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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Knowing Your Limitations

I had been in touch with a pilot who asked, "Do you remember when I helped you fly your plane in San Juan in 1985 (ish)?" 

My mind jumped to Puerto Rico. I said something like, "No. It couldn't have been me because my kids were born in 83, 84, and 85. I certainly wouldn't have traveled that far with three babies, and one being a newborn." 

Soon the story unfolded and I realized this was in the San Juan Islands... Could it be?

I asked Alan to send me the story, because I think it's one worth sharing. The interesting thing is, I owned the plane I flew at that time, and it came from the Cessna factory. Ahhhh 25-years muddies the water, as does the extra fatigue of being a new mother in college full-time.  But here you go... 

The Tale By Alan:

I was working as a pilot for an FAR 135 on-demand air charter company in the San Juan islands of Washington State, some years ago, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer..... no, no, no, wrong story. Sorry!

It was a rather windy day; probably 20-25 knots, with gusts to 30+. Certainly a challenge for a relatively novice pilot. 
I had been flying the line for some time and was experienced in the ways of the weather in the area when an airplane began an approach to land at KFHR (Friday Harbor, WA airport). The pilot was having some difficulty trying to land and made a couple of attempts. 
I recognized the airplane as one that I had flown previously and was owned by a former student of mine, so I got on the radio and chatted very briefly with the pilot. She indicated that she was unable to land, but had a need to be on the island. She said she would fly back over to the Skagit County airport near Mt. Vernon, WA where she knew she could land (more runway options) and asked if I could come pick her up and bring her back to the island. I agreed and, as the saying goes, the rest in history.

I offer this story as an exercise in judgement. The pilot showed good judgement in knowing when to quit.

Know you limitations and stick to them.

Over the ensuing years, I have seen many pilots exercise poor judgement and, at times, a total lack of judgement. But this flight impressed me enough to stick in the back of my mind for more than 25 years." Alan

I love this story. While I'm still trying to wrack my aging brain for these memories... this sounds exactly like something I would do. I guess it comes down to not having to prove anything to anyone... but yourself. This is about knowing your limitations, and trusting your judgement. 
Having the ability to move beyond the ego and not worry about what others will think may just save your life one day. Alan has been sharing this story for 25+ years ... we should share it on flight to success too. 

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene


  1. To mis-quote Dirty Harry: "A (wo)man should know his/her limitations".

    1. Paul... I love that quote. Oh... and make my day. :)

  2. I love this! It's really unfortunate that it sticks out in memory, because that means there are far too many pilots who DON'T make the right choice and try to force through. Most successfully, I would guess, but certainly not setting a good example.

    As a CFI, I make sure that my students have to make their own decisions and "have an out" if they can't do something. Even if I am sitting there in the cockpit with them, I make them think about their situation as if I am not.

    Can they use another runway? Can they go to a different airport? Can they talk to anyone on the radio for help? Can they simply climb to get a better view of their location? Critical thinking will save far more pilots than skill itself will. I guarantee it.


    1. Andrew, Thank you so much for your comment. Critical thinking is so essential in life. And in an airplane it can mean life. Also... I think it's something that we can learn how to do, even if it doesn't come naturally.

  3. Excellent lesson for any pilot, Karlene. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you David. Lessons we learn are always those to be shared.

  4. Knowing your own limitations and knowing your aircraft limitations...

    This is a very good story. Brings a common factor that puts into test if you have got some attitude.

    Karlene, I think "limitation" is a basic element of flight. What do you think?

    I always like when you post these subjects. Let's be cynical: It keeps reminding the pilots who are reading this and don't know their own limitations. lol


    1. Alex, I think you are right about limitation. In my search for the perfect airplane I heard the problems with the Bonanza V-tail. But I think it was pilots exceeding the plane's limitations. Reading a good book and I suspect this is in alignment with discipline. Thank you so much for the comment!!

  5. I think I know this lady, at least from her blog and her books. I think she does indeed know her limits and when to pull the plug and divert. She also knows her equipment's 'envelope' and systems inside out, be flying four souls or four hundred souls. Saving 'Face" means nothing to her but safety means a lot. Whoops, this is her blog! She is a safe flyer today and she was a safe flyer 25+ years ago. Somethings just never change... Thanks Karlene. -C.

    1. Thank you so much Craig. This is the best comment. I suspect we create our guidelines in life and follow them. And then we push our personal envelope on the non-safety issues... outside the plane or anywhere that will impact others.... with writing, painting... or building a patio. lol.
      You're the best. Thank you!!!


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