The SECOND New Pair Of Drawers…

Later on in my initial career as a flight student, I had spent much time planning my first solo cross country trip.  I was to fly a 259 mile circle from Salina, KS to two other airports and back again.  I checked out the aircraft, organized my things, and was wheels up by 1:30 pm on a cold and breezy day in November 2000. The wind was 090 at 10 kts (I had a ten knot direct crosswind coming from the west).

I made it without a problem to the Emporia, KS airfield, right on schedule.  I made three attempts to land on runway 36 (which stands for 360 degrees on a compass, or 12 o’clock on a clock), but kept getting blown off course.  Upon failure of the third attempt, I left the area for Herington, KS–I was wasting time and falling behind.

When I entered the pattern at Herington, I was determined to get at least one touch-and-go in.  I “crabbed” the aircraft into the wind (pointed it about twenty degrees to the left (west) so that it would track straight toward the runway), and stayed on course to land.  I straightened out once I was in “ground effect,” and landed the aircraft.  As it was a touch-and-go and I had plenty of runway left, I shoved the throttle to the wall (full throttle), pulled my flaps up, and began to takeoff again.  Any experienced pilot knows what happened next.

I still had a crosswind, and hadn’t corrected my ailerons for it on takeoff.  As my speed built to around fifty knots (55 mph, about), something I didn’t see coming happened–I began to “weather vane.”  The aircraft–which wasn’t off the ground yet–pointed the left (west)–in the direction of the prevailing winds that day.  I cut the throttle immediately and locked up the brakes, trying desperately to stop the aircraft.  I began skidding sideways, and my left main wheel came off the ground, threatening to flip the airplane on its back.  By the grace of GOD, it didn’t happen, and the gear slammed back down and I continued to skid along the runway.  I slid across the snowy median, across the icy taxiway, and about thirty yards into the field to the west of the runway.  I came to a stop facing directly west, with the sun setting and the propeller spinning at idle as if nothing had happened.

I looked toward the Herington FBO–not a soul in sight.  No planes, no cars, no lights on, even.  I turned the aircraft around and taxied back up onto the taxiway, eventually coming to a stop right at the hold-short of runway 36.  I set the parking brake, and got out of the plane, prop still spinning, and crouched down to check for any kind of damage or leaking brake fluid or something.  Not the smartest move to leave the engine running, but I wasn’t thinking logically at the time.  I saw no leaks or damage, so I climbed back in, lined up for takeoff again, did the Sign of the Cross, and slowly pushed the throttle in.  I released the brake, and built up speed enough to leave the ground, getting blown off-course just the second I did so.

I flew back to Salina–flew the plane back to Salina–for no other reason than I wanted to get back home, and not a damned thing would stand in my way.  I found out later on that there was damage to the propeller from the accident, and knowing what I know now as a mechanic, it could’ve  unbalanced the prop, or caused a hairline crack that could’ve made my prop disintegrate before my eyes on the trip home.  I literally could have killed myself by flying that plane home.  Ignorance really is bliss.  I didn’t fly for two months after that.

Some call that episode courageous, some call it desperate, some call it stupid and unprepared.  Whatever you call it, I’ll tell you something: No pilot you’ve ever flown with who hasn’t had a similar experience, is as safe a pilot as I am because of it.

    • Robin Laws
    • November 4th, 2009

    Hehe….well I have never done THAT before…but I have to admit…I have done my own fare share of stupid things. I keep telling myself that if God wanted me dead, he would have let me die on a number of occasions…so I guess my friend, He’s not done with you yet either!

    • I completely have to agree…and plus, the only way to get to be good is to find out what’s bad, right? 😉

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