ABH at the ControlsThis is my last Air Safety blog post on Industry Insider, for I am retiring after 43 years of law practice. I therefore give myself permission to recall some of my less than outstanding exploits during 47 years of flying light airplanes. Thankfully all ended safely, but not always thanks to me.

A few months after receiving my private pilot license, on a rare sunny spring day I decided to take a sightseeing flight over the Washington, D.C. area. I went to a local airport in suburban Baltimore, and with less than 100 hours total time in my log book—none of it in the area–was perfunctorily checked out in a Cessna 150. I took off, flew over downtown Baltimore, then south to D.C. I flew as close to the White House as I dared, then followed the Mall past the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, taking photos along the way, and proceeded eastbound to Annapolis. After overflying the Naval Academy, I turned north and returned to the airport. All of this was perfectly legal then, for I stayed clear of the Prohibited Area over the White House—the only airspace restriction in those days. I got some great pictures, but given my inexperience and unfamiliarity with the area, that I managed to return the plane, myself and my passenger safely was a tribute to good luck, not to good airmanship or good judgment.

While stationed at Monterey, California I often flew around the area and down the Big Sur coast. The coastal fogs creeping inland added to the beauty of the sights, and I blithely overflew them–sometimes while Navy aircraft were making practice instrument approaches to the Monterey airport, unseen in the enveloping fog below.

A few years later, after the military and law school, I flew with my wife and another couple to a short grass strip near historic Ste. Genevieve, Missouri without doing a proper preflight weight and balance computation. I merely eyeballed the passengers, and concluded that we were legal. While sightseeing in Ste. Genevieve, I realized that it might be more challenging to get airborne from turf than from the paved runway back home.  Fortunately we lifted off with room to spare, and I tried not to let my passengers see my relief.

Returning from Chicago on a hot, hazy day I failed to get an updated weather briefing before departing. As the flight progressed the haze grew thicker and thicker, until I realized that I could no longer see the ground. After reversing course out of the cloud, the sky was dark and threatening, with cloud to ground lightning visible, and I landed at the nearest airport. By the time I parked and shut down rain was falling so hard that I could not get out of the plane. I had encountered the only storm in the entire State of Illinois. In less than an hour it passed, and I enjoyed an uneventful flight home.

A couple years later my wife and I planned a pleasant day trip, but at the airport, the plane’s battery proved to be stone dead. The fixed base operator gave us a jump to get started, and assured me that the alternator would recharge the battery en route. Fifty miles out, the alternator light illuminated, and the radios went silent. I turned back, assuring my wife that I could cope with the situation while reviewing the emergency procedures in the pilot’s handbook. I pumped the landing gear down manually, and made a fast, no flap landing.  Lesson learned!

Taking off on a local flight I realized too late that the airspeed indicator was not indicating. I lifted off, left the traffic pattern to get the feel of flying without airspeed indication, returned and landed very carefully. Back on the ground I found the cause: an insect had packed the pitot tube with mud, which I had overlooked during the preflight inspection.

After several in flight radio failures and a total electrical failure I finally bought a hand held emergency transceiver. Thereafter I never had to use it.

These were not the only times when good luck trumped bad judgment. But I tried to learn from my mistakes and become a better pilot as a result. In the end, I proved the adage that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots, for I definitely became an old one.

Happy landings!

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Photo of Alan Hoffman Alan Hoffman

Alan concentrates his practice in the areas of product liability, tort and business litigation as a member of Husch Blackwell’s Technology, Manufacturing & Transportation team. He handles a wide variety of product liability and personal injury litigation, including prosecution and defense of contracts; chemical and toxic tort; premises liability; firearms and ammunition; maritime; aviation; and rail cases. Alan also has extensive experience in construction; business and commercial; banking and finance; admiralty and maritime; and insurance law, as well as liability prevention counseling for manufacturing and construction clients.

With a segment of Alan’s practice being focused on aviation law, his personal background adds to his experience in this unique area. Alan served as the main source of information for Daniel L. Rust’s authorship the 2016 book, The Aerial Crossroads of America: St. Louis’s Lambert Airport. He has been an active private pilot for more than 40 years and is involved with two St. Louis-area aviation groups, whom he represents as pro bono clients. Before entering law school, Alan served in the military intelligence branch of the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971.