Hurricane Ian hadn’t even officially hit Florida when its fringe effects caused millions of dollars in damage to aircraft at North Perry Airport north of Miami.  Late Tuesday afternoon a tornado, possibly two, spawned by a line of thunderstorms created by Ian tossed dozens of airplanes at the tie-downs into a pile of bent aluminum and shattered composite. Tom Pendas took photos and posted them on Facebook and Weather Underground came across it.

Owners surveyed the damage on Wednesday and James Pena told Local 10 News that while his aircraft seemed safely tied down, others were flipped by the winds and they damaged those next to them. “Unfortunately the planes near them are the collateral damage of the planes flipping over on them,” Peña said. The airport is about 20 miles north of Miami and about 80 miles from the west side of the peninsula, which took the brunt of Ian’s landfall on Wednesday

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

27 COMMENTS

  1. While nothing could have really helped in the kind of tornado shown in Tom’s pictures, I do see something in the photos that makes me cringe. It is the amount of aicraft using chain tie downs. Unfortunately chains alone cannot be truly tight with S hooks or if links are knotted about each other. So that slack can cause movement due to weather. Chains also have no flex and so provide for a hard stop when the slack pays out. Kind of like when Foghorn Leghorn taunts the dog while standing right outside the dog’s useful chain diameter. The dog runs at him until the chain reaches its limit and “whamo” – – it slams the dog to a jerking stop (followed by Leghorn painting the dog’s tounge). That hard stop can be a very high point load, and over time the aircraft structure is effectively being umercifully hammered upon. Other components can be affected by chain tie downs like the main wheel bearings brinelling due to the constant rocking and hammering. Ropes or straps, on the other hand, can not onlky be cinched up tight, they also provide a flexing action. That eliminates the instantaneous harsh point loading. Always carry rope or ratcheting tie downs onboard (not the cheesy friction lock tie down straps). If a ramp only has chain either bypass it and use the rope, or tie the rope/strap at some point along the chain and then tie down the aicraft with your rope. At that point the chain portion is in constant tension provided by the rope or strap so the chain has no more slack hammering effect. The dog is always tight up at the end of his chain. As first mentioned, nothing could have helped these birds in this tornado. In fact that classic orange Cessna with its tail twisted off shows signs of rope tie downs. But rope/strap tie downs with flex can save a lot of damage during the other 99 percent of storms and won’t slowly beat the aiframe by jerking chains over time between storm events.

    • You didn’t pay attention to the reporter. The airplane had it’s tail ripped off because it was “orange”. Yes, it was yellow, and a tail was a wing, but that’s news reporting in the New Millennium.

      • Well… she at least new it was a plane part. Got to give it to her for that. They don’t pick these people because they are smart. They just have to be able to read what is put in front of them. I remember when my 9 year old daughter proved she could do it on a CNN studio set.

  2. And while on the subject. What’s up with all the fancy FBOs not having any tiedown provisions whatsoever? It seems like the fancier the FBO, especially when they have ramp or handling fees, the less likely they are to have tie down points on the ramp. They will park an untied Carbon Cub next to a Gulfstream or helicopter. And maybe place 2″ chocks around 31 inch tundra tires. Sheesh.

    • Jim, not sure that anything would have made much difference in that tornado. There is also the old saying: “It’s not that the wind is blowing, it’s WHAT the wind is blowing”.

      • These are really small tornadoes, water spout size. I’ve seen them in south Florida regularly. A plane properly tied down usually will not fly away.

    • I think you are likely right. When I pull into the expensive FBOs there are no tie downs for small planes… they really don’t want you there, but put up with you being there.

  3. I deal with a lot of FBO’s in my travels throughout the country. I hate to say this but the “big” FBO’s that Jim. mentions are not interested in doing business with piston prop planes. They only want the big money turbine planes that they can charge big money for services and fuel. Probably why I don’t see tie down spots much any more. Most of those FBOs bury those piston props in the back of the ramp the furthest away from the entrance. The smaller non-chain FBOs and smaller airports have better service for avgas planes and sometimes do better service for the turbine crowd. As far as those planes getting destroyed by the winds, most of the time weather like the current hurricane going through Florida, has plenty of warning several days ahead of time. These planes should have been flown out of the area several days prior to the storm. I have a difficult time understanding why owners would leave a flyable plane in harms way, even the airlines get their planes away from the storm before it comes.

    • I wouldn’t want to leave my airplane there either… but if you’re evacuating for a hurricane, you’re probably also trying to get the spouse/kids/pets out of the way. Unless you can all fit in the plane, someone’s still driving the car through crazy evacuation traffic and handling all the other details while the pilot is safe and landed far away. Insurance will cover the loss of an aircraft to a storm but it won’t cover divorce costs…

      • My wife still tells the story of Hurrican Hugo, 1989. I flew an F/A18 to Missouri and she and two small children piled into the station wagon and drove through the evacuation traffic all the way to my parents’ house in KY. It takes a special spouse to accept a pilot and our baggage. I suspect she’d have less of a sense of humor today if I told her I had to fly the Cherokee to safety, unless she and the dog were sitting beside me, and the destination has slot machines.

    • I agree with your assessment. I’ve been into the fancy FBOs and yes, they are nice. But, I can not remember a tie down spot for small planes. In fact I was flying a small R44 helicopter into one and they started up a jet as I was air taxiing behind them.
      They really don’t care for the piston aircraft.
      But, the smaller airports are super friendly and have transient tie downs, with less fluff, but more friendly.

  4. Agreed. The only sure protection from a hurricane and its tendency to spawn tornados is to relocate to a place well out of the hurricane’s path. Depending on the potential wind speed, even a hangar may not provide adequate protection. No matter whether you use rope or chains, neither will withstand a hurricane or tornado.

  5. I can’t understand why these airplanes were left on the ramp. I watch weather radar like a hawk and it was no surprise some really bad stuff was on its way in. Glad nobody was killed here.

    • Gonna say that the last time I went to my airport, before I sold the Skyhawk, not 50% of the planes were airworthy.
      Which is how it’s been for half-a-century, at most airports. Pay that tie-down fee, they don’t care.

      • They are all on the S.T.A.R maintenance program.

        Sit There And Rot.

        I went around to the most likely that were still airworthy and proposed to the owners that I would pay for my own fuel, oil and insurance to keep it flying. They pay for the annual and tie down, I’d keep the day-to-day mundane items up to date (lightbulbs/oil/filters). “You’d be getting the better deal” and wouldn’t take my offer.

        Now, tires are dry rotted, plexiglass glazed, paint gone, bird and rats nest infested, haven’t been flown in decades and they are still paying for the tie down.

  6. “The insurance will cover the costs…” Maybe this is another reason why our insurance is skyrocketing. Claims drive rates up people.

    • Since insurance companies are getting more picky on who they cover it is only a matter of time before they start putting exclusions for certain kind of weather damage/loss.

    • Considering the time and complicated logistics required, moving an (insured) airplane surely doesn’t top the priority list when preparing for the unfathomable devastation of a hurricane.

      Even with numerous days of advanced warning, I imagine vital and much more important preparations eat up that time pretty quickly.

      Facing a life-changing event like a hurricane, honestly, future insurance rates wouldn’t even register as a concern.

    • Insurance is going crazy because on average there are 4 general aviation accidents a day… with one fatal accident a day. Yea, that is a crazy high rate of accidents. More GA planes are wrecked every day, than built.

    • Tell the wife:

      Dear, you the kids and pets are own your own. Board up the house and sandbag the basement. Load up the car and drive 13 hours to your moms house. Call me when you get there. Good luck.

      I’m repositioning the plane to Vegas.

  7. Interesting comments. 5 days prior, the predictions shown our location was the direct target until it turned east. We were preparing to evacuate but looking at the cone of confusion, to be out of the storms potential path(s) soon enough would have meant traveling over 500 miles. So lets assume you fly the aircraft somewhere “safe”. How does one get back only to leave again? The airlines? Rental Car? Into a potential Hurricane path? It took two days to get prepared for the storm, another day to get the interior secured and all our important documents secured and oh by the way, 5 days ahead the gas stations were running out of fuel, long lines to get what gas you could, stores running out of bottled water and food staples. Everyone is preparing for the storm, the potential to be without power for up to a week and the Hurricane Center is moving the target every 8 hours or so. So tell me when you have time to relocate an aircraft in the correct direction and be able to get back in time to prepare for the storm?

  8. Some insurance policies will pay the direct costs associated with moving an aircraft out of the path of a hurricane. The theory is it’s cheaper to pay to relocate a plane than to total it.

    However, the terms may not be realistic. I recall one policy that required moving the plane at least 100 miles beyond the edge of the cone of confusion, not just the track. As Anthony D. pointed out above, the time and logistics involved in doing so are not insignificant, especially as the forecast changes.

  9. Is there a list of pilots that can fly planes to safety? Or do you know one? I know I would have a plane to get my pricy property out of harms way.
    The Navy flys their planes to safety and still gets them back in time to secure their property.
    Seems like a program AOPA would have put together 30 years ago.

    • The Navy sends a skeleton crew of maintainers ahead to catch the jets or more likely, sends the jets to a host squadron.

      No one “gets them back to secure property”. The enlisted left behind button up shop. If they are lucky, they “get a day off” to secure their own personal property and family.

  10. Though I sympathize with those aircraft owners, they did know that a hurricane was approaching, and that those storms will produce tornadoes and high surface winds. Leaving a plane outdoors during hurricanes will likely result in such damage. These people get lots of warning, and those planes can be moved to some locale where they’re sheltered, or otherwise out of harm’s way.

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