Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Forgiving FAA

Don’t always assume you’ll be busted

The good-guy controller eventually handed me off to the tower, and I began tracking inbound, correcting for altitude and heading by simply second-guessing the localizer needle with no reference to heading as my course swung slowly back and forth. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to see my radar track for that approach.

Fortunately, Long Beach weather was holding at 300 and one, and it actually looked better than that when I broke out and spotted the rabbit on short final. I touched down on runway 30 just as if I knew what I was doing, pulled off the runway, called ground and waited for the advice to copy a phone number. Instead, ground cleared me to my destination, so I knew someone at the FBO had probably already been contacted.

I taxied in, shut down and walked into the office, only to be greeted by two friends who asked, "Hey, Bill, how'd the trip go?" Pretty obviously, no one had been advised of my difficulties with the HSI and executing the approach.

Oh well, I thought, I'll probably have a message on my answering machine at home, as I had listed my phone number on the IFR flight plan. As I threw my two bags in my car, I reminded myself to look up AOPA's legal services number and advise them of the problem. I also mentally rehearsed what I'd say when I responded to that call.

The turbulence had been forecast, and there was nothing intentional about the altitude deviations. I later learned that several pilots before me had experienced similar problems, and they had all instruments working.

There would be no difficulty proving the pilot's HSI was precessing excessively, as a mechanic had gone to work pulling the box to be overhauled shortly after I shut down. My logbook was up to date, and I was current for IFR.

The call never came. There was no message waiting at home. A week later, I was still waiting for the phone to ring with the administrator calling to suggest I turn in my license. It never happened. I tried to locate the controller who helped me find the ground that day, but he had already gone off shift when I called.

In other words, as most of us should know already, the FAA can be good guys, if you give them a chance. Their mantra may not be, "We're from the government, and we're here to help," but in my case, they did provide exactly that—lifesaving help.

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