Cockpit Resource Management

In August of 1984, Linda, the kids, and I took a Cessna 172 up to 55C (Dodgeville, WI) to visit nearby House on the Rock, an attraction in Wisconsin. From there we would fly down to OTM (Ottumwa, IA) to visit an old classmate of Linda's from her Mayo Clinic days.

We left 55C VFR (Visual Flight Rules), picked up an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) clearance in the air and soon climbed into the overcast. The forecast for Ottumwa was marginal for my personal standards for the time we planned to arrive, but there were good VFR conditions only a few miles to the south, so I felt pretty comfortable. I was enjoying the IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions), for although I've flown IFR lots of times, most of it was in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions).

As we droned along, I kept checking our fuel, the weather at OTM, and the progress we were making. When we went over DBQ (Dubuque, IA) we could see down to the ground and the Mississippi River, but visibility straight ahead or to the sides was probably only a couple of hundred feet. As we went past CID (Cedar Rapids, IA), and after checking the CID weather (400' ceiling, 1 mile visibility; well within my capability), I decided that it wouldn't be such a bad idea to stop there and top off the tanks.

So I asked CID Approach to change my destination to CID and to vector us for the ILS (Instrument Landing System). Mr. Smartypants (me), reverting again to his experiences in the cockpit of commercial airliners decided to concentrate on flying the approach (no autopilot in this aircraft) and to enlist the aid of the copilot (Linda) for other tasks.

“I'll fly the approach, and you let me know when you see the airport,” I casually instructed her, employing the very best combination of delegation of resources; me staying inside the cockpit to avoid vertigo, and concentrating on the instruments, and her watching outside the cockpit for the approach lights or other ground references and telling me when they were visible so I could make a smooth transition from inside to outside.

I then concentrated on keeping the localizer (directional signal) and glide slope (self explanatory) needles where they should be settled down on flying the approach. Soon a faint and rhythmic beeep, beeep, beeep started, gathering gradually in volume, beeep, beeep, beeep, until it peaked, then getting gradually quieter, beeep, beeep, beeep, until it disappeared, all the while, a blue light flashing on the instrument panel. We had just passed the Outer Marker.

Note to self: tell Linda about the Marker Beacons and the annunciator panel.

Although I had confidence in Linda, I wasn't sure about her execution of my instructions, so seeing some motion in my peripheral vision, I glanced up and saw the approach lights a couple of miles ahead; we had broken out and had the runway in sight. In a moment, we faintly heard be-beep, be-beep, be-beep, gradually getting louder, be-beep, be-beep, be-beep, peaking and then gradually fading, be-beep, be-beep, be-beep, the sound fading away to nothing, and all the while, a yellow light flashed on the annunciator panel. That was the Middle Marker.

I landed the airplane and taxied to the ramp and asked Linda how she liked the ILS approach.

She told me she had a splitting headache because, “when you said ‘let me know when you see the airport’ I thought you didn't know where it was. I figured the lives of my family depended on me finding it for you and I didn't know what to look for.”

I'm going to have to learn to communicate better. Cockpit Resource Management is a great concept as long as everyone understands what the task expected consists of, and not just the words that identify it.

The decision to stop at CID was a good one, because after we took off again for OTM, the weather had cleared all the way to OTM, and although we flew the leg IFR, we cancelled within a few miles of OTM and made a visual approach. The rest of the weekend was uneventful, save for a very embarrassing non-aviation faux pas on my part which may be the subject of another story.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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