Go or No Go?


Every pilot has been faced with a marginal go/no-go decision. Sometimes it’s marginal weather that, if it gets no worse, is a go. But, if it gets even a little worse, it’d be no-go. And, sometimes it’s a mechanical issue that might not quite rise to the level of being unairworthy. But it could.

For me, there have been times when I wanted to go, was tempted to go, and probably could have gone with no trouble, but being conservative, I didn’t go.

Like the time I had a trip planned on a Saturday, after the plane got out of annual on Friday. On the 4 p.m. test flight, everything was fine, until on shutdown I noticed that one of the vacuum pumps had failed. The other was fine. No spare pumps were available in time. I gave that a lot of thought, trying to convince myself to go. I realized that I’d happily continue a trip with one pump inop, but it was unwise to begin one. Plus, vacuum, while not driving any instruments, did power the de-ice boots and ice was possible. Could a decision to go be the first link in an accident chain involving ice? Okay, not going.

Or, just last week I returned from a trip with another trip planned in a few days. Preflighting for the second trip, I noticed that one prop was feathered. Now, some airplanes do this regularly and you just have to manually (with a long tool for leverage) twist the blades out of feather. But, in my 18 years with this plane, this was the first time. Could it be a serious malfunction? After a lot of consideration, we drove the second trip—12 hours each way instead of two and a half to fly.

I’ve informally observed that lowtime and high-time pilots tend to make conservative “go” decisions. For the student or new private, even a few clouds can be worrisome and might spawn a “no-go” decision. And hightime pilots have enough “been there, done that” to make typically safer decisions. It’s the mid-time pilots who, perhaps tempted by the importance of completing the mission, might have a tendency to stretch a “go” decision. (Of course, this doesn’t describe everyone, but it’s a generality I’ve noticed.)

As one such mid-time pilot, years ago I found myself often pushing the envelope. I’d decide to go when my gut was screaming “Bad idea, Frank.” Sometimes I’d even make a “no-go” decision and stew about it until I second guessed myself into going. Recognizing that was a bad idea, and wanting to head off that tendency while I was still above ground, I developed a creative way to enforce a marginal “no-go” decision.

Like many pilots, in my hangar I had a small lounge area and a compact fridge. The fridge had bottled water, some soda, and, of course, beer for those social gatherings after a hard day flying—or hanging around the airport. I realized how I could absolutely fix my waffling “no-go” decision making. Whenever I made a “no-go” decision, I’d simply have one of those beers. There! Now the decision is final.

As someone famous once said, “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground.” Those are good words to live by. Please make safe decisions and stick with them.


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