It was a really simple early evening VFR flight with a buddy. Well, eventually it was. It all began with a friend of a friend wanting to get to a large airport (without driving) inside class bravo airspace about a hundred miles away. My eventual passenger wanted to surprise his wife and drive her home; she’d be arriving on a very late flight.
I have access to two planes. One is in a flying club of which I am a part. The other is a rental from the local FBO. Initially, my passenger told me he wanted to go on a Thursday evening. So, I booked the flying club C172 with the 180hp upgrade on the online calendar. The weather for the entire last half of the week was to be the kind that is key in the making of magical sunset flights.
Up to this point everything seemed to be shaping up nicely. Then on Tuesday night he texted me about our Wednesday flight. He needed to go on Wednesday not Thursday. Immediately I check the calendar to see if the plane was available. Nope. So, I log in an see if the rental plane is available. Indeed it was. So, I texted him back that we were good to go. A little background now. My friend has never been in small plane; the smallest was a King Air 200. I told him that this would be a little different. I wasn’t concerned; he’s not the nervous sort.
I did my usual briefing with all of the available information concerning the flight. I would head to the airport directly after work and preflight the plane with him arriving about the time I got done. We’d load up and go. That’s how I planned it. The rental plane is in the air a lot so the normal process is to go to the FBO and fly it. No need to call ahead. Their routine is to fuel it right away and point the nose toward a taxiway. My workday ended without circumstance and out to the airport I go. I arrived, got out, headed to FBO door and gave it a tug. Locked! What? That’s ok; there’s a gate with a keypad, I’ll go through it. But wait, the log containing the key to the plane is always in the building, which is locked. I stood there with my too heavy flight bag on the large quiet ramp, envisioning my passenger arriving shortly — discovering that we had not two planes, from which to choose… but none. There’s no lineman around, nobody.
I walked to the rental plane and opened the door to see if the log and key might be inside. I didn’t see it. I didn’t look very hard; my mind already chasing through a river of contingency options. Finally I decide to text one of the FBO owners. He immediately responds that one of them is on the way. (they live really close by) In the meantime, my passenger arrives. Not only am I not just about done with a preflight of the plane, I also have to share that I don’t have a key to the plane. Sure enough, in a matter of minutes one of the guys shows up to unlock the FBO and reveal. . .what? The log with the airplane key is not there? Back out to the plane, I go. It’s under the seat.
Wow, I’m a great big idiot.
I now set out to preflight. Switches on, tanks aren’t full. That’s very unusual. I look at the log and nobody had flown the plane all day despite perfect VFR and smooth air. I begin to contemplate handling fuel needs if the tanks are lower than they need to be; I continue the rest of the preflight. A visual inspection of the tanks revealed plenty of fuel to safely get to the destination and better.
Now with all of the plugs inserted, mounts mounted and checks checked we put butts in seats and strap in. Prime, switches on, starter, “click”. The battery is graveyard dead. Uh, switches off, back on; nothing!
At this point I’m imagining the thoughts of my passenger who, until now, hasn’t been in a “small” plane. He has, in this short experience, witnessed insurmountable obstacles such as, I can’t find the keys and It won’t crank. If I were him, I probably wouldn’t be thinking airborne is a place we should go next.
While this magic fun was unfolding a pilot had landed with an instructor and they helped tug the plane over to the charging cart and plug it up. The same one they use to power up the King Air 200’s, by the way. I hop in and the engine roars to life! Charging looks good, no low voltage light. We strapped in and through the checklist I went.
As we lifted off all of the previous issues seemed to melt away. It was as if the plane found some sort of harmony in the airborne, putting off the ills of being grounded. I sensed a bit of relief from my passenger. Perhaps he was convinced at that moment that the aircraft would fly or that I could pilot it into the sky. Nevertheless, in the air is where it belongs. The plane was intended to be Airborne.
I thought about omitting the part that had us arriving after the tower had closed and more importantly the restaurant; the magic fun of self serve fuel in the dark with the accompanying ladders, wires, hoses and such. I obviously changed my mind, so there it is. I also had a first upon departure: 2 Helicopters doing stop and goes. I hadn’t yet contemplated the speed difference between a climbing and accelerating Cessna and two helicopters moping around the pattern. That is what I was contemplating as I held short at the taxiway and runway intersection. I realized that I would need to know exactly where they were and that we had plenty of distance between us. It turned out that they took the opposite pattern after hearing I’d be departing to the east. All else was uneventful save for the helicopter at my home airport shooting an RNAV to 31 as I was planning the ILS to 13. (wind calm). We worked it out with no shots fired.