Friday Foibles: Down Low And Stupid
They live and fly by different codes in the 49th state, and what might seem stupid in the lower 48 doesn’t move the needle in a place over twice the size of Texas. Consider the De Havilland Beaver that nosed over in the Noatak River. The NTSB heard about the event—word spreads fast in Alaskan bars—and called the pilot, who reported that the nose-over occurred during taxi—not flight—so no need to get all federal about it.
The pilot claimed he’d landed safely on a gravel bar, parked for the night and returned in the morning, finding the mains and tail submerged by rising waters. He fired up the engine to taxi—not fly—it out. By his account, “the tires were lurching, and the tail was underwater.” The plot increased power to raise the tail from the water while applying “heavy braking action to control the airplane as he taxied downstream and downwind.” That’s when the airplane nosed over—while taxiing, not flying, so no accident. Or so the pilot claimed.
The National Park Service ranger who responded to the crash took photos that supported, instead, the NTSB’s conclusion that the pilot had actually attempted to land on the gravel bar but undershot the touchdown and nosed over in the water. Further deflating the pilot’s story was the ranger’s statement that “the pilot asked him not to notify the NTSB or the FAA about the accident.” Tip: If you opt for the Don’t-Call-The-Feds dodge, make sure you’re not actually talking to one.
While vacationing in Alaska if you want to see bears from the sky, remember to fly the airplane while looking. A Citabria pilot was at 400 feet when he spotted two bears in a swamp and found that so intriguing—since bears are apparently rare in Alaska—that he circled for a better view but promptly stalled and crashed. Although the pilot walked away uninjured, the bears remained unimpressed.
Ag pilots make their livings down low and routinely bump into fences, trees and wires. But a spray pilot in Nebraska shot himself down when he reversed course after the first pass on a field and dropped “a little too low” only to encounter his own wake turbulence, tossing him into the corn.
Another Nebraska ag pilot wasn’t spraying but was heading home. At cruise above the trees, he adjusted the engine controls as usual, except the engine quit and into the corn he went. It seems the airplane recently had an engine conversion, with a new throttle quadrant putting the mixture where the propeller knob had been. You know the rest. Probable cause: Yeah, corn.
Many antique airplanes lack electrical systems so are routinely started by hand. It’s fun and safe, you know, like juggling chainsaws. Electric starters debuted on more modern engines, because Darwinian selection was causing too many pilots to be nicknamed Stubby. Despite these technological advances, batteries die, and strong-armed pilots can’t resist the chance to spin the prop by hand and save the flight, often with no experience in the subject.
Picture the Ercoupe pilot in Washington taking a passenger for her first ride only to discover that the battery was dead. “Oh no,” you’re thinking. “Not the old the-battery’s-dead-and-we-have-to spend-the night-in the-pilots-lounge routine!” Not at all.
The pilot elected to hand prop the engine. He had so much faith in the brake that he elected not to chock the wheels or tie down the tail. The engine started easily, but RPMs ran higher than expected, and the parking brake held less so. Off the Ercoupe rolled with the non-pilot passenger attempting the basics of steering as the pilot vainly attempted to re-enter the cockpit, leaving his passenger to taxi through a fence, over an embankment and, we assume, out of the pilot’s life forever.