Tuesday, July 28, 2009
From Hero To Bum—Almost
You can learn from your mistakes…if you can just survive them
“N3274B is cleared at pilot’s discretion to descend from FL190 to FL10. Report reaching.” Good, perhaps he understood the problem.
I disabled the autopilot and pointed the Mirage downhill at 1,500 fpm. I was determined to warm up the gear on this airplane with an hour at 1,000 feet above the relatively warm ocean.
A day without sunshine is pretty much night, and that’s nearly every day at these latitudes in early January. I had been watching the northern lights waving their green/blue flags across the sky, half listening to the jibberish over the radio as I descended through the clouds toward the dark North Atlantic. I leveled at 1,000 feet about 170 miles out from Reykjavik, and the temperature was a reassuring minus-5 degrees C. Certainly shouldn’t have any problem getting the wheels down this time, I reasoned.
I was still getting a little tailwind as I drove on toward Iceland, wondering if there were any ships out here. It’s a good thing there weren’t. I noticed a pale green phosphorescence ahead, and first attributed it to the northern lights, then, suddenly, realized I was flying beneath an overcast.
I immediately disengaged the autopilot and pulled up hard. I was amazed at my stupidity. I punched the mic button and asked, “Iceland, N3274B, could you give me the current Reykjavik altimeter?”
“Reykjavik is 29.03,” said the controller. It was the dreaded Icelandic low. Sure enough, I had been cruising perhaps 50 to 100 feet above the waves rather than 1,000 feet. I assume the controller gave me a current altimeter, and I missed it as I descended through 18,000 feet, leaving my altimeter on 29.92.
The gear worked perfectly on the ILS approach to Reykjavik. I landed and taxied to the ramp at Flight Services, still a little amazed at how close I had come to disaster. Obviously, I’ll never know if I was flying at 50 or 200 feet off the water. And, damn, I thought I was so good.
Page 3 of 3