Features January 2018 Issue
Stupid Pilot Tricks
Honest, folks, we don’t make up this stuff. Reality outdoes anything we could come up with anyway. Please try not to add to the material.
Every January we get to snicker up our flight jacket sleeves at the antics of easily distracted pilots with wings, rotors or other means of defying gravity—and logic. While this custom of mocking those who’ve slipped the surly bonds of sanity and touched the face of chagrin goes back many years, we cling to hope that we will learn from our mistakes. Alas...
These exploits are gleaned from NTSB reports from 2014, excluding fatal accidents. So, if you rose from the ashes of what should have killed you that year, you’re fair game.
Normally, we don’t include student pilots, but, gosh, some of those fledglings go so far out of their way to mimic adult idiots. One Florida student crashed a Cessna 162 Skysnatcher … catcher … whatever. You know—the revolutionary trainer that so embarrassed Cessna it killed the line and Photoshopped images of the two-seater out of their holiday cards after the student acted like a grown-up and flared “too high, bounced,” and splatted to earth like a post-election campaign promise.
Not so stupid, you’re thinking. Any certificated pilot can pancake a runway given enough flaring ignorance. True, so let’s consider the Colorado student pilot who was “conducting a solo flight in a Cirrus SR22 from his home airport on the coast to an airport located in the mountains.” Which coast is unclear, but we’ll assume California, where many ill-planned adventures begin.
The Cirrus student found Colorado, only to discover that it gets windy in the mountains. After a botched approach, he added power to go-around, but the engine did not respond—mixture was too rich—and then lost control and crashed beside his destination runway. So close.
You might wonder what bonehead flight instructor would endorse a student to fly a sophisticated airplane on a long, solo cross-country into the Rockies with no mountain flying instruction. NTSB investigators likely wondered the same thing, as it turned out that no instructor had endorsed the solo flight.
Not that instructor supervision is always a plus. Witness the Las Vegas pilot who purchased a Beech E33A (straight-tail, with 285 horses) and dragooned a qualified instructor (two key words) for some complex, high-performance dual. Unfortunately, the old Bo had a throw-over yoke, meaning only one flight control for pitch and roll. Additionally, there were no rudder pedals on the right side. So, the CFI with no control capability was still guaranteed a first-at-the-scene view of the inevitable calamity.
Taking into account the owner’s “significant number of flight hours,” the instructor agreed to tag along but—in the spirit of CYA—would do so as a “safety pilot” and in no way as a “flight instructor.” Everything went swimmingly, until the owner started the engine “very aggressively.” The instructor … er, safety pilot … had limited access to the throttle, which the new owner proudly clasped and “increased to high RPM.” Faced with little choice—and less control input—the “safety pilot” reached his left foot across to the pilot’s side and stomped the right brake beneath the pilot/owner’s right foot, while wrestling the throttle to idle. By then, the circus had left the tent and plowed into nearby parked aircraft. Checkout over, but what happened in Vegas, didn’t stay in Vegas.
Elsewhere in the desert, another instructor, this time in a Robinson R22 helicopter, was instructing a commercial pilot, when, at 300 feet AGL, the student, intending to pull the “cyclic right trim knob,” reached, instead, for the mixture-control. The instructor “yelled for him to stop, and attempted to swat his hand clear” but did neither loud enough nor hard enough, because the student killed the engine, and down the Robbie autorotated to a thrashing, tail boom-severing abrupt end to the brief lesson.
An instructor’s presence is not required to ding a copter, as proven by the Arizona rancher, who, while herding cattle in a R22, didn’t notice a phone line where there should’ve been cellphone service. No one was hurt when the copter flailed into the western landscape, but several cows were heard to snicker.
Drones will likely cure copter pilots’ propensity to roto-till terrain, but, until then, fixed-wing fliers can chuckle smugly with the cows, knowing they’re above such silliness. Unless…
iPad + iCrash = iStupid
This is so 2014. A Cessna 172 pilot, armed with an iPad, managed to navigate to his Connecticut destination and successfully land in a field that wasn’t exactly the turf runway on which the pilot had planned to land. Perhaps, there is (should be) an app for that?
The iConfused pilot taxied to a corner of the non-airfield and, after estimating there was 600 feet of lumpy pasture available in which to properly crash the 172, “commenced a takeoff roll.” A successful lift-off was quickly followed by successfully smacking a tree not depicted on the iPad, thus proving that an iPad is useless when not in the hands of a real iPIC.
Meanwhile, up in Michigan, a Cessna 152 pilot attempted to land on a 1904-foot grass strip. He failed. Normally, that much runway is plenty for a 152, but the pilot used it all and, with Hemingway-esque appetite, lusted for more. Off the departure end the Cessna bounced, after crossing a paved intersecting runway and traveling another 60 feet, where it struck an embankment. But wait! There’s more. The airplane continued another 30 feet before nosing over with predictable damage. The pilot blamed the performance on a mighty “gust of wind.” Nearby winds were reported steady at six knots.
The 152 pilot was not new to the airplane, having purchased it in 1983, the same year as his last medical. Aircraft registration had lapsed in 2011, and, to no one’s surprise, his dog must have eaten his logbooks, because he couldn’t recall the date of his last flight review.
But at least the 152 pilot only damaged his own airplane. A Taylorcraft pilot in Washington State claims he made a normal wheel landing. Normal, that is, until he applied the brakes, whereupon the T-crate departed the runway. Perhaps realizing that was too mundane for our review, the plucky taildragger careened around, imitating airplane pinball. It crossed the grass infield, zoomed over the taxiway and smacked into a hangar. Ding, ding—1000 points!
With plenty of energy left, the ball, er, airplane spun off the first hangar and struck another hangar for 2000 more points. Ding, ding, ding, ding—bonus! Moral: When you fly tailwheel: STAY OFF THE BRAKES!
Bad landings are a part of everyday flight. Seems that every day someone loses control and unnecessarily crumps an airplane. Good landings begin with a good approach. The cure for a bad approach is a good go-around. This Cessna Cardinal pilot didn’t quite get that right.
He admits he bounced the landing, but wisely added power to go-around. Funny thing, the airplane wouldn’t climb but did bank and turn to the left, so he applied right rudder and pulled back on the yoke “as far as he could.” See this coming? Yes, it stalled, pitched down—despite all that yoke in his lap—hit the ground and flipped over. Seems the pilot forgot to retract the flaps. Lesson: perform each step.
Twins make things more difficult, as this Twin Comanche pilot, who wasn’t used to flying this particular twin, discovered when he advanced the throttles to go around after encountering “severe turbulence” on final in the Arizona desert. Although, he advanced both throttles, “it seemed like the airplane would just not fly … like it was being pushed down … I didn’t have any power.”
The twin slid into the pucker brush and stopped. It turns out the pilot had confused prop and throttle controls. On touchdown, he’d pulled both prop controls full aft (feathered), thinking he was pulling the throttles back. When going around he pushed prop controls forward, thinking he was applying throttles. The throttles, however, had been forward the whole time. Note to self: props ≠ throttles.
When going around, it’s good to have but one PIC aboard, unlike the Citation in Florida that touched a third of the way down a 4000-foot runway, rolled off the end, through the grass and into a pond. Throughout the landing, the right-seat passenger could he heard calling out subtle hints, such as: “Better get it down!” and “Get on the brakes!” And an unverified comment: “Are those alligators or crocodiles? I always confuse the two.”
Crash on Three — It’s a Rule
If you want to break an airplane on landing—and who doesn’t?—simply try to turn two bounces into a successful landing on the third assault. Pilots test this many times every year, usually with the same results.
Take this California Cessna 172 pilot (please). The pilot admitted flaring too high, which resulted in two unmitigated bounces, each more mercurial than the previous. At this point, a go-around was the only reasonable recourse, but you don’t make our stupid’s roster by being reasonable. Oh no! You hang on, hoping for the best (but, no surprise, getting the worst). The 172 hit hard and with finality on the third attempt. No one hurt but scratch one rental off the line.
Then there was a Malibu pilot in Florida who showed that high-performance aviators have even refined bouncing beyond what a mere amateur can do. After impacting once, the Piper “floated back up.” Oooweee … It then touched “with authority.” Ouch … but not done yet. It bounced again, then “weathervaned some,” as the pilot held on with steely, do-nothing determination and vague concern that the airplane was “chewing up some runway.” Not literally “chewing,” although that would come momentarily, when he went for that third, insurance-claiming hit.
Now the prop was chewin’ some runway, before the Malibu veered into the weeds, collapsing its nose gear and braking the engine mount. Still, “Any landing you can walk away from…” or maybe, “Pride goeth before the fall.”
Fuel starvation is always a FSDO pleaser, as in the case of this Cessna 210 that ran dry over Texas with three clueless souls on board. The pilot was clueless of how to figure fuel requirements, and the passengers—who normally escape blame—were unaware that their pilot didn’t have a pilot certificate.
Of course, possessing a pilot ticket does little to guarantee that there will be fuel on board, as this Citabria pilot in New Jersey proved when 15 minutes after liftoff, the engine quit and he took his first glance at the fuel gauges and “determined that the airplane had run out of fuel.” At least fire was unlikely as the Citabria crashed and flipped over.
Half-Baked Alaskan Follies
Everything is grander in Alaska—mountains, bears, airplane accidents. There could be an entire cable series dedicated to that last one. And only in Alaska—where aircraft of all configurations and persuasions are the ultimate off-road utility vehicles—could an accident report read, “The pilot was departing from a road lined with refrigeration trailers located on a tidal beach.” Trailers weren’t the immediate problem when the Cessna Caravan departed. No, it was the buoy the pilot spotted prior to liftoff that caused him to swerve and, you guessed it, smack into the refrigerators. No mention of other major kitchen appliances lining the beach.
Or consider the Alaskan commercial pilot in a de Havilland Beaver on “a mission that included … two boat operators who were moving two open, 18-foot skiffs downriver.” Possibly concerned that the skiffs might outrun him, the pilot flew low over their heads, too low, and smacked one of the operators. The unsmacked operator “described the event as a ‘buzz job’ and said that the pilot had buzzed them before.” Funny until it’s not.
Name this crash setting: “The pilot was departing, uphill, from a rough and uneven, tundra-covered off-airport site … situated atop a mountain ridgeline.” Yes, Alaska, where this Cessna 175 (resembles a 172) took off uphill…well, tried, but mostly bounced through the clumps and ruts and lifted off “prematurely,” which so unnerved the pilot he braced himself against the rudder pedals for the inevitable bounce back to earth.
Unfortunately, he’d pressed the toe brakes, so when the Cessna touched again, it slowed. Unwilling to abandon the departure—it was going so well—to avoid rising terrain (on his uphill departure?) and regain speed, the pilot turned left and headed downhill. Liftoff he didn’t, but he did impact “brush-covered terrain,” where this Alaska adventure came to an ignominious end. Post-accident investigation revealed the propeller was in cruise configuration. More importantly: How and why did he get there in the first place? Let it go, Jake, it’s Alaska.
If you’re going to fly the Alaska Bush, get an appropriately named airplane such as the Super Cub-style Bushwhacker, which was perfectly named for the Alaska pilot who whacked the Alaska bush when he lost control of the Bushwacker on landing and wiped out gear and both wings. Hey, what did you think a Bushwhacker’s going to do? You want good landings, fly a Runwaykisser. Perhaps there should be airplanes named Propstriker, Wingdinger or Fuelexhauster.
“Persistence Pays” Award
Try as Alaskan pilots always do to take home the coveted Stupidest Pilot Award, we’re giving the nod to a pilot in Idaho, who combined grit with irony to bring his flight to grief without ever leaving the ground.
The ominously named Thorp “Thorpedo” was taxiing toward the departure runway, when the light-sport two-seater encountered a truck partially blocking the taxiway. The sport pilot turned left, then quickly right in an attempt to widen the path around the truck. Too wide as it turned out. The Thorpedo exited the taxiway onto the dirt, where it took more power to regain the pavement. The pilot might have added a tad too much power because, although the airplane extricated itself from the rough, upon reaching firmer ground the Thorpedo launched like a, well, torpedo into the very truck it had attempted to miss. If at first you don’t fail, try, try again.
So, it’s to all those pilots—certificated or otherwise—who upheld the Together, we can keep this stupid column alive spirit, that I say, “Thank you.” But, I’d rather say to my editor, “Sorry, Chief, pilots stopped being stupid, and we’ll have to shut it down.” Of course, being an editor, he’d likely just tell me to get out there and make this stuff up. Sadly, I’ll probably never have to fake it. But, hope springs eternal.
Paul Berge, one-time editor of IFR, now primarily just gets to amuse us with this annual recap of what not to do. See his other musings at his website, PaulBerge.com.