That Uneasy Feeling

Sometimes the little voice in your head can be as valuable as having a copilot along.

We all know the old saying: flying is hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. What rarely gets mentioned are those other times, when we pilots get that uneasy feeling. Many of you will know what I'm talking about. For instance, you're flying above inhospitable-looking terrain or in solid IMC when suddenly a low fuel pressure warning annunciator blinks on. You're not terrified, but you're certainly not bored any longer, either.

Something similar happened to me on a VFR round-robin flight in the New York metropolitan area recently. Touching down at my first stop, Sky Manor Airport (N40), and taxiing clear of the active, the pilot of a Cessna Skyhawk announced his departure from the runway on which I’d just landed. A moment later a helicopter pilot in the pattern keyed his mic and asked if the Cessna pilot was “aware of the TFR.” The departing pilot said affirmative, but he was eastbound and so the temporary flight restriction would be no factor.

So two of the three pilots operating at this airport knew about “the TFR.” Guess who was the odd man out?

Pulling into the parking area and shutting down the engine, I couldn't help but get that uneasy feeling, especially after reading about Russ Munson's run in with the TFR police when he busted one on Long Island last year.

I’d of course checked the TFRs for my area of flight before departure – but maybe, somehow I’d missed something. I powered on my iPhone and pulled up the FAA’s graphical TFR website and there it was: a Presidential TFR blanketing Philadelphia.

Since I wasn’t planning on flying near Philadelphia, I hadn’t bothered to check for TFRs that far south. But at some point during my early evening pleasure flight, I got the idea that it might be fun to overfly the towns of Lambertville, New Jersey, and New Hope, Pennsylvania, separated by a steel bridge spanning the Delaware River much nearer to Philly than the Big Apple. Then a little voice told me not to deviate from my original plan – and besides, nature called and I really wanted to land.

I’m glad I did. Flying over those two idyllic river towns would have put me just inside the TFR, triggering all kinds of alarms and probably causing fighter jets to scramble from nearby McGuire Air Force Base. My only consolation would have been that, since I was monitoring Guard frequency on 121.5 MHz, I would have been made aware of the infraction very quickly.

I had to wait until I got home that night to check my computer and see how I’d missed the Philadelphia TFR. Pulling up my WSI PilotBrief account and clicking to the Interactive page showing graphical TFRs, I saw the restricted area plain as day. I think I’d missed it earlier because, as I said, I wasn’t planning on flying near Philadelphia and, if I even did see it, I might have mistaken it for the omnipresent Washington, D.C., area ADIZ.

Who knows.

So, a few lessons learned, or at least reaffirmed: 1) You formulate a plan before ever leaving the ground for a reason; 2) you need to be truly prepared to alter the plan if the need arises; and 3) now that election season is upon us, check, double-check and triple-check those TFRs.