CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 JOSHUA ROBERTS
B Company, 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion
Illinois Army National Guard
After completing more than four years of service, which included a 15-month combat tour in Operation Enduring Freedom as a flight engineer on the CH-47D, and the whole world in front of me, I decided to take up flying. (My journey through initial entry rotary-wing training wouldn’t take place for another three years, but that is another story.)
The university I was attending offered a degree in aviation human factors, which is where I learned about a whole new world. Fixed-wing flying is a different animal than what we have grown accustomed to in our Army helicopters. Once you acquire your private pilot’s license and are working toward your instrument ticket or commercial rating, there are new dangers that present themselves in the form of boredom and complacency. In many cases you find yourself on a solo cross-country flight, building time with no one next to you to keep you in line and entertained. I was fortunate enough to learn at a young aviation age the need to have all of the necessary publications prior to taking off. Here is that story.
I arrived at Willard Airport in Champaign, Ill., on a Wednesday evening as the sun was setting. My task was to knock out a solo instrument flight rule cross-country flight at night. With the remaining sunlight available, I climbed over the Piper Archer, giving it a detailed pre-flight. I then headed into the operations area to get an updated weather brief before filing my flight plan. It was going to be an easy night with a hop across the state border to do an approach into Lafayette, Ind., back across to Illinois for an approach into Kankakee, and then finally return to the house with an approach back into Willard.
Willard Airport sits in Class C airspace, which makes it relatively easy to depart with an IFR flight plan. After opening the plan with ground and a short conversation with tower, I found myself in no time flying through the air with my handoff to departure. Once I checked in with Chicago Center, I allowed my brain to space off and just enjoy the flight at cruise. What an amazingly dark night it was to be out flying.
It was obvious Chicago Center was not too busy this night because I was caught off guard, and a little early, with them requesting what approach I would like to do at Lafayette. I informed them I would check the automated terminal information system and let them know. I reached over to my pubs pack and starting pulling out approach plates. “This can’t be right,” I thought. I looked through them again, and then a third time. “You have got to be kidding me,” I told myself. I had forgotten to bring the approach plates for the state of Indiana. I felt like an idiot.
Fortunately, I had a little luck on my side. I thumbed through the aircraft’s GPS and found that Lafayette had a 09 approach. I informed center that I had picked my approach and was told to switch over to advisory. When I was close to 10 miles out, I was able to pick up local traffic in the pattern landing on 27. “This is just working out perfect,” I said to myself with as much sarcasm as I could afford. I decided not to descend below 3,000 feet and, after I flew over the runway, I quickly contacted center to let them know I was on the miss and ready to head to Kankakee.
The remainder of the flight worked out just fine with no more excitement. As I was putting the aircraft to bed, I spent a little extra time thinking about what I was going to take away from this experience. The No. 1 lesson I had that evening was to double-check that you have not only the correct pubs for the mission, but also any you might need for the “what-if” category.