Here I sit at the Wichita Falls TX airport (SPS) looking at a brownish-reddish sky on what would otherwise be a clear-blue sky day. The surreal look appears much like a lunar eclipse is occurring, but that is not the case. The sky is a different color because the wind is blowing hard and a dust storm has been created. Right now the wind is 220/23G33 and it will probably get stronger as the day progresses. With the extreme drought conditions in Texas, perfect conditions exist for a dust storm. There are three runways at SPS, but they all are oriented on a 150 degrees (RWY 15L, 15C, 15R). So, there is a direct cross wind that is quite strong. The question that exist is, “Should I fly home?”
Compound this question with a few more considerations…I’ve been gone on a week long trip and today is the “go home” flight. I’ve got a pretty good case of “get-home-itis” and my mind is contemplating my options as I sit in the FBO impatiently. The weather enroute and at my home airport (JSO) is just fine. The only issue is the crosswinds and the restricted visibilities due to blowing sand.
So how does a pilot with “get-home-Itis” think? Well, he thinks poorly. That is the issue. I’m normally a right-minded sort of guy, but right now I am perplexed. Here’s what running through my mind:
- “RWY 15L at SPS is one of the longest runways on earth and is proportionally as wide as it is long. I could take off from one corner of the runway and angle toward the other, into the wind, and shave off 10-20 degrees of component, making this a safe takeoff.”
- “I can taxi out to the runway, wait until the wind dies down slightly, and then immediately takeoff.”
- “The crosswind limitation on the Malibu (or just about any airplane) is really not a “limitation”, but is a “demonstrated crosswind component”. There is really no “limitation” at all, so…”
- “I’m a really good pilot and can handle this.”
- “American Eagle just took off and they apparently had no troubles”
- “A King Air just landed and apparently had no troubles. The demonstrated crosswind component on the King Air is no greater than the Malibu, right?”
All of the above is simply justification to make a bad decision, but that is how the mind with “get-home-itis” thinks. Here’s the truth behind the above thoughts:
- Angling a departure from one corner of the runway actually does provide a small reduction in wind component angle, but it introduces an exponential increase in risk of running off the runway, hitting a runway light, or becoming disoriented. Always take off on centerline.
- You can taxi out and wait for the gusts to die down before takeoff, but only do so if the entire wind report is within your personal limitations. This way you are not lulled into accepting risk that you cannot outperform. Without a doubt, if you taxi out, you will take off. The temptation is just too high if you have “get-home-Itis”. It’s like bringing candy in the house while on a diet; you can, but it will not be consistent with dieting success…you will eat the candy.
- The “demonstrated crosswind component” is not a limitation of the airplane, but it is the limits at which a a test pilot decided to stop testing. So, if you go beyond that limit, you are accepting the role of a test pilot. For all practical purposes, consider a demonstrated crosswind component to be an aircraft limitation.
- You are probably a good pilot, but you are probably not as good as the test pilot that tested your airplane under controlled conditions. Pilots are often “Type-A” personalities that believe they can get themselves out of any situation. Don’t fall for that myth. You might be good, but not that good.
- What the airlines do has little impact on what you should do. Plus, airline pilots are also susceptible to “get-home-itis”, and don’t always make good flying decisions. SPS is an outstation for American Eagle, and I assure you those pilots did not want to remain overnight at a hotel room. They were going to DFW and DFW is their home base. Don’t think this didn’t impact their decision making process.
- A landing airplane has the built-in knowledge that a landing is unquestionably in the near term future. The only question is, “Where?” Maybe the King Air did not have fuel reserves, or maybe SPS was the alternate airport for the King Air and it had already performed a go-around at a different airport. Plus, another pilot’s stupidity does not warrant your emulation. It could be a classic case of “The blind leading the blind.”
So, with this discussion, what should I do about the decision-making process? Fortunately, I’ve made a set of no-go parameters that have helped. See this post for more discussion about my decision making process and how this situation developed…