Probable Cause #66: If I Had A Hammer
This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, Aug. 2006.There's an old saying: "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In other words, when resources are few, people tend to use the only ones available to them, even if they're inappropriate and have the potential to create as many problems as they solve. Just as it is in carpentry, so it is in aviation. For example, you wouldn't use a Learjet for aerial application work. And a fixed-gear, wheel-equipped airplane is only good for one water landing -- the ensuing takeoff attempt won't be successful. Some readers have visited grief upon me for suggesting in these pages that a lower-powered airplane isn't a good choice for serious cross-country flying. My opinion was forged several years ago after finding a 160-hp Skyhawk that wouldn't maintain altitude in a relatively benign mountain-wave condition. Since then, I've sat on the ground for an extra day while ferrying similar airplanes, waiting for strong winds over mountains to subside. Even when flying better-equipped, more-powerful rides, I've postponed and canceled flights because I didn't think the airplane was up to the task. Sometimes, the pilot isn't up to the task either, but that's another story for another day. To me, the bottom line is that the pilot must decide whether the airplane is capable of handling the planned flight. When the weather's good, the load is light and the terrain is hospitable, even the least-capable airplane might be OK. But add in one or two operational challenges, and things can get out of hand quickly. Here's one example.