The stupidest thing I ever did in a plane.

The most stupid and dangerous thing I ever did in a plane was as a 20 hour student. My instructor at the school I was at quit to go to another school. I decided to go with him as he had soloed me and I had already been through 2 or3 other instructors. The day was 9-10-2001. He had warned me that the planes were old but said nothing of their condition. The 172 was old ,had poor paint, and a low tire. When I checked the oil, I found that there was only 3 1/2 quarts. I’m ashamed to this day that I didn’t leave at that point without any discussion. However, I was anxious to get on with my training. I added another 2 quarts with the instructors knowledge and had them put air in the tire. I rechecked the oil and we had about 5 1/2 quarts. He insisted that this was Okay. However, I put another 1 1/2 quarts in. We went flying and I did about 1 1/2 hours of hood time. We returned and landed on a parallel runway aside an airliner. I taxied back and parked the plane. It was getting dark when I went to tie the tail down. What I found was oil dripping down the belly to the ring. I checked the oil level and there was only a drop of oil on the stick. I had very little to say to the instructor as the implication was obvious. I nearly quit flying for good that day, but the next day was 9-11-2001. Several days later I called the school to see what was wrong with the plane. Apparently there was a blown gasket that resulted in the oil leak.

Well, where was the mistake? The mistake was clearly in not questioning why an engine would only have 3 1/2 quarts of oil in the first place. As a pathology instructor once taught me in medical school “always think dirty”. You alone are PIC and make the final decision, not the instructor.
Now I always get a standard briefing, even for a short flight. I always check fuel quality and quantity carefully. Never let anyone fill the tanks without watching. Always check the oil, and if it’s down more than a quart or even just a quart in a short time, ask why, don’t fly. Also, I always look at the belly for oil.

If anyone would like to share a stupid mistake they made please do so.

I’ve done 1 or 2 stupider things in my day…but I’m going to wait 2 or 3 decades before fessing up about them on this forum.

(don’t worry, Roger…these didn’t involve the SR20)

Daniel: I hazard to say that there probably isn’t one amongst us that, at one time or another, has not made almost every ‘mistake’ that you say you did that day. All-in-all, I don’t think you were that ‘stupid’ for a low time pilot. The oil issue is tough, but if I did not see big oil stains on the belly or ground below the AC, I may have done exactly what you did, without the last 1.5 quarts! (as owners, we get accustomed to how much oil our planes ‘like’ and understand that the comfort number may be 1 or more qts below the POH. To add more just results in it being blown overboard.) (IMHO, if the owner or operator of the plane knew the condition or its oil consumption, then I would say that they were more at fault than you.) Back to the flight; I probably would have kept a close eye on the oil pressure and temp gauges, but I don’t think I would have done much different, especially if someone who was supposedly familiar with the AC said it was OK.

As for checking WX, I can’t say that I get full briefs for all flights. If I am flying locally, I may only check the AM TV WX. If they say it is CAVU, supported by a big High, then I do the old Mark 1 eyeball check and will probably go. Personally, I think that sufficiently covers the regs. I would be confident that if things changed, I could get back to the field before the situation got too bad to handle.

However, I think you have been very prudent and cautious and commend you for that.


The “old” saying goes There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots. Good point. In other threads it has been discussed that people have learned from their mistakes and better yet learned from others so that they did not get the humiliation or worse from making the mistake themselves. I believe that all pilots have done “stupid” things in our time. Hopefully we all have learned from those, filed them away in the “gray matter” computer for future reference. As a CFII I try to be extra vigilant and always expect the unexpected. However sometimes you still pull bone headed stuff and go on. I agree with Marty on one point, if you fly the same airplane on a regular basis you can get “comfortable” knowing that say the oil is OK 1 1/2 qts low, however sometimes that can breed complacency, not saying Marty is complacent (from his posts I believe that he is far from complacent), but I try to approach every airplane I fly with a little pessimism. Even the ones I’m familiar and “comfortable” with.

As for the “Stupidest thing I have ever done” I’m taking the fifth and waiting for the statute of limitations to pass!!! :wink:

…As a pathology instructor once taught me in medical school “always think dirty”. …

You wouldn’t remember her phone number, would you?

Rick, Thanks for your vote of confidence, but I have to pull the carpet out from that support.

To tie this thread to another, the one on the breather tube and oil levels, my POH says 8 quarts. I, however, don’t use more than 6 in my '22. That is already 2 quarts low, but it is what the plane will tolerate.

Now, I do fill it by the 1/2 quart and start to sweat if it approaches 5 quarts. If that breather tube modification allows it to keep more oil in the plane, then I will be happy indeed.