If Ya Haven’t Been There Before, Probably Not a Good Idea to Go There….

“If ya haven’t been there before, probably not a good idea to go there,” is something I heard my whole flying career with respect to taking Nav (navigation) check rides.  It really makes sense.  There are just so many things that can go wrong on a check ride, why set yourself up with more of the “unknown?”

And so one day this kid walks in and tells me we are flying to Laughlin AFB, TX for his Nav check.  Having been to Laughlin, and knowing a little about the runway configuration, I ask him, “Have you been there before?”

“Nah,” he replies, “but I don’t think it’s a big deal.”  Okay Kid, I think to myself, and off we go.

We flew a low-level leg on the way to Laughlin, and arrive with plenty of gas for landing.  He requests an instrument approach to the center runway, Rwy 13C, and everything is fine – until we get to the runway.   What the kid doesn’t know is, Rwy 13C ‘ has a significant ‘drop’ to it in the first 1,000 to 1,500 feet!  So, he flies his typical “mechanical’ landing, and when he ‘flares,’ the runway begins to ‘fall away.’  It really was kinda interesting to see.

It didn’t take long before he saw where he was “high” in the flare, and went around.  Okay, we still have fuel for another instrument approach, but that”s about it.

While we are heading back for another approach, he debriefs his initial approach, claiming he ‘flared high,’ not recognizing the actual runway configuration.  In the meantime, I am looking up the frequency for the outside runway I will need if he has to go around again.  It takes 400 pounds to fly an instrument approach in the T-38.  Our minimum fuel, at landing is 600 pounds.  I figure we will have about 700 – 800 pounds remaining if we have to go around.  But, if I take the jet, he’s Unsat at that point…

This time when he flares, the RSU (runway supervisory unit) sends him around!  Swell!  Now I don’t have any choice.  I take the aircraft, and contact the outside runway RSU.

I can’t remember their call-sign, but the radio exchange went something like:  “Reno 17, off the center runway, requests closed.”

The reply was, “Sir, are you familiar with Laughlin’s pattern?”

YGBSM!  But my reply was something like, “Not really, but with 700 pounds of fuel remaining, I can get real familiar, real fast!”

“Cleared Closed,” came the reply, and we (spelled “I”) landed without further incident.

The kid knew he was “toast,” but I kinda played it down.  I wanted to see “what he was made of.”  Was he just going to quit, and roll over?  Or, was he going to suck it up, and continue?

And so we briefed the return leg to Randolph and the flight home was fine.  When we got into the Randolph traffic pattern, I had him fly each of our landing patterns.  A simulated single-engine pattern; two no-flap patterns and a normal full stop pattern.  All of these were fine.  After landing, I took the aircraft and taxied in without saying anything.

In the debrief I asked him if he had ever heard: “…if you haven’t been there, don’t go there,” before?  He told me that he had, but he didn’t think it was that big of a deal.  So I asked him, “Okay, what do you think about that now?”

“Probably a good idea,” he replied in a quiet voice…

We went on to debrief the ride, and I felt he had learned a great deal from the experience.  Yeah, he is “Unsat,” but what is the corrective action?  Have him fly to Laughlin for numerous approaches and landings to Rwy 13C?  How productive is that?  So I told him, “Jim, if you promise not to go to Laughlin for 3 years, I will pass you on this ride.”  He jumped on my offer – and that was that, until 18 months or so later.

I was down int he Auger Inn one night when I felt a tugging on my sleeve.  I turned, and there was Jim…  “Sir, I haven’t been to Laughlin yet,” he said with a broad grin.  WTF, over?  I had forgotten all about the deal.

“Well, I haven’t been to East Bumfuc, Egypt either Lt.- your turn,” I replied.  And then he explained our “contract,” and we both began laughing.

You know, he went on to eventually become an A-10 squadron commander.  It’s nice to know that sometimes, you do make the right calls…

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