Accident Probe: Lack Of Peer Pressure
I worked at Flight Service for 20+ years at many locations including Utah and Alaska. Aside from aircraft handling accidents (moose stalls, density altitude issues, running out of gas, flying up a canyon where terrain elevation increases faster than your climb rate, etc.), I’ve come to the conclusion that the three most important safety considerations in VFR flight are: 1. Night 2. Mountains 3. Weather (low ceilings and/or visibilities). Flying with any one of these factors can be relatively safe if you have the proper experience, equipment and training. Flying with two of these factors and the margin for error is getting slim, you’d better be a pro and on your “A” game. Few VFR pilots survive an attempted night flight, in mountains, in bad weather.
How Not to Be a Hero
Back in 1986, I decided that I’d had more than a stomach full of managing an FBO. One of the factors that pushed me to my decision was a conversation I had with a former student of mine, who had purchased an interest in the FBO. He told me that he’d heard complaints that I was “too demanding” of my students. “It’s important not to piss off our customers, Yars.” I replied that I thought that it was more important not to KILL our customers. Shortly afterward, I resigned.
Not long afterwards, management hired several flight instructors, to pick up my personal workload in that activity. Within two weeks, one of the new guys had soloed a couple of dozen students. Clearly, management’s assessment of me had been vindicated. Until it wasn’t…
I had come into the FBO to give my bladder a break. On my way back out the door, I saw a Tomahawk pitch up so steeply that I anticipated a non-renewable outcome. Stunningly, the plane pitched downward just as rapidly, and erratically made its way overhead.
I dashed into one of the briefing rooms, to call the control tower. No need to. As I reached for the phone, it rang. I picked up the handset. “Yars – did you see that?!?”
“What happened,” I asked.
“He flew through the 4,000 feet remaining sign. Completely shattered it. I’m closing the airspace. You’re cleared for takeoff.”
I grabbed the keys to something with wings, fired up, and took off from the ramp and adjacent taxiway.
The controller and I agreed to do business on the Tower frequency, because we were concerned that asking the student to tune another frequency could be the proverbial camel’s-back-breaking straw.
I established a radio rapport with the student, who was certain that he could not land the plane, and was going to die that afternoon. I assured him that he was not. By this time, we were orbiting the aerodrome at pattern altitude. I carefully examined his aircraft from all aspects. It appeared to be intact – our second piece of good fortune (the first being the absence of a smoking hole at the site of the former sign, which was constructed of two-by-sixes and 5/8- inch CDX plywood).
In the minutes that followed, I gained enough of his confidence to permit me to talk him through configuring the airplane for an approach (yes, it was just a Tomahawk, but the poor guy didn’t even know what the trim wheel was) and then flying to a successful landing with me 30 feet off of his left wing. When he achieved a favorable position-to-land, I had him close the mixture simultaneously with the throttle. He wasn’t going to die that afternoon.
All of the students the instructor had endorsed for solo were grounded, pending a review of their paperwork and readiness. The FAA was not amused. The instructor lost all of his certificates. For the FBO and the students, it could have been much worse. All’s well that ends…well?
The student continued his flying lessons. I’d like to report a happy ending, but…
A couple of months later, the 19-year-old student was killed when the motorcycle he was riding got T-boned by a speeding motorist on a local street. He never had a chance.
Sometimes, being “a hero” just isn’t very satisfying.
Damned if you do: An early fall evening, after tying down the airplane I sat down at the picnic table for a little hangar flying with a couple other pilots. Beautiful, cool, calm evening; you know what I mean.
A piper started up for a little night work and touch and goes. By this time, sun was down and it was legitimately a night flight.
While jaw-jacking around the picnic table, we suddenly hear: Scccccrrrrreeeetch, buurrrrriiiinggg. We all looked to the runway and all shouted at the same time: GEAR UP GEAR UP!. Sparks everywhere and it was just enough light and sparks that we could tell that the belly of the airplane never touched; just the boarding step and the prop. The pilot then poured on the coals…. and got airborne again!
I grabbed the portable radio out of my flight bag. One guy got on the phone and called 9-11.
I got on the radio: “Pilot in the pattern, we’ve contacted 9-11 are you OK? Do you need anything?
Pilot: “Uhhhhh, no. I’m fine, it’s a beautiful night, coming back around to land”.
I shut up and let the pilot fly his airplane. The pilot called downwind, base and final. We were impressed with how calm he was. Nerves of steel this guy.
The guy lands and quickly taxis right by us, we wave and all thumbs up. “Looks like he’s making a Bee-Line to the hangar, don’t blame him, he wants no more of this lime-light”.We call 9-11 back and tell them to disregard, aircraft safely on deck.
Seconds later, we hear the piper powering up again. “What’s he doing? Checking the prop? Engine?”
Nope. HE IS TAKING OFF AGAIN!
Pilot takes off. I grab my radio:
Me: “Piot in the pattern, you’ve had a gear up landing! And a prop strike! Do you need any help? I think you might want to land!”
Pilot: “Uhhhh, whuuut? That last landing was sweet! Picked up Rubber!”
Me: Yeah, last landing was good, it was the landing BEFORE that! You took off again, after the gear-up-prop-strike!”
Pilot: “Whuut? Whachatalkingbout wheelsup-propinthedirt?
The pilot calls downwind, base and final. Still calm as a cucumber. Guy lands and starts to taxi towards us.
Did this guy have a stroke (seriously here)? Did his brain go to mush after the gear up? We didn’t know how this guy could have missed the gear up and the prop strike, so we were thinking some sort of medical issue.
So, as he taxied closer, we waved our arms, jumped up and down, shouted, yelled, shined flashlights at him. He pulls the plane up and we wave to shut down the engine. He shuts down and climbs out.
Prop is flower peddled and sure enough, the boarding step is ground razor sharp and thin. He had no clue.
Are You Planning to Attend AirVenture This Year?
I’d be there except that my son has had the temerity to get MARRIED in southwestern Colorado during AirVenture. Thoughtless kid!
Nope. I’ve had enough rain!
Yes, for the 50th. Once every 10 years or so.
It is too far from Brazil…
Wish the drive from NJ wasn’t so far.
What’s AirVenture?!? ☺
Gonna give it one more try. 2018 camping crowd was pretty much outrageous.
Far away. No money.
Yep. Vendor. Seven days of joy.
Next year for sure.
Can’t afford to fly in the U.S. Would rather fly into backwoods strips than be a spectator at a circus.
I am going again, but why can’t you have adult bev’s during the day. SUN & FUN does!
No. Starting my Kitfox SS7.
Getting too old.
Too commercial any more, it’s all about the Benjamins now.