What's To Be Learned From This Tree Landing?
Has it gotten to the point that that ultimate gesture of privacy—crashing an airplane into a tree—is now suddenly a thing of the past? Evidently, judging by this video of a tree landing near Robertson Field in Connecticut this week. It’s possible to draw some useful things from this viral clip.
The overarching one is don’t do anything—I mean anything—unless you’re comfortable seeing it on YouTube because there’s fairly high probability it will appear there for all the world to see. Second, does this clip answer the question of the survivability of putting one into the trees? Not entirely, no, but it does offer a useful datapoint. Is also shows that under a specific set of circumstances, a nearly 40-year-old Skyhawk has impressive crashworthiness, even as it wallows through what appears to be a textbook stall-mush. Indeed, the airplane may have been about to enter a spin just as it intercepted the tree. Look at the video closely and see what you make of that left wing drop right near the end.
Tree landings, it turns out, are often survivable and this video shows why. A few years ago, I tried to develop some data to see how often they are survivable and how they compare to the survivability of water landings. The exercise was indeterminate because the NTSB files didn’t provide enough detail to judge what was an intentional tree landing and what was just a crash into trees.
Nonetheless, if you’ve ever flown over a carpet of green and contemplated what you’d do if the engine quit, putting it into the forest crown is an option. This video shows that if the airspeed at impact is slow enough, the cabin and aircraft will remain intact enough to increase if not guarantee survivability. Survival or survival with injuries can turn on small things, like whether a shoulder harness is used and is snugged down securely and how much unsecured junk you’ve got in the back of the airplane. Think about a tow bar coming adrift and denting your noggin. Or some tiedown stakes. Or all the other paraphernalia you have in the airplane. (I once carried a 24-inch monitor and a printer.)
Fire is always a worry. When I was a young pilot, the operative advice if you knew you were going into trees was to slow the airplane down as much as possible while still maintaining control—good advice—and then aim between the trees so the wings would be ripped off, absorbing the energy. Yeah, but … that’ll likely open up the wings so if you survive the impact, you die in the fire. Nothing about this crashing business is ever simple. But if you walk away—or are least carried away alive—you’ve illustrated the definition of victory. The pilot of the 172, Manfred Forst, had minor injuries, so he wins this week’s lottery.