Put Your Plan In *Plane* Sight

Recently I was going through some ground school with my CFI (Mary, who has been a fantastic instructor to me so far), and we began planning my first cross country since I dropped flying to pick up a Gearwrench.  We’ll do a Ryan Field to Gila Bend and back–over some desert that straight away has nothing on it but dirt.  I was getting re-acquainted with my E6B Calculator when–well, first an explanation of this little joy might do some of you non-flyers some good.  And maybe the act of explaining it to you would do me some good, as well.

The E6B Flight Computer, commonly looking like this:  is a fantastically confusing slide rule where all of the numbers exist to perform computations based on the context of the problem you are trying to solve, not just the parameters.  Every number runs in a circle, either in an outer ring or an inner ring, and every number will magically “tell” you the answers you seek, if you’ll only line up the correct numbers.  Also, there are absolutely no decimal places to speak of, so you have to do that for yourself…this computer literally uses the same numbers to answer every possible question in the universe.  We Christians have been sitting around waiting for the second coming of Christ for two millenia, and he’s been here all along!

Actually, I jest…this thing is a pretty amazing little thing to have with you in the cockpit, and it isn’t quite as difficult as I made it out to be to figure out.


I’m getting to be friends with my “Whiz Wheel” once again, and Mary asks me, “Well, what would you do if you get out here and couldn’t pick out a checkpoint because it all looks the same?”  She walked me through the different things you could do to recover from getting lost while up there (calling up X frequency and asking if they have you on radar, looking around for anything that would suffice to discern as a distinguishing land feature, etc), but the main thing she stressed was to have a plan–an airtight, well thought-out plan–to execute from wheels up until you put her back in the hangar.  Sometimes people say things in such a way that they really stick with you; I’ll never forget that Mary told me this:

“The reason Sully saved a planeload of people is because he knew at every single point in time where he was in relation to the ground.  He didn’t dawdle when the time came to make a decision.”

And that’s absolutely true.  Chesley Sullenberger put a planeload of people into the frigid waters of the Hudson and saved every last one of them, while many lesser pilots have killed entire families by overshooting a runway and bursting into flames on days where it was eighty-five degrees and had rained a little–and they (most of them) had full use of both or all of their engines.  I would bet my right leg     that no one overshot a runway by having a solid, stabilized approach, current runway conditions, and a plan of action if things went awry.

How many times have you walked into an interview and been asked a question that made you go, “UHHHHHHH…….”   If it happens a lot, you may not have a clear idea of who you are, or what direction you’re headed.

I look back at my cross country trips as a student back in the day, and I swear, without GPS, my Cessna 172R would’ve carried me all the way to the crash site which, to paraphrase Ron White, “would be convenient, because that’s where I was headed.”  Now, I feel a renewed sense of confidence knowing that the best way to not get into trouble is to plan it out of the equation as much as possible and save myself the pain of ever getting there to start with.

If there’s one thing I’ll thank Mary for in the short amount of time we’ll have spent together, it’s that I’ll always make sure to try and keep my plan front and center…in “plane” sight.

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