Realistic Distractions

Every FAA (and I suspect other aviation authority) practical test includes the dreaded “realistic distractions.” Because pilots are going to have someone, or something, catch their attention at bad moments, and we need to learn how to deal with them. The only test I didn’t have that happen was the Airline Transport Rating checkride, because it wasn’t needed. We were 1) in the weather, 2) in a twin engine airplane with no autopilot, 3) the controller switched approaches on me to 4) the only one in the book that had not been photocopied in advance so I had to fly the plane, twist around, and get the book off the floor between the rear seats, and still talk on the radio. And I was used to Jepps and the book was NOAA, so the format was slightly different. Most distractions are a bit less realistic. Except . . .

So, there I was, in the back seat of a Schweitzer 2-33 glider (OK, slow-falling brick as compared to  true sail-planes.) The tow plane had been hooked up, we’d cleared the traffic pattern, and all seemed well. The instructor, all 6’2″ of him, lounged in the front seat, acting bored. The two-plane waggled his rudder, I waggled mine, and he began rolling, The slack in the cable disappeared and the glider began rolling as well. One, two, three, and the glider eased off the ground. I held it just off the pavement as the tow-plane’s tail came up, then he broke ground, and we began climbing. His job was to climb. My job was to keep him dead-center of the windscreen, halfway between the horizon and the top edge of the canopy.

“Two hundred feet.” At two hundred you announce it. From there on up, if the rope breaks, the glider can do a 180 and (in theory) land on the runway. Below 200 and it’s land in a pasture/parking lot/yard/road. If the glider is the one with the rope still attached, you’re landing even sooner.

Bang! “I didn’t do it!” and the instructor’s hands are in the air. The tow plane wheeled to the left, away from the glider, and I pushed the nose forward and reversed course to the right. The winds were light, and we were able to land on the runway and roll clear of the tow plane (who, keep in mind, is landing with several hundred feet of steel cable “rope” attached.) After pulse rates subsided and we confirmed that the tow plane was down and safe, a sheepish voice from the front of the glider said, “Um, it was me. Sorry.”

It seems that once we broke ground and all appeared to be well, Mr. Long-and-Leggy decided to stretch out. When he did, his size 10EEs hit the pull cable for the tow release and triggered it.

The second moment of mild interest came about in the same aircraft, a Schweitzer 2-33, during my glider instructor check ride. This time I’m in the front seat. The season is late spring, the setting is semi-arid, in one of those places that get chilly at night and warm up quickly during the day. The preflight went well, the briefing and ground lesson went well, and the “student” and I have boarded, and nothing untoward has happened yet. But it’s only the first flight, so all bets are off. Tow release, tow plane clear, glider levels off and it is already dang warm in the greenhouse called a cockpit. So I open the air vent, a glorified orange juice can with a hole to let air in (but with an FAA part number, so it costs $$$ to replace). Foomp flutter flutter flutter and I have a face full of miller moths. Just to add to the chaos, Mr. Check-airman in the back seat starts swatting the flippin’ things with a rolled up sectional chart, bopping me several times in the process. (I think he lived his entire life waiting to do that.) The glider never shifted, the yaw string remained centered, we found a nice bit of thermal and went from there.

Once we got back on the ground, Mr. Check-pilot said, “You pass realistic distraction. I couldn’t think of anything more distracting than that.” And the pilots added “check vents for moths” to the informal pre-launch list.

After those, even getting the leans, in the clouds, in ice, with my boss/check pilot on board didn’t faze me.


13 thoughts on “Realistic Distractions

  1. I didn’t know you were a pilot…

    And from one CFI to another: Yes, even CFIs can screw up! And every pilot has his own checklist that goes past the official one for the aircraft…

  2. You’re first story reminds me of something from ages ago. I’ve been in a small aircraft exactly once, on a biplane ride from Kill Devil Hills, and I may have provided the pilot with a realistic distraction. We already were in the air when it felt like floor was shifting beneath my feet. The next thing I know, the pilot is asking me to get my feet off the control cables. I don’t know for sure if that was really a problem for the pilot or not, but it certainly freaked me out a bit.

    • I learned that you can’t wear hiking-type boots and fly a Pitts. The metal tongues that held the shoelaces caught one of the rudder cables and provided a moment of mild interest . . . 20 feet off the ground as we were landing. After that I changed into sneakers for my aerobatic flights.

  3. Explosive decompression at 28K, THAT is a realistic distraction… sigh… Not a lot of fun for those of us in the back of the bus either…

    • Ooh, yes. Not quite your standard 500 fpm approach there. My closest to that was KICT keeping us at 1500 AGL until a mile from the approach end. Thanks be a King Air does a commendable brick impression when required.

      • Nope, flight idle, 200 kts, flaps approach, dropped the gear and 6000 fpm rate of descent. Our ears were already screwed…LOL PPC never touched power until he turned off the runway in Cubi to backtaxi to the line! IIRC, we were on deck in something like 7-8 minutes.

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