Acceleration on the
grass at the Hinton-Entrance airport
seems a bit sluggish. The elevation of
this strip is 3450'. I quickly decide
it's the thin air. I'm not too concerned.
My thoughts, daydreams really, are ahead
of my present situation. It is late in
the afternoon and within two hours I'll
be landing in Blue River to stay
overnight. I've been flying for four
hours today, and the fatigue is catching
up. However, with smooth air, this leg
should be fairly relaxing.
I'm departing toward
the south end, where the terrain drops
off to the Athabasca River. When my
Cessna 150 clears the trees at the end of
the runway, I'll follow the river toward
Brule Lake where there is plenty of room
in the valley to gain altitude.
extraordinarily long takeoff run, the
mains break free and I'm airborne. The
nose down to gain speed, I briefly note
with some concern, the trees are
approaching more quickly than they should
be, even in this thin mountain air.
Raising the electric flaps in increments
. from 10 degrees, to 7, then to about 3
or 4 . I coax a bit more speed from the
I'm vaguely aware of
the effect fatigue is having on my
thought processes. My eyes are outside
the cockpit, while my mind knows they
should be scanning the gauges. The
realization that everything is not right
is being pushed along now by adrenaline.
Checklist. Think .
what did I miss? Or is it just this thin
air up here at 3500 feet? My eyes find
the airspeed indicator. Something between
60 and 65 mph registers. I never climb
the 150 at less than 70 and even that is
slow. Eighty is more like it. The VSI is
in neutral to negative territory. I have
to build speed, and fast.
What else? Check
carb heat. Yes! There's my problem. It's
pulled out! Quickly it's back where it
should be, and there is a perceptible
increase in the RPM. With it, comes a bit
more gentle acceleration.
How could I miss
that mandatory checklist item? I'm too
busy for the moment to give it much
thought, but I've made a mental note to
review that. Right now, I've muscled back
the fatigue, my mind has cleared, and I'm
forcing the airplane's normal parameters
into my consciousness, checking them
against what I see on the panel. Airspeed
now 80, rate of climb at 300 to 400 fpm,
ball centered, RPM 2600, oil temperature
and pressure in the green. Mixture rich,
carb heat off, flaps up, fuel valve on.
There's really not
much to miss on a Cessna 150, but omit an
item and it can be as deadly as on any
more complicated aircraft. That thought
on my mind, the trees flash by beneath
the gear, and below now is the river
valley offering a clear path for my
airplane to climb at it's own speed.
I like to think of
myself as a very safe, "by the
book" pilot. I live by the
checklists, from the walkaround to
shutdown. So, how could I miss that carb
heat item? It's really quite simple.
There are two ways to run through a
checklist. Do it WITH or WITHOUT
distractions. In my case that day, even
though I was alone, I was distracted, for
it's not just other people that can
interfere with the flow of the
pre-flight. Being fatigued can certainly
cause a problem with my concentration.
Also, I was eagerly anticipating the
arrival at my destination later in the
evening. That day at Hinton, I had both
of those distractions working against me.
So here's what
happened. After refueling, I did a
walkaround, taxied to the end of the
strip and went through a detailed run-up.
Even though the temperature was still in
the high 20's, I selected carb heat as my
last run-up item, then brought the
throttle back to the stop, checking to be
sure the engine would idle with carb heat
on. It's good practice to leave it idle
like that for at least 5 seconds, before
pushing carb heat off again. But at that
point, I was thinking one step ahead of
myself. Within that short 5 seconds, I
was already making a radio call declaring
my intentions for the straight out
departure. Consequently, I was into the
roll with carb heat ON.
Take off is probably
the most critical part of any flight.
Some pilots would argue that it's the
landing. However, they're probably flying
something more complicated and less
forgiving than a C-150. I've certainly
flown my share of tailwheel, larger and
smaller airplanes, and I believe there is
nothing simpler to land than a 150. But
takeoff in any airplane can be deadly,
because you rely totally on an engine
that must be functioning flawlessly.
There is no trading altitude for speed as
in landing. There is no opportunity for a
go around. And usually, there is no
chance to pick an ideal spot to put it
down when all is not right.
Pilots must be
totally focused on procedure during this
very critical transition. Our
concentration can not be distracted for
any reason right from the time we begin
our preflight checklist ritual. As a
professional pilot, I request, even
demand that my passengers not interrupt
me. I read the item, look directly at
that gauge or control, and focus on what
I see and feel. And I stay focused until
the last item is checked, even through
the carb heat test. But obviously,
sometimes I do get distracted.
myself to religious observation of
checklists, there is a feeling of great
confidence when I advance the throttles
and begin the takeoff roll. But vigilance
doesn't end there. A check of the RPM
confirms full power. The engine gauges
need to be monitored shortly into the
roll. Are they all in the
"green"? Once liftoff is
attained, the best climb speed is pegged,
and I maintain proper rudder pressures to
assure the ball is centered. That alone,
can increase speed significantly by
reducing the drag of cross control. How
is the vertical speed? I monitor the RPM
and engine gauges every few seconds.
After all, the engine is at full power,
the time when damage or failure is most
likely to occur. And once again, I pay
particular attention to the airspeed
indicator, probably the most important
instrument I have at this point in time.
Do not take anything
for granted in the takeoff phase of your
flight. It is an extremely critical time,
with many things to be aware of. Almost
any one of these items can prove fatal if
ignored for whatever reason.