The other week, we Florida east coast residents enjoyed a strong, refreshing breeze — welcome tonic after a long summer. The weatherman said it was out of the north, but flags on the beach weren’t parallel to the surf. Reminds me of a grim story from my flying career. Stay tuned. I’m fessing up!
For my kind of flying, I considered myself a better-than-average GA pilot. And that was important, flying as I did for the manufacturers and for AOPA. But that attitude should have been a red flag. Just as all the kids in Lake Wobegon are above average and every driver thinks he or she is better than most, you know statistically that can’t be true.
Despite later opportunities for more flying time and training than most, I have to admit my early learning had weak spots. Not having money to buy modern training materials, some early knowledge came from old Air Force manuals. I was essentially “self-taught” in some things due to scrimping and saving and a couple of substandard instructors.
This gap in knowledge is like an intermittent mechanical fault. You never know when it’s going to crop up. For me, it happened during a 1980s flight from D.C. along Florida’s northeast coast. The problem? I was never terribly sharp on the hemispherical rule; I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the poet in me, thinking flying was just a great freedom. The fewer rules, the better.
Turns out, the hemispherical rule can ruin a fun day. As you know, those cruising westbound (heading 180°-359°) should be at even altitudes (plus 500 for VFR.) Those flying eastbound (000-179) should be at odd alts. My memory aid from a New Jersey point-of-view: All the “even” people were leaving New York; the “odd” people were going there. That works great unless you’re flying close to north and south, the hemispherical rule’s dividing line.
Back to those flags on our Florida beach. It was natural to think, coming out of Washington, that the Florida peninsula runs north-south. And you’re lulled on your way south by coastal courses that can run southwest through the Carolinas. The tricky part starts at Jacksonville. There, the Florida coast bends slightly southeast. That’s why the beach flags display that north wind as slightly off-shore. That’s where north is. And that’s why the major coastal north-south Victor airway is aligned ever-so-slightly southeast. Subtle.
Got it yet? Yep, “Mr. Above Average” left the Georgia coast to follow coast-hugging Victor 3 off-shore of Jacksonville en route to Ormond Beach and Daytona. From the Brunswick (GA) VOR, Victor 3 is aligned just a few degrees east of the dividing line, demanding that I be “odd” at 3,500.
Proof-positive came straight at me in the form of a Mooney at 4,500 feet, 12 O’clock Level. We didn’t miss by much! At least it was fast. But it didn’t go unnoticed. I was flying my boss, General Aviation Manufacturers Association President Ed Stimpson. He would be speaking that evening at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where he also served as ERAU chairman. Nice moment to make a mistake.
Stimpson said nothing in the plane. Nothing was said heading to the hotel either or driving to the event. Had I gotten away with it? No. Stimpson began his speech to ERAU flight students with a nice anecdote about how his pilot had just nearly killed him on the way in, courtesy of a windshield-full of Mooney. Ugh! Guilty as charged.
Sure, those course lines off VORs are sometimes hard to read on a congested VFR chart. And beware, one’s mental conception of geography is first learned at ground level and on roads, not in the air.
Civilization along the East Coast, for instance, runs “on a 45” (northeast-southwest) from the mid-Atlantic to New York, not north and south. Heading south along the Carolinas, the coastline runs southwest.And south of Jacksonville, watch out! Interstate 95 (and Victor 3) head ever-so-slightly southeast.
I also must have been holding some right correction along the airway southbound for winds out of the west or to sneak a little closer to shore. Thus, I was further reassured (deceived) that the airway was aligned on the “even” (west) side of 180°. Tricky, eh? A lazy assumption? Yes.
Lesson learned! It was time to update my appreciation for some of the finer points of the hemispherical rule. Remember what they taught us? On airways close to 000-180, watch out!
This frankly wasn’t my last stupid mistake, but I was lucky enough to survive them all and tell you about it. And that was dumb luck, I assure you.
Makes you think….
© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved