Shortly before the end of the last century we talked to Alan Vangee, the veteran CFI that guided a Cessna 152 to safe landing in Plant City, Fla., with a spinning prop 18 inches from his face attached to a Piper Cadet that landed on top of his Cessna. Now it's time to hear from the pilot of the Piper, 19-year-old private pilot Jay Perrin. Jay was on the first leg of a VFR solo cross-country building time for his instrument rating. Jay, who is studying aviation technology and hopes to become a corporate pilot, spoke with AVweb's Joe Godfrey about the landing he'll never forget.
When you arrived at Plant City you were on a VFR flight plan. What was your original plan for the day?
I started in Melbourne. I was building cross-country time for my instrument rating. I want to get the instrument rating first, then I'll have enough hours to go right into the commercial rating. At Plant City, I planned a touch-and-go and then I planned to go on to Fort Myers and North Palm Beach and then back to Melbourne.
When was your first radio call as you approached Plant City?
My first call was over Lakeland, about eight miles out. I listened to Lakeland traffic as I went overhead at 4,500 feet, then I started my descent and switched over to Plant City and made my first inbound call. Then I called again when I flew over Plant City and again on the 45, the downwind, then downwind-to-base and base-to-final.
What radio calls did you hear other pilots make?
I heard one call that I didn't understand. I found out later that it was a 172 that had landed and cleared the runway. The pilot looked over and saw both of our airplanes on final and said something. But I never heard the Cessna 152 make any announcements. There was another student from my flight school doing the same route as me in another Cadet. He was departing the pattern and he told me later that he also heard the 172 but never heard the 152 either.
How many other airports in that area use the same Unicom frequency as Plant City?
I think there are two or three. [ed note: Brooksville, Ocala and Arcadia all use 123.0.]
But you're saying that wasn't really a factor. You thought you had a pretty clear picture of the traffic when you entered the pattern at Plant City?
Yeah I did. On my downwind leg I saw the guy I knew in the Cadet departing the pattern, and I saw a Cessna turning base to final and heard him announce. So I continued on my downwind, waited until he was behind me, waited until I was about 45 degrees from the runway and turned my base. On base I looked to the right, then to the left; didn't see anybody or hear anybody so I turned final. And I began and ended the calls with "Plant City traffic."
What was your speed as your turned final? Do you think you overtook the 152?
Base to final I was at 63 knots. That's the speed I was taught to fly on final, and I kept looking between the runway, airspeed, runway, airspeed. I held 63 knots until the collision.
When did you realize what had happened?
I didn't know if something had impacted the plane or if I had hit something. I knew there were towers in the area, but not on short final. But whatever happened, I was falling because I had 1,700 pounds hooked onto me. The first thing I did was to hit full throttle and pull the yoke to go around but I was still coming down. I still had some pitch control. The nose did go up but I was still coming down and I didn't want to stall, so I pushed the nose back down a little. I never heard the stall warning horn through the whole thing.
What was the touchdown like?
The landing itself was hard, but I've been in harder landings in the backseat when somebody stalled it above the runway and dropped it on. It wasn't too bad really.
What was the first thing you said?
Once we had stopped I had electrical off, mixture off, mags off and key out in about three seconds. I pushed the door open and crawled out to see what had happened. I don't know exactly what I said but I wanted to see if everybody was alright.
Have you replayed this scenario over in your head and tried to figure out where that Cessna came from?
I figure the only place it could have been was under the cowling as I turned base to final. I looked to the left and right and didn't see him, so I guess that's why. I've also thought about what I did do, which is the stuff recommended in the AIM. I didn't do anything that isn't in the AIM, and I did everything the AIM recommends. The only thing I could have done are things that aren't recommended, like S-turns on final to check for traffic below. But then you're not where people are expecting you to be and that's not good.
Do you know if there's a certificate action pending against you?
The accident is still under investigation, so there's been nothing final. But I think if it comes down to a suspension there might be some remedial training. But there were no FARs broken other than that the Cessna was lower and had the right of way, which if I had known he was there I would have gone around. I don't think there's going to be any action to take my ticket, and hopefully if there is we can handle it with remedial training.
Have you had a chance to speak to Barbara or Alan, the pilots in the Cessna?
Not since that day. The instructor seemed to shake it off pretty quickly. I think his student took a little longer. And it took me a while.
How are you doing now? Has the accident changed your plans about becoming a corporate pilot?
Not at all. I'm on the flight safety team at school and I belong to the aviation fraternity, Alpha Eta Rho. They've been great about giving me a place to vent.