Your Accident: Film at 11!
Except it won't be 11, it'll probably be five minutes after you crawl out of the wreckage, if you're so lucky. That seems to be the most compelling message from Tuesday's noseover of a nice vintage Stearman at Washington's Reagan Airport. In case you missed the story, a formation of Stearmans flew into DCA to publicize a new IMAX film called Legends of Flight.
They got publicity alright. There are no fewer than three camera angles on this accident, including one from inside the cockpit shot by Washington Post transportation reporter Ashley Halsey. Kudos to him for first escaping unharmed and second, sticking to the view finder throughout the noseover sequence. We'll know later if he deserves a razz for inadvertently planting a foot on the left brake, for in this CNN footage, it sure looks like the left wheel was locked up, which may have precipitated the noseover. Why it was locked will be for the investigators to determine. (Check out the beeping sound in Halsey's footage. What does that mean? WARNING! Your airplane has turned over! WARNING!)
There but for the grace of God (and persistent luck) go us all, I suppose. I have a little bit of Stearman time and my sense of it is that if well-handled, it's no different than any other traildragger. But where my little Cub will leave bite marks on your butt if mishandled, the Stearman will take off an entire cheek. It's heavy, has a lot of power and brakes powerful enough to nose it into the runway in a heartbeat. I've been reading Robin Olds' biography and he notes that during World War II, an accident like this was a several-times-a-day event. At one field he trained at, there were nine accidents of various aircraft in a single day.
So, lemme see. The takeaway? Always wear your nice flight jacket, because if you screw up, it'll be on TV and YouTube at the speed of heat. Also, this: There are so many clichés in aviation that you never know which to believe. But the one about never relaxing in a taildragger until it's tied down seems to be an enduring truth. A few Sundays ago I was out sticking landings in the Cub, working on wheelies and trying maintain the centerline within inches.
After four or five perfect examples, I exited the runway—first turnoff, of course—and while taxiing along in that smug aura of the self-satisfied expert airman, I came within a dozen feet of plowing right into a Cessna Conquest. I caught it because I saw the tail of the twin just in time to swerve. In a Cub, you either S-turn to see what's out front or lean out the door periodically. I had done neither as I relaxed in a haze of self-congratulation.
Like I said, there but for the grace of God who, fortunately, seems to look kindly upon idiots who can, nonetheless, occasionally do decent wheel landings.