowed him to recognize an impending stall while trying to arrest the descent. He claimed he hadn't noticed losing some 80 knots indicated airspeed, but he felt the buffet (in the turbulence?) before his training kicked in and he forced himself to push forward instead of pull back.
There was no acknowledgement that he should have more carefully checked the weather, or that perhaps a better understanding of his aircraft's performance capability might have led to a different go/no-go decision. Suggestions from other pilots along those lines fell on Joe's deaf ears--he lived to tell the tale after all, so his skill must have been up to the challenge.
Which brings us to my quandary: What do I do about Joe? Nearly every pilot at the field who is aware of his (mis)adventures has made an attempt to change his attitude. When Joe tells me stories like the one above, I tell him in no uncertain terms where I think he's made poor decisions, or when I believe he needs more flight training. But Joe just gives me a slight head shake along with one of those smiles that says he clearly believes my fears and concerns are misplaced. So what else do I do? Do I have any further obligation? It sure feels like I do.
There is no question Joe has been lucky, but everyone's luck eventually runs out. We all believe it is simply a matter of time for Joe. And just about every pilot I know who knows Joe feels that if and when it does we will be partly to blame, because we see it coming.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts. What would you about Joe?