AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 99

P&E

NEVER AGAIN

I knew I was rusty
Thinking ahead at the expense of the now

ANNA MILL

BY JAMES WITT

THERE MAY BE NO SUCH THING as being
overprepared, but there is such a thing as
preparing for the near future at the expense
of the moment. Like many pilots, COVID-19
limited my flying in the early part of the year.
Between winter and the lockdown, I knew
I was rusty. When I finally did get to fly, I
spent time reviewing procedures, communications, my POH, and the airport diagram
of my new home airport. I had just moved
to this airport, and it is a patchwork of confusing, overlapping runways and taxiways.
With that airport diagram on my kneepad I started my engine and taxied to the
end of the hangar row. The airport operates traffic off multiple intersecting runways
simultaneously when winds are light, sometimes in opposite directions-a practice I
was not familiar with at my previous airport, where it is not allowed.
I watched as a C-17 landed to the north,
then I called ground. The controller rattled off a taxi clearance to the south-facing
runway so fast that parts of his transmission was unintelligible (mistake chain link

number one). I gave a readback of what I
understood, which I knew may have been
incomplete, but did not ask for clarification,
thinking that if I missed something required
such as a runway crossing, the controller
would correct me (mistake chain link two).
He didn't (mistake chain link three).
Now nervous, I taxied out and turned to
the south on the taxiway instead of to the
north as I should have. I allowed myself to
simply taxi in the direction of the runway
I'd seen the C-17 land on (mistake chain
link four). I then began mentally running
through my remaining departure-checklists, speeds, emergency procedures for
takeoff-instead of thinking about where
I was and where I was going. The controller evidently did not notice me taxiing in
the wrong direction and did not correct me
(mistake chain link five).
After slowly and carefully running
through every step of my before-takeoff
checklist, I called tower for takeoff clearance, giving the location of the runway
I had been told to taxi to instead of the

one where I was (mistake chain link six).
Tower cleared me for takeoff from the
runway I was supposed to be on instead
of where I was. Obviously the controller
did not look at the runway to see if I was
at the north end where I was supposed to
be, or check if anyone else was there, or if
there was an airplane at the opposite end
where it wasn't supposed to be (mistake
chain link seven).
It was only as I began to add power
to take the runway that I saw the runway
number and I realized what I had done. I
immediately felt as if my blood had turned
to ice water. How could I have been so
stupid to make a very basic and serious
mistake? I banished those thoughts and
forced myself to deal with the situation. I
called the tower and confessed-there was
no way around it. I screwed up and needed
to take responsibility for it. The controller
simply cleared me for takeoff from my current position, and nothing more was said
about it. I spent the flight mentally beating
myself up for being an idiot. I'm tolerant of
others when they make occasional mistakes
in aviation. Many of them are more experienced and talented than I, but now that the
mistake was mine, it was different.
Later when I was able to review the
situation dispassionately, I found all seven
links in the chain that lead to the occurrence and was surprised that there were so
many. If I or the controller had been paying
a little more attention, we could have broken the chain at any number of the seven
points. We didn't. So why didn't we?
I can't speak for the controller in this
situation. They were on what may have
been their last shift before retiring, and
maybe they got complacent. For me the
lesson learned was that in trying to be diligent in preparing and thinking ahead, do
not ignore what is happening at any particular moment, even when you are conducting
a simple task. Indeed, I think if I had been
doing something more complicated, I
would have been more focused on what I
was doing. But because the task was so simple-taxi to a designated runway-I wasn't
thinking about it. Never again.
AOPA
JAMES WITT is a retired academic and

freelance flight instructor.

aopa.org/pilot AOPA PILOT | 99


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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 5
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 7
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover4
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