How Much Stress is Enough?

How Much Stress is Enough?

“I will have to shut down the GPU for a few minutes,” yelled the line guy on the Signature ramp. Darkness and heavy mist hung in the early morning at Dallas Love Field (KDAL). “Why?” I responded. “We just detected a lightning strike west of the airport and everything has to shut down,” he replied.

Just a little more stress to start the day.

Only 24 hours before, I received a phone call that a favorite relative had passed, and today I was flying a planeload of family members to a funeral.

“Dallas Love Field information Alpha, wind one four zero at one two, gusting two three, visibility two and one half, light rain, thunderstorm, fog, overcast six hundred, temperature one two, dewpoint one zero, altimeter two niner eight four, simultaneous ILS approaches runway one three left, runway one three right in progress.”

Are you beginning to see the picture?

Prior to the flight, I ran my mental risk assessment and decided to call Jason, a multi-thousand-hour King Air instructor, to help in the right seat. We were headed to Jackson, Mississippi, and a line of weather was forecast to pass through Dallas about the time of our return.

Jason handled the passenger safety briefing as I set up the cockpit. On departure we were immediately enveloped in IMC and light rain and turbulence. Jason worked the radios while I cycled the boots in light icing between 14,000 to 16,000 feet. With a 40-knot tailwind, we landed an hour and fifteen minutes later after shooting the GPS Runway 16 to Hawkins field (KHKS). Five of us scurried to the rental car while Jason tended to the engine covers and checked the oil.

On the drive to the funeral home, Patty’s phone rang. On the other end was the nurse at the retirement home where her mother lives. “Your mom has fallen, and we need to know if you want us to take her to the hospital for a CT scan,” came the request.

Another little addition to the stress quotient.

From the backseat, my son Matt asked me about a Piper Cheyenne that crashed on takeoff in Louisiana as we flew overhead. My family had more questions.

Just a tad more stress.

During the funeral, the line of thunderstorms west of Dallas continued its eastward crawl. I glanced at my iPhone radar picture only once, knowing that Jason was watching closely at the airport. 

Just a tad more stress.

After the service, Jason and I huddle at the FBO and decide that we can head back towards DAL and land short if necessary, to wait out the line of weather. 

In between layers at FL 200, Center says, “November seven three zero Juliet Alpha, regional approach says they are no longer taking arrivals from the southeast. We can take you all the way west and back to Love or you can divert and wait out the line of thunderstorms.” 

Jason and I discuss the options. “Can we proceed as far as Mesquite (KHQZ) 20 miles short of our destination?” I ask. “Standby” comes the response. Then, “Approach says they will agree to that.”

We head for Mesquite, the C90 now fully enveloped in the turbulence and clouds, where the weather is 600 overcast in 2 miles visibility with crosswinds gusting to 24 knots. I cycle the boots and activate all the deice equipment. “Jason, you have the airplane,” I said. This gives me the time to fully brief the puzzled passengers and answer a couple of their questions, knowing that Jason has control of the airplane.

We land on a wet runway and file a flight plan to KDAL 30 minutes later, landing in light rain. Jason puts the covers on the airplane, and I clean the cabin, while Patty heads to see her mother.

It was really nice to have another set of eyes and hands in the right seat. Sometimes it’s not about how you fly the airplane, but how you manage the flight.

Fly safe. 

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