Yes Virginia, this could happen to you

It was a beautiful day and promised to be an even better holiday weekend in the upper Midwest. My wife asked to go on a trip to Michigan to see her aging aunts and uncle. How much better does it get, an opportunity to go flying and your wife is encouraging the trip? By watching the weather for a few days prior to the trip I knew that the weather was more than going to cooperate, it was going to be great. All of our flying together has been in a “Spam can” and we file IFR. This day I was going to take my new RV on its first long cross country; we could skirt the Class B airspace around Chicago and get a glimpse of the skyline as we came up the south side around Gary, Indiana. I was running late leaving work, and my wife was already at the hangar waiting. Wanting to start this trip on a positive note, I quickly packed things up and did a last minute check of the weather on the AOPA web site before leaving the office. PERFECT. I rushed out to the airport, pre-flighted the airplane and took off to points east. The flight was wonderful. The air was smooth and clear. My new fancy equipment performed as intended. Three and a half hours later, I called approach in Michigan I was informed that I should call Chicago Approach when I landed. “What did I do”? I landed, called and was informed that I had violated the Presidential TFR!


VIP TFR - Memorial Day Weekend 2010

How could this happen? I am a conscientious pilot and did not think that I was becoming complacent. Trust me, the rest of the weekend was pure torture as I racked my brain thinking of all the opportunities I had had to avoid this mistake.


The ill-fated route

Let’s look at what went wrong. Even though I was going VFR, I did not get a full briefing from the services that are available. That saved me about 5 minutes and cost me three subsequent sleepless nights. I had numerous other opportunities to familiarize myself with the TFR. They are listed on the AOPA, EAA and DUATS web sites. As I was talking to Rockford approach I could have told them of my ultimate destination and they would have warned me. As I was listening to the radio I heard chatter about a TFR and wrongly assumed it was referring to a Blue Angels air show that weekend. How long would it have taken to ask a controller for the details as opposed to my “assuming” I knew what they were talking about?

I was lucky. “Thunder One” and friends did not intercept me as the President was not yet in town, although the TFR was active. Over the weekend, there were three other planes that wandered into the restricted airspace and were escorted to a safe field for debriefing.

TFR map

So what did I learn? First, there is no such thing as a routine flight. Every flight should be planned and pilots should take advantage of all the information that is made available to them to make sure they are familiar with the current environment into which they will be flying. With the proliferation of smart phones, cell phones, and locally available computers, how long does it really take to prepare yourself? We would not think of taking off without a preflight. Why would we not prepare ourselves for the navigation portion of the flight? GPS is great, moving maps do a great job of outlining controlled airspace, but only by familiarizing ourselves with all available information do we know all the issues that we might encounter.

I have had over 2300 hours of flying over 20 plus years, and I considered myself a very safe, aware and prepared pilot. I would never do anything to jeopardize my own or my passenger’s safety. Yet by not preparing as thoroughly as possible, I will lose the privilege of flying for up to 90 days. The FAA is very firm in its punishment; I respect that, but it does not make it any easier to accept.
Let my error be a warning to all of you out there. Take nothing for granted and treat every flight with the same care you would in planning a 1000 mile cross country in IFR conditions.

Anonymous and Remorseful