We were flying a field that I’d never flown before. It was a good deal with a three-mile run and a low wire to hop on the north edge of the second section. There were some big, tall wires on the west edge, but they were pretty much out of the way.
Upon arriving at the field, before I landed to get my first load, I circled a couple times looking closely for obstacles. There was a gnarly guy wire that stretched from the tall pole near the southwest corner down to a shorter pole, that had its own guy wire. I mentioned it to the other pilot and made a mental note to stay clear of it.
The big guy wire was a couple hundred feet into the west edge of the field from the south edge and stretched out to the east across the west edge and into what would be the last two passes on that field. It was also quite a bit higher than the wires that paralleled the south edge.
The day was long, the air was bumpy. Another pilot came over to help. He got briefed on what we were doing and made his own circles of the field.
We were down to our last loads. I had just taken off and turned to get to work. One of the things I wanted to do first was to lay down a good pass alongside those big wires on the west. I remembered the small pole and wire that stretched into the field, but for some reason I was thinking it was in a different location. I’d completely forgotten about the big guy wire that stretched down from the tall pole on the west. I was flying straight at it.
The pilot who recently joined up on the job keyed his mike, “Tracy, don’t forget that big ass guy wire going across there.” I was no more than two seconds away from finding it the hard way when he called out. I was lined up to dive in at the corner. My mind was totally on making the pass and getting the edge -target fixation.
I eased back on the stick and corrected my line, just as that big ass wire went underneath my left wing. I took a mighty deep breath and climbed away. The wire probably would have taken the airplane mid-wing and sent yours truly into a really bad situation. It wasn’t the kind of wire that an airplane could fly through.
I made sure to thank my friend for reminding me. He likely saved my life. His reply was, “Someone was looking out for you. Whoever just happened to whisper in my ear instead of yours.” Thankfully he passed on the information.
There’s been many times I’ve flown with another pilot and called out obstacles. It’s a practice we all adhere to even if we think the other guy should already know. We identify items of concern and remind each other of nozzle settings, swaths and even to check fuel quantity. It’s a darn good practice, though I know there’s been times when I haven’t said something because I felt sure the other guy was already aware. If my friend had have taken that for granted on this day, well, I shudder to think how it might have turned out.
Communication is vital in this business. Sharing knowledge and awareness is something most of us do most of the time. It’s important for safety and getting the job done well. This is especially true if you’re working in an area you or other pilots are unfamiliar with.
Never miss an opportunity to tell another pilot about an obstacle or any other item of concern. Yes, he might already know it, then again, maybe he doesn’t or he forgot. There’s a lot of things going through a man’s brain when in the air. It doesn’t take much for something important to be shuffled to the bottom of deck. At the same time, be grateful when your buddy reminds you of something, even if you think it’s something insignificant, or not necessary. The day might come when you could find yourself wishing someone had reminded you.
It’s easy to overlook things. It’s easy to not see something that you would think could not be missed. It happens all the time. I believe a good percentage of our NTSB reports began by someone forgetting or overlooking something. We are human, we are fallible. Having a second set of eyes and another brain involved is some of the best insurance a guy can have. Having a buddy watching your six is downright priceless.
I need to reiterate something I’ve talked about many times in the past. Circle the field! Double check your edges and corners and look for those weird wires, pumps, posts and all the other stuff that sticks up out of the ground and are all too often found in places you wouldn’t expect them. If you find something out of the ordinary or something that might cause a problem, address it straight away while it’s still fresh in your mind. One good way to do this is to go ahead and work the trouble spot, or whatever it is, and get it out of the way. Then, you most likely won’t encounter it when you’re tired, or distracted, or have forgotten it was there in the first place.
Mark your maps and save them. If you keep maps and reuse them or have a master copy of your field maps, annotate those things on there; in red helps. Another pilot will go to that field someday. If you’ve briefed him, or at least made sure the map was clearly marked and explained, it could save someone a lot of trouble, possibly from having to arrange a memorial service.
Listen to that small little voice whenever it decides to speak. It’s there for a reason and has saved a lot of trouble for a lot of people. Act on it, don’t hesitate to sound off, even if you think the other guy might already be aware. It’s quite possible that he may not be.
Fly well and stay Safe!