07 October 1990

Low, slow, dark, cloudy, stormy. Hmmm...

My father-in-law's preacher-friend, Ron, had bought a piece of a Cherokee 140. Ron has intermittently tried to obtain an instrument rating. He was not really ready for an instrument cross-country, but he had a reason to fly from Middletown to Little Rock, Arkansas. I had the time, so I would fly with him as his instructor.

His airplane was equipped with the usual radios for instrument flight, but they were very old. It had two nav/coms. The com radio worked poorly on one, and the nav radio worked poorly on the other. The frequency adjustment knob on the ADF was missing. Fortunately I could borrow one from the maintenance personnel at Middletown.

There were a few layers of clouds en route, with ceilings 3,000 - 5,000 feet, visibility greater than five miles. The takeoff was sluggish. Ron was a big guy. Between him and me, we probably had the airplane at its gross weight. Headwinds were greater than forecasted, so we were barely doing 65 knots over the ground. This was going to be a long night.

It took two hours to get to Evansville, Indiana, and another two hours to get to Paducah, Kentucky. We were only halfway to Little Rock, with at least four hours to go. By now the sun was setting, and the weather in Little Rock was deteriorating. The latest report was 200 overcast, quarter-mile, rain and fog, and forecasted to get worse. There were also several scattered but imbedded thunderstorms popping up en route.

I thought about our situation, then I turned to Ron and said, "Do you know what this sounds like? This sounds like the back of a flying magazine. You know, where they write up all the accident reports, and try to figure out why people did stupid things to kill themselves.

"Let's look at what we have here. We have an airplane with poorly-working radios flying at night into imbedded thunderstorms with low IFR conditions. What do you think we should do?"

By Ron's expression I knew that he knew that I was not going to continue our flight to Little Rock. It would take at least four hours and one more stop to get to Little Rock. Ron could rent a car and drive five hours to get safely there. He would probably get there sooner by car anyway.

We agreed that I would fly the plane back to Middletown. With a 40-knot tailwind, I would be there in about two hours. When he was done in Little Rock, he would drive back to Paducah. I would come back to pick him up, then we would both fly back to Middletown. Ron was not happy about the situation, but he was smart enough to know it was the only safe option.

Two days later the weather conditions and the condition of Ron's airplane had not changed. I decided to pick him up in my Cessna 210. In spite of the circumstances, Ron especially enjoyed the flight home. He had never been in a well-equipped, high-performance single-engine plane with greater than 200 knots ground speed above a layer of clouds.

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