Short Final: Souls On Board


Thankfully, I have never had to respond to those foreboding words from ATC: “… say souls on board.” However, I do remember one flight, where I might have had trouble explaining myself if they had requested that information.

Several years ago, my family and I went on a scenic flight in a Cessna 172. With my wife and kids on board, and a reduced fuel load, we were still under gross weight. It was a perfect day for all seven of us to enjoy a flight around western Washington. That’s right, seven. How did we manage to stuff seven souls into a C172?

Well let’s see. I was in the left seat and my seven year old son was flying co‑pilot. My wife and younger son were sitting behind us. Our not‑yet‑two‑year‑old daughter was in her mom’s lap. So far that adds up to 5, but by now you may have guessed it, my wife was pregnant … with twins.

Mark Beaulieu
Moses Lake, WA

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  1. Thanks for the nice reminder of fun flights across Europe in our 182 with my wife and four, then small, kids. I have been requested to “say souls on board” a number of times when no sinister outcome was feared. If SOB is not volunteered in the initial call, military controllers will often ask “SOB?” on departure, arrival, or transitioning airspace. It also comes up on approaches to commercial airports, either when no flight plan is filed or when the ground crew, who does not have the plan handy, is figuring out whether to send the Smart or the Bus to collect you from your plane. Once, my answer “six” perked the interest of an enforcement officer who had seen many 182s and smelled a violation of the maximum number of occupants. He was surprised to be shown the Cessna factory option baggage area bench seat, approved for two, albeit small, passengers (self-loading baggage). When the kids were 2,3,4 and 5, they would vie for the “party seat” and loved boarding through the baggage door.

  2. Well, it is a good thing you weren’t in that situation. Because if you were, and you replied with ‘seven’ and then crashed, the rescue/recovery crews would have wasted a great deal of extra time and effort looking for two more people. They ask that question for a very valid reason, and a serious response is imperative.

  3. Fun flights indeed. Souls on board don’t always correlate to seats on board. When my kids and (now grandkids) were little I checked into the regulations. Seats and seatbelts could be shared up to 170 LBS total per seat, thus fitting more than 4 in a C172. I remember $100 hamburger trips with more than 4 souls on board. However, be ready for criticism. I remember one short trip from Camarillo to El Monte passing through a few light turbulence and a young granddaughter stating “I don’t like the way Papa’s flying this plane. Also, if you take young kids have one seat fully filled by an additional adult 🙂