Short Final: What To Fail


One sunny afternoon in late Fall, several flight school Skyhawks and a Piper Seminole trainer were making the most of the beautiful VFR day by practicing maneuvers in the “Northeast Practice Area.” All these aircraft were self‑reporting their position and intentions on 122.75 MHz. Heard on frequency:

Seminole (Student): “Northeast Practice, Seminole 123 over Carnation, 3500, partial‑panel single‑engine operations, Northeast.”

Seminole (CFI): “What should I fail?”

Unknown #1: “The Airspeed Indicator.”

Unknown #2: “The Attitude Indicator.”

Unknown #3: “The Left Engine!”

Unknown #4: “The Wing!”

I don’t think I’d want to be that student that afternoon!

Joelle Erickson

Seattle, Washington

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  1. My flight instructor would shut off the landing lights upon night flying. On final. Said to me lights burn out. Switches stick. Alternator died. What are you going to do? Circle until you run out of gas and die? Or learn how to land in the darkness? Your choice….

  2. On a night checkout, I had an instructor turn off the landing lights going into an unlit grass field. I missed the approach – he wanted me to land. I told him that while I felt capable of doing it, if I had to, there was no way that I was going to do it on purpose. I asked – if this is a judgement test, then I will assume that I passed – if this is a requirement to rent your airplane at night, then we can return to the field right now, and I’ll look elsewhere for an airplane to rent. He got quiet, and rented me the airplane – preparing for emergencies is important – causing them is not.

    • Airlines need F/Os with your smarts.

      Unlike the F/O of First Air 737 into CYRB – Captain did not catch that autopilot had reverted to heading hold during turn into localizer signal, did not listen to F/O who was not assertive enough early enough.

      OTOH, in mid-eastern Canada an F/O pushed hard on brake pedals when the crew had turned onto the runway for takeoff.
      Reason was compass heading did not match runway heading.
      He had forgotten that they had set compasses to True heading as they were headed into the area of compass unreliability.
      His first trip into it.

      (The airplane would have had free-gyro mode, special gyros and lattitude compensation for earth rotation rate, requiring check of heading and adjustment of it prior to starting approach.
      First Air crew had done that check though sloppily, a few degrees of error may have added to Captain’s confusion but big cause was not listening to F/O, and not checking indications well.

  3. At the end (?) of my students’ first nighttime lesson, I would “fail” the electrical system – no cockpit lighting: no landing lights.

    This gave the student an opportunity to utilize that flashlight that they had at the ready – right?
    I’d talk them through the approach and landing – which usually was a greaser.

    It always amazed me how many of the students would advance the throttle, in a touch-and-go exercise.

    I calmly would close the throttle, and ask: “Would you really take off at night in an airplane that had no working electrical system?”

  4. During a dual night flight with my instructor during private pilot training, we had our landing and panel lights fail in our Grumman AA-1B while in the pattern landing at our uncontrolled home field on Runway 21 (26 x 2830 ft.). I looked at my instructor and he said get out your flashlight for the panel and land it. We landed without incident. It was unplanned event that helped strengthen my night cross country training. Fast forward 5 years later on a solo night cross country flight where the same thing happened in a Cessna 172P while returning to KFIT. I had the flashlight around my neck, put it in my mouth to illuminate the panel, and landed without incident. Lots of valuable lesson learned from both planned and unplanned incidents.