Lock your seats, stow your guns, and leave the duct tape for patching your upholstery. It's time to laugh at how the other half flies.
by Jane Garvey
As you read this, chestnuts are roasting on an open fire and it's time once again to do the same to a few of our fellow aviators. If you've been with us a while, you know the drill but for the new kids in the class, each year we offer up the bent and bizarre from a year's worth of NTSB accident summaries, all non-fatal.
On tap this round are the accidents from 2002. Title notwithstanding, not all of our offerings prove that a measurable I.Q. is optional equipment. In fact, some involve situations a lot of us will recognize with varying degrees of chagrin. Others are just plain strange.
Brake Dancing Next time you're tempted to adjust the seat after engine start without setting the parking brake, consider this California Cessna 152 driver. The pilot grabbed the glare shield and released the seat, at which point it slid all the way back. The little Cessna dutifully started forward, the pilot trying frantically to get back to the controls. The non-pilot passenger tried to save the day, but pressed on the bottom of the pedals rather than the top. The trip came to an inglorious stop when the 152 taxied into not one but two parked fuel trucks.
Substantially more inglorious was the culmination of the flight of a Missouri Piper Tomahawk (PA-38). The pilot had been working on the plane about an hour before flight. A witness reported difficulty with starting and that the plane was missing and cutting out during taxi. Almost stalling on takeoff, it did manage to get around the pattern. Well, mostly anyway.
The aircraft actually contacted the ground perpendicular to the 150-foot-wide runway, shearing off the gear as it crossed the taxiway. In the words of the pilot, whose medical and flight reviews were six and 20 years out of date, respectively, "I made a mistake. The accident was my fault. No call for what I did. No call for the landing. Should have been going down [the] runway." OK. All together now: "But look how wide it is."
Turbulence We all work hard to keep our passengers comfortable but it is unusual for the landing to be more turbulent than the flight, which is what happened to a Florida pilot in April. Although conditions were listed as VFR, the 200-mile flight had proceeded about 15 minutes at 1,000 feet when the passenger complained about turbulence under the clouds. The commercial pilot had 15 hours in the Cessna 172SP, which had racked up less than 100 hours since leaving the factory.
After landing hard, the Skyhawk bounced "three to four" times. The winged pogo stick finally stopped at the end of the runway, when the pilot noticed he had "no elevator control." Oddly enough, the nose gear never collapsed, but the pilot-induced turbulence on the runway was so severe that it not only got the prop and the firewall but bent the forward cabin floor up, stuck the elevator full down and jammed the control column. In retrospect, we'll bet the passenger preferred turbulence of the airborne kind after all.
While we're on the subject of passengers, a different kind of turbulence caused problems for the Colorado 172 pilot attempting to taxi at an unfamiliar airport. Following an entirely successful flight and landing, ATC directed the pilot to an area southeast of the control tower.
"My passenger (husband) was talking a lot and directing me. I asked him to be quiet and he did not. We were having a spirited discussion about what to do, and I lost focus and concentration and misjudged my relative position to a steel light post (near a building)." Whereupon she whanged into same. OK, 'fess up, ladies: How many of you consider that button on the audio panel the Husband Isolate switch?
Zzzzzzz Ever startled yourself awake from a microsleep? Settled out in cruise on a long, straight leg, the engine droning and the sun streaming in, it's easy to do. Ever done it at 300 feet? That's what the 17,000-hour Oklahoma commercial pilot did in February of 2002 while on pipeline patrol. Checking exposed pipe and damaged markers at 300 feet AGL, the pilot had been aloft (barely) for about an hour and a half. Apparently, the sustained 35-knot winds gusting to 50 a few hundred feet up just weren't sufficiently stimulating, since the pilot reported "dozing off" until the rude awakening when the Cardinal hit the ground and slid for about 240 feet, coming to rest upright in a wheat field.
Aw Shoot (or Chute) Every year, we turn up one or two accidents we've come to call Bambi's Revenge, wherein airborne hunters wind up bagging bigger game than they intended. This year produced an unusually large number of indications that you mess with Ma Nature at your peril.
First up is the Washington State chopper on a wildlife management flight. The objective was to capture and collar a deer using a net gun. Coming up behind the deer, the pilot was pulling the helicopter level when the gunner fired early, snagging the blades instead of the buck.
A similar fate befell a Texas Robinson R22 also chasing deer with a net gun. Unlike the prior entry, the actual deployment was OK, but one of the net weights hit a rock, bounced up and wrapped itself around the chopper's right skid. When the deer reached the end of the net, he pulled the helicopter right into the ground.
Then there was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Hughes brought down once again in Washington State. This time, a weight separated from the net during a successful deployment, whacked the rotor and brought the chopper down. Call us wimps, but 2002's accident summaries convinced us that the only nets we want anywhere near the airplane are the ones slung under it from hammock poles on the campground.
The best in this group was the Super Cub (PA-18) on coyote patrol in Montana. Flying about 40 feet AGL, the passenger "inadvertently discharged" a semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun. Not once, not twice, but three or four times, striking the right wing, fuel tank and aileron. We're not sure how you "inadvertently" cycle the trigger three or four times. Must be one of those newfangled Ronco Blast-O-Matic shotguns. The NTSB didn't say so, but we'll bet Wile E. and his pal were both snickering from the bushes.
It didn't involve a gun, but one of the stranger incidents involved an Oregon Cessna 182 with skydivers aboard. At 10,500 feet the four jumpers took up position on the right exterior jump-step.
Suddenly one parachute deployed, streaming back into the tail. He jumped, pulled the reserve and, being no fools they, the other three departed immediately thereafter. The now-solitary pilot attempted to regain control but the chute had wrapped itself around both the rudder and elevator, ultimately resulting in what the pilot described as an inverted spin. At which point the pilot said "Uncle" and headed overboard with his own chute while everybody watched it spin into the ground.
Hog-Pen Engineering In my part of the country, that's what we call - er - "creative" mechanical fixes. Like the one employed by the Arkansas Cessna 182 pilot in May of 2002. On an earlier flight the same day, the pilot had complained that the locking tabs on his left fuel cap were broken. Declining a suggestion to simply buy a new one, the aircraft departed with 46 gallons for the 15-minute flight to the next stop. Witnesses there saw a "bad fuel leak" and the pilot told them that the cap was broken, bought another 27 gallons of gas and installed roughly two square feet of duct tape over the left main fuel-tank filler cap. OK, pause and think about that for a second. Of course, the inevitable occurred: the tape departed, the gas ported overboard and the pilot wound up out of gas and out of luck in a rice field. But look on the bright side. He didn't spend anything on a new fuel cap.
Along the same lines was the attempted night landing of a Piper Cherokee (PA-28) at an Alabama airport. Missing the NOTAM for inoperative runway lights, the pilot requested assistance from the local sheriff's department when the destination lights remained stubbornly dark.
Ever helpful, the sheriff's deputy rounded up friends and airport employees to park their vehicles alongside the runway with their lights on. Nobody took a hint from the first two unsuccessful landing attempts. On the third try, the aircraft impacted one of the "runway lights," flipped and slid down the runway inverted, losing a wing in the process.
The NTSB doesn't say how long it took to round up this multiple-participant fire drill, but we'd bet that it was a lot longer than it would have taken to fly the 35 miles to the nearby towered field with all the whistles and bells, including lights.
And that, boys and girls, is this year's tiptoe through the screw-ups. Keep the duct tape in the tool kit, the cars in the parking lot and the net guns stowed, lest you turn up in next year's Bent Tin Follies.
Jane Garvey is an IFR contributing editor and commercial pilot.