• Published
  • By By Col. CREIG A. RICE
  • AETC director of safety
Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. In cold climates, the snow starts to melt; in the desert, the cactus are in full bloom; and in many parts of the country, you just don't know what to expect as the weather conditions can change very rapidly. Many of us dust off our bicycles and motorcycles, and even attempt to get that beach body back in shape as winter indoor activities turn into spring break on the beach.

As good as all of this is, I'm reminded that some of the most treacherous driving and flying conditions I have ever experienced happened in the spring.

One such experience occurred years ago when I was a lieutenant in Air Training Command (the predecessor to AETC). As a first assignment instructor pilot in the T-38, I was on a student cross country flight over the weekend. We were scheduled to spend the night at New Orleans Naval Air Station. The weather was forecasted to be 700 feet overcast (good enough to land ... even at night), and a front had just moved through the southeast United States.

As we arrived, we noticed things had changed; the current observation was for 300 feet and a mile visibility with rain. This was a good news, bad news story. ... The good news? The weather was good enough to shoot the approach. The bad news? The weather was good enough to shoot the approach.

So we started down on our precision approach radar approach, and my student was doing less than stellar. Toward the end of the approach, I took control of the aircraft, broke out of the weather at 300 feet and saw a big black hole in front of me (from the back seat no less).

Now back in the late 80s, there wasn't much lighting at Navy New Orleans ... just some standard runway lights and a "meatball" that the Navy uses for glide path guidance (think the opening scene of Top Gun and "calling the ball"). Unfortunately, the "meatball" qualified as some of the required lighting we needed to shoot an approach at night in the mighty T-38 ... another good news/bad news story.

Needless to say, we were able to make the landing and get the aircraft stopped before the end of the runway (which seemed to approach very quickly as I sucked up some seat cushion), and I probably have a few less heartbeats because of the experience.

This incident taught me a few things that I've carried with me throughout my Air Force career. First, in the springtime, the weather is always changing so be prepared for it. Second, just because something is "legal" doesn't make it smart, or even safe. We were in compliance with all of the flying regulations and rules. That said, if I had to do it all over again, I'd pass on making that approach and landing again ... and get those heartbeats back.

As you read this issue, you will notice our continued emphasis on flight discipline and the need for leaders at all levels to make the right call, every time. We also take an in-depth look at some of the other common springtime activities that include, motorcycle riding and spring break/TDY binge drinking. Don't be overcome by "spring fever," and be prepared for changing conditions as we migrate to more outdoor activities.