I was supposed to fly today. I had it all set up with a photographer that I've flown with off and on for a while.
Now I occasionally take passengers up if they want to share the rental costs, usually when I didn't have the money to fly by myself but needed to keep my proficiency up, and I've flown Ansel for a long time. He's a nice enough guy, but lacks any understanding whatsoever of what an aircraft can, can not and should not do. "FAA Minimums", "Noise Abatement" and "Restricted Airspace" are just words to him, and the blue coloring on the sectional charts that highlights the DC ADIZ and Camp David reservations doesn't impress him in the slightest. If he wants a shot of something, he expects to get it and doesn't really care why I'm not willing to fly over certain things or descend to the altitude that he wants.
Well yesterday he called me up and asked if I'd fly for him this morning. I really don't need to any more, but when I heard that he wanted to be up for two hours of flying time, I decided to take him up on it. Hey--two hours is two hours, and it's always been standard that I get to shoot a few touch-and-goes at flight's end.
Morning came, and we'd planned to go early because a cold front was expected through here this afternoon and I wanted to get us up and back down before the weather got here. It was looking good at first--just a slight breeze and no clouds when I headed off to the airport. I'd called the tower and winds were 8 with gusts to 13, however it was almost right down the runway so I wasn't worried. But forty-five minutes later when I met him at the airport, I noticed that the flags were really flapping, and the wind sock was almost straight horizontal. This wasn't any 8-knot wind. Not only that, a line of low, black clouds was visible in from the west, and it appeared to be coming this way. I knew that we'd be flying to the east, and I don't like having bad weather come in from the direction of my airport when I'm up because it means that I will have to buck it flying back and may not even be able to go back at all if it gets bad enough. I told Ansel that it wasn't looking good and tactfully suggested that we think about doing this another day.
Ansel wasn't having any of that, though. He'd blocked out his whole morning to do this and he needed these pictures before the spring foliage started to sprout. And it didn't help that at this moment another aircraft took off.
"Look, he's flying," Ansel said. "Obviously it's safe or he wouldn't be taking off. Let's just go for a bit, and we can come back if it starts to get rough."
I pointed out that the Cessna 310 that had just launched was a lot more aircraft than the rental Cessna 172 that I'd just grabbed the keys for, and I didn't think that his flight plan was going to be a bunch of low-and-slow along a mountain ridge with high winds perpendicular to that ridge. But Ansel being Ansel, he didn't get it. A plane took off to go somewhere, therefore all planes can take off to go anywhere and he wanted his flight.
I switched the avionics on and dialed up the AWOS--the Automated Weather Observing System--and listened to it's current forecast. The first thing I heard was current weather reporting winds now at 10 with gusts of 25-30 knots. I switched off again and took the key out. "We're scratched," I told him. "We can try this again next week, but we're not going today."
As expected, he wasn't happy. "But you just saw that other plane go! Why would he go if it's not safe? Come on--I'm paying, aren't I?"
And suddenly those three letters in my logbook took on meaning: PIC. Pilot In Command.
Yes, you're paying," I said. "But you're paying for the gas. I'm the pilot and I'm responsible for my safety and yours as well as this aircraft, and that means that I make the call. I call no-go for the day. Sorry. Let's try again next week."
I walked back into the office to return the keys and aircraft log, and when I came back out, Ansel was already driving away. He hadn't stuck around to talk to me about next week, and somehow I'm thinking that I won't be getting another call from him any time soon. Oh well. Fact is, I don't need him like I used to--I don't need him at all, actually--and I've reached a point in my life where I don't care to gamble or play games with the weather just to keep a patron happy. And I was vindicated just a short time later. I stopped into a local bar adjacent to the airport for a quick lunch, and when I came back out not half an hour later, the sky was black, the roiling clouds were low enough to touch, and the wind gusts were picking up dirt and gravel from the parking lot. We'd have gotten off the ground all right had I decided to go, but there's no way in hell that we'd have made it back here through that and gotten cleared to land. Ansel may be mad at me right now, but he's actually lucky that I didn't give him what he wanted.