Panic Over The Pacific
Flying|December 2019
Bernhard Wolf
On a singular night in 1994, I learned that while there are many risks in flying, like in most other activities, succumbing to fear and panic is the worst possible way to deal with those risks. Flight training, while continuing to place the emphasis on risk avoidance, should highlight rationality in dealing with those risks, instead of reliance upon teaching risk avoidance by worsening our fears.

I had done a transoceanic ferry flight in a single before, flying my Piper Archer over the Atlantic to Germany and selling it there for a handsome profit. I had taken a course from experienced ferry pilots in Vero Beach, Florida, had a fat binder with all flight-planning details with me, and subsequently enjoyed an uneventful yet exciting experience.

Back in the U.S., I used the sales proceeds as a down payment to buy a Socata TB-21—a retractable I chose for its range and endurance as a reliable cross-country machine— and flew it several hundred hours in sometimes questionable weather but never got anything worse than the faintest trace of rime ice.

There was one weather phenomenon, however, that scared me to the core: thunderstorms. I had done my flight training in Amarillo, Texas, at the edge of Tornado Alley, where thunderstorms are at their worst. My flight instructors had instilled thunderstorm avoidance in me by teaching that flying into one of those beasts is essentially a death sentence. Avoidance is the only option. How to deal with one should you blunder inside was never really addressed. My only education on this topic came from Capt. Robert Buck’s excellent book Weather Flying. He had been through quite a few storms in DC-3s and had come out unscathed.

I took a job in Guam and thought it would be quite the adventure taking my airplane with me and being able to fly to the Micronesian islands. I went back to Vero Beach, got ferry tanks, the permit to be 20 percent over gross weight for the flight, and the helpful binder from those who had gone before me. With that, I set off over the Pacific.

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