Stupid Pilot Tricks

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No pilots actually died in the compiling of these stats, but, as Jane Garvey recently reported in IFR, some sure tried their darndest. 

It's that time again, boys and girls. We know you missed 'em, so in the immortal words of the little girl in Poltergeist, "They're baaaaaack." Final reports from the NTSB are even farther behind than usual and it took a lot longer than before to gather all the 1998 eggs together for candling.

As always, some in the crate might have been cracked a bit, but none are broken. In other words, these were all non-fatal bump-ups. The occasional drunk or all-too-frequent fuel starvation is just too easy, so we confined ourselves to ferreting out new aviation vistas in all phases of flight. Most accidents of any type occur during takeoff or landing, of course, so let's start our tour of the 1998 Hall of Fame there.

Preflight, Start And Taxi

A goodly percentage of our accidents are remarkable primarily for the obdurate insistence on piling up questionable decisions higher than a politician's lies.

One of the better examples of this was the Missouri pilot who had not flown in more than six years. Flag One. It was a repositioning flight for a Luscombe just purchased. Flag Two. Only the left brake on same was operational. Flag Three. At the intermediate fuel stop, instead of waiting for available help, the pilot decided to hand-prop himself. Flag Four. When what was described as "many" start attempts failed - Flag Five - the pilot advanced the throttle - Flag Six - and tried again. The obvious occurred, of course, and the aircraft began pivoting around the only brake that worked before wreaking havoc across the ramp.

Even if your trusty steed isn't playing demolition derby, consider the possibility that bystanders waving and jumping up and down aren't just saying, "Hi." Witnesses tried to approach a Montana Cessna T-50 (think Bamboo Bomber) to advise of fuel flowing from the right engine lower nacelle. The pilot ignored the attempted warning, started the right engine and taxied to the runway. Shortly after takeoff, the right engine packed it in. During the forced landing, the vintage aircraft snagged a fence. Responding firemen found the right gascolator drain stuck open.


As usual, several landing mishaps could be characterized best as Bambi's Revenge. In an unusual twist on that theme, a Texas turbo Saratoga hit a deer during rollout on a night landing. After the following morning's inspection of the damage, the pilot decided to take it around the patch. At lift-off, the right main lower strut assembly and wheel fell off. The NTSB did not report whether the departed deer's relatives were snickering from the bushes.

A California CA-65 (low wing, two-seat, homebuilt) collided with terrain following a loss of control during initial climb. The pilot reported that he had wrapped the right seat belt around the right control stick to hold it back while starting the engine. He stated that he forgot to remove the seat belt before takeoff and the aircraft stalled and veered left off the runway. "Flight controls free and correct," ring a bell here? At the time of the accident, the pilot's last BFR was five years old, exceeding the vintage of his third class medical by a year.

An Indiana pilot might need to add an item to his pre-takeoff checklist. After being cleared to go, our intrepid aviator applied full power from the hold short position, omitting the minor detail of turning onto the runway first. The airplane traveled across the runway, through a ditch and then became airborne. It "landed" in a parking area and continued on until hitting a fence.

Whole new vistas in owner performed maintenance were explored by the Idaho Super Cub pilot. It wasn't his fault, of course, that an adjacent Cessna 195 pilot snagged his bird with the tie down ring during parking. Post-incident inspection revealed torn skin on top of the wing and minor damage to a rib. Thereafter, the pilot "repaired" the damaged rib and skin with duct tape. Oddly enough, the airplane didn't feel right during climb- out. The pilot decided to make an immediate opposite direction return. Never getting above a hundred feet AGL, the pilot racked over an aircraft already believed to be aerodynamically compromised. Predictably enough, the result was a stall/mush into terrain. Oh, yeah, the density altitude was later calculated to be 7800 feet.

People who love sausage and airplanes shouldn't try to make one look like the other, as did the operator of a 172B in September in Florida. During the turn to crosswind, the airplane descended into the trees.

The pilot reported that the airplane's fuel tanks were filled to capacity just before the flight. Aboard were the pilot, who weighed about 250 pounds, the right front passenger at 300 pounds and the positively svelte rear seat passenger, a mere 200 pounds. A 50-pound bag of sand was found in the rear of the baggage compartment.


In case you're one of those folks who suffer from the notion that successful Cessna 172 SEL types are just barely pilots, consider the hapless retired airline captain with 25,000 hours in transport category. Five hours in a Skyhawk weren't enough to keep him from bouncing three times, at which point "he drove the airplane 'hard' onto the runway and applied maximum braking."

The 172 wasn't as forgiving of same as some Big Iron would be, of course, and everybody wound up off the end of the runway. The ex-captain didn't even possess a single-engine rating. The flying club had been so impressed with his times and experience they never asked. Like Reagan said of the Soviets once upon a time, "Trust, but verify."

In the "Oh, that's what the X means .." category was the Georgia pilot who headed his turbo Lance for runway 24. Despite severe clear, he apparently overlooked the large yellow X's at both ends as well as orange and white barriers. The left main landing gear snagged one of the latter, sending the airplane skidding off the runway. Entirely understandable, however, as the notam for the closed runway had only been in effect for three months.

In Between

Cruise is a relative concept of course. One aircraft's MCA is another's full tilt boogie. One of the more interesting cruise mishaps snagged - literally - a Pennsylvania airship. Some 500 feet over trees in gusty winds, the blimp experienced a severe and sustained downdraft. Despite engines at full power and full up elevators, the ship hit the trees, the gondola descending below the tops. The blimp "bounced from treetop to treetop for about 10 minutes" before coming to rest some 40 feet up. After calling Flight Service on the cellphone, the pilots shinnied down a tree. Fifteen minutes later, "the ship blew away."

Golf, anyone? We're tempted to assume that was the new rallying cry of the hapless Virginia pilot bringing home a recently purchased Twin Bo. On one leg, the navigational and communications equipment failed, so the pilot purchased a handheld GPS. He still couldn't find the refueling stop, however, and milled around looking for same for about 40 minutes before the GPS batteries packed it in. Despite adequate gas aboard, the pilot reported both engines quit shortly thereafter, necessitating a forced landing. After all that, we probably wouldn't have gone around anything more mechanical than a pencil for at least a week.

The best mental image in the 1998 Hit Parade comes from the Texas pilot herding cattle in an R-22. The objective was to move a bull toward the corral, but Ferdinand decided he'd had enough of this big, noisy dragonfly and charged the helicopter. During evasive maneuvers, the tail rotor struck the water in a stock tank, killing the tail rotor drive shaft. Two turns in an autorotation brought the helo down in a level attitude inside the stock tank, at which point the copter rolled onto its side. Olé.


We know it will come as a shock, but some folks are just not as assiduous about the FARs as you, Gentle Reader. Our favorite 1998 entrant in the "We Don't Need No Stinking Regulations" category is the PPL with an expired medical operating an Alaska Super Cub in February. After the night takeoff, a cloud layer moved in. Eventually pushed up to 10,000, our intrepid aviator was doing quite nicely without panel lighting, thank you.

At least until the flashlight's bulb burned out. The radio didn't work either, but the better-equipped passenger whipped out his trusty cellphone. They talked with ATC for about an hour trying to work a way out of the predicament, right up until they ran out of gas. Deadstick, night IMC, with no interior lighting, the pilot reported two or three spins. In the words of the summary, "The passenger established visual contact with the ground and yelled to the pilot. The pilot then pulled back on the control stick..."

Believe it or not, only minor injuries resulted. It really was okay that there was no operable radio, panel lighting, or flashlight in a non-IFR equipped aircraft operating at night in clouds, because the pilot didn't have an instrument rating and his certificate prohibited night flight anyway.

A good pilot is indeed always a student, but some folks take that idea just a teensy bit too far. One example was provided by the fellow who balled up a float-equipped Taylorcraft with a wire strike during a Maine river landing. In the subsequent interview, the student pilot stated that he had over 2200 hours of floatplane experience and over 5800 total time in the several aircraft he had owned. Oddly enough, his logbook was in the airplane during the accident and could not be located.

In the same vein was the pilot who attempted to put an Alaska Husky into a 600-foot area in a crosswind of 25 knots gusting to 35. The pilot said he would not have attempted to land but he did not have enough fuel to return to his destination airport. Reporting 1000 hours accumulated on his 15-year old student certificate, the pilot stated that he "just had not had time to complete his private license."

The award for the (former?) student packing the most violations and bad judgment into one occurrence was the Arizona driver who decided to land his Fones Z-MAX in a field to buy a drink from a local grocery store. During rollout, the aircraft hit high brush and nosed over, breaking in half. Both certificate and medical had fully five years of experience, during which our hero had accumulated a whole 67 hours of flight time, 30 hours of which was dual. The aircraft had no airworthiness certificate nor any application for one. Following inquiry, the pilot stated that he didn't have either the aircraft plans or logbooks.


It's hard to imagine a worse time to be in a hurry than the first flight of a freshly completed experimental, but that didn't stop the Washington State ATP operating a Murphy Rebel. Just after lift-off, the aircraft started to roll right.

The normal corrective action just made it worse. The pilot chopped the power and attempted to land while holding significant left aileron and full left rudder. As the aircraft slowed, it rolled left, the nose dropped, and impacted the runway. (You're ahead of us here, aren't you?)

Post-accident investigation revealed that the ailerons had been hooked up backwards. The pilot stated that he had done a hurried preflight because "someone had changed the lock on the hangar where his aircraft was housed, and that had put him a couple of hours behind schedule." It was not reported how far behind schedule the accident put him.

Several accidents in 1998 involved experimental aircraft with Rotax engines which gave up the ghost. The accidents themselves were garden variety, but we were intrigued with the following recitation from the manufacturer's operating manual quoted in the report: Danger!: This engine, by its design, is subject to sudden stoppage! Engine stoppage can result in crash landings. Such crash landings can lead to serious bodily injury or death. Never fly the aircraft equipped with this engine at locations, airspeeds, altitudes, or other circumstances from which a successful no-power landing cannot be made, after sudden engine stoppage.

Call us wimps, but we just can't get our heads wrapped around the idea of paying money for or hauling aloft an aircraft that the engine maker says is subject to packing it in and killing us-straight out, in writing, complete with exclamation points.

We can hear the keyboards of irate experimental proponents clattering from here, but we aren't making the stuff up. In the same vein was the Arizona pilot who bolted an eleven-year old Ski-Doo snowmobile engine into his Kitfox.

Not only was this engine not OEM, STC, PMA or any other relevant acronym (except maybe, SOL), it apparently was an irresistible deal because the engine had previously been involved in an accident. Anyone overly surprised that it packed up at an inopportune time?

It might seem an odd observation for people who make their living selling words, but some people just read too much. Indicative of this was the Iowa Kitfox pilot who tried using 20 degrees of flaps, contrary to the recommendation. Following lift-off earlier than expected, the aircraft drifted right and into terrain.

During the interview, the pilot stated that "he was testing a new takeoff technique he had seen in an aviation publication."

Let's Be Careful Out There

And that, boys and girls, is this year's sojourn through the amazing and amusing from 1998. Yeah, mostly we're just enjoying snickering up our sleeves at the mistakes of others. If you consider the foregoing seriously for a moment, however, it is screamingly apparent that most of the truly bizarre or stunningly stupid mishaps became so principally because of a concatenation of bad decisions or flagrant warning flags studiously ignored. Anyone can get hung up in bad luck. Stay alert to flags and you're not likely to grace either next year's IFR pages or those of the NTSB.