Posts Tagged ‘ Landing ’

Sometimes You’re The Windshield, Sometimes You’re The Bug.

Some times, I learn things the hard way.  Let’s just call it that right out of the gate.

I was a student pilot at Kansas State-Salina, and embarked upon my first solo cross-country trip.  Thank God for GPS, that’s all I can say.

I left Salina, KS, and flew to Emporia airport.  My calculations seemed to be more or less correct (I was taught “Clock, Map, Ground”), and I have a relative idea of where I was.  As I arrived at the airport and prepared to do a touch-and-go (to satisfy the requirement for actually landing at the airport) I made three attempts to land on a north-facing runway, with a ten knot crosswind from the west (my left).  Each time, before I could get on the ground, I kept getting blown to right of the runway.  By the time the third attempt failed, I decided to continue on to the next airport because I was losing daylight quickly.  It was November, and I was scared enough on a clear day.  Best not to test the aviation gods by continuing into dusk.

CRAB: Facing into the wind, but tracking straight ahead

I made the next airport in relatively quick time.  On my first attempt at Harrington, KS, the same thing happened–I kept getting blown to the right of the (again) north-facing runway.  The second time, I remembered what my instructor had said once, and I performed a “crab”–a maneuver where you arefacing into the wind direction, but are still tracking straight across the ground.  (The picture shows a plane on take-off here, but it’s the same concept if you are landing.)   You can see a more clear example of this kind of landing here.

I did exactly what the video clip showed–crabbed the airplane into the wind, got her on the ground, everything was fine.  Then, this happened.  Since this was to be a touch-n-go, I pulled up the flaps, hit full throttle, and kept my takeoff roll going.  Except, unlike in the video, I did not get in the air.  Right at the point the plane lifted off the ground for a split-second (roughly 55-60 miles an hour), the plane caught a gust and I panicked, locked up the brakes, and lost control of the plane.  My wheels were skidding sideways as I stood on them, trying to bleed off the speed, and my left wing rose in the air, as if the airplane was going to flip right over on its back.   By the grace of God, my left wheel slammed back down on the the ground, I skidded off the runway, through the taxiway, and roughly two hundred yards into a wheat field.  I came to a dead stop, with the propeller spinning at idle, as if nothing had happened.

I looked at the (sole) terminal at this podunk little airport…there was absolutely no movement–no lights on, no people, no planes on the ramp, nothing.  I did what I felt anyone else would do in that situation:  I turned the plane around, and taxied back up onto the the taxiway to the head of the runway.  I was alone, and my single driving thought was, “I need to get home.”  I set the parking brake on the plane, got out and crouched down to check for brake fluid or other damage with the engine still running(as if I had a clue what to look for), then climbed back in.

I lined her up on the runway, did the Sign Of The Cross and said a short prayer, and slowly pushed the throttle fully open.  As I picked up speed, everything seemed normal.  I stayed on that runway up until the very last second, when I lifted off, and was promptly blown to the right of it.  I had survived and gotten into the air once more.

I flew the 60 or 80 miles back to my home base (thanks to the GPS), and had to ask for a more westerly-facing runway, which I got.  It really was difficult flying into the sun as well; it was nearly 5:30 when I got back, after all, and the plastic windshield was dispersing the sunlight and making it essentially opaque–very hard to see in front of me.  I parked the plane on the K-State ramp, got out, and did a post-flight inspection.  I was mainly looking for damage to the propeller, wingtips, or landing gear…I didn’t see any, but I was only 18–what the hell did I know?  I went inside and made a beeline for the “Incident Report” folder.  I filled out a report detailing what had happened.

I walked from the Aviation building to my dorm room, walking past the cafe (where dinner was still being served) at 5:45 PM.  My roommate walked in at six on the dot and said, “Are the rumors true?”

I said, “What rumors?”

He said, “Someone had an accident–was it you?”

Kind of amazing how quickly news spread, even before Facebook or Twitter.

I’ll tell you what, I learned a lot of hard lessons that day–and continue to, actually.  It’s been nearly 12 years since that accident, and I carry it with me wherever I go.  I’ve learned to be a safer pilot because of it, I’ve learned that I have the courage to pluck up a battle plan when the time comes for one (though I hadn’t realized at the time that flying the plane back demonstrated an act of courage–or stupidity–that most folks don’t have), and I’ve learned the sheer importance of preparation.  I didn’t even know I was unprepared, and it’s made me a little paranoid that sometimes I start thinking my confidence is going to get me in trouble.

The upside is that when I fail, I’m not quite as hard on myself as I used to be.  It’s the natural course of learning, after all.  Of course, when you fail, it sucks, but as far as I’m concerned, if you haven’t failed, you aren’t doing enough with your life.  In my business, at least, the adage goes, “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t doing any actual work.”  It’s the classic hot-oven scenario at its best.

So.  Now you know one of my deepest, darkest secrets.  It isn’t something I bring up at parties, or brag about surviving.  I hope that it hasn’t scared you away from aviation–don’t forget, my mistake here could have been easily avoided.  In fact, the fact that I’ve gone through this already should make you want to ask me questions about it.  I’d fly with a pilot who has made some mistakes over one who hasn’t anyday–because until you make that mistake, you just don’t know what it’s like to be there.  When you are talking about life and death, I’ll stick with the guy (or gal) who figured it out and survived.

What kind of crazy stories do you guys have?  What mistakes did you make as students?  Or as professionals learning your craft?  What pitfalls should we all do our best to avoid?  It doesn’t even have to be aviation-related; it could be related to business, sewing, construction, excavation, anthropology–anything.  What are the pitfalls and mistakes in your industry?  The best answer gets ten bucks to Starbucks!


Freshly Paved Asphalt

This morning, I met with a woman out here named Mary, and I found it ironic that she would be my flight instructor because I saw her on the “Local Legends” clips of the news not twenty-four hours after I booked with her.  She was probably friends with the Wright brothers and, at 73 years old, she knew so many historic facts about the area that I’ve lost track of most of them already.  We spent about three hours together today, and the first half-hour of my lesson today was both of us just getting to know each other.  She asked a lot of the same questions that I would have, had she not beat me to them, and you could honestly feel that she genuinely cares about her students.  She isn’t just another instructor, and you aren’t just another student to her.

I did the preflight (a mechanical checklist, basically…I’m pretty adept at those right now), and soon enough we were in the airplane (a Cessna 172), and getting back on the bike again.  Mercifully, she handled the radios today, as I would’ve been a little overloaded at times; as expected, there is a lot that I’ve forgotten.  We spent about 1.1 in the air.  Takeoff was easy enough, of course–airplanes are designed to fly, they just want to if given enough speed–and we took a tour over the area just north and west of Tucson.  She pointed out the landmarks and mountain names, and we flew right over the Silverbell Copper Mine (gorgeous from the air).  It’s really something to get your bearings on an area as vast as the country is from the air, where there are no signs to point the way.   When the time came to land, my approach was pretty sloppy (decidedly eight years old), but my final approach turned out to be pretty stabilized, and the landing was up there with any of my other best on the Grease-O-Meter.  (For anyone wondering, pilots usually refer to a really smooth landing as having “greased one in.”)  Like riding a bike.

Over all, the flight was everything I’d hoped it would be.  I got used to the aircraft and its quirks (it’s a 1967 model), and learned something about what skills I still have, and what I need to develop.  In a week, we’ll be up doing nothing but pattern work (takeoffs and landings) to get me current again, and after that, we’ll take a cross-country trip so that I can brush up on my trip planning skills.  With any luck, the cross-country will go smoother than my first solo one did, back in the day.  Feel free to ask about that one, if you have yet to hear the story and are interested.

I drove straight from the airport to my bi-weekly Toastmasters meeting, where I Toastmasted for the first time.  I had been slightly nervous about it since I’d only found out last night that it would be my role, but it was as easy as any Student Government or Phi Delt meeting ever was to lead.  I worked straight off the agenda, and the meeting ran itself.

I’m pretty proud of myself, I’ll admit.  I walked out of that meeting to my car, and had one of those cheesy moments when I smiled to myself and thought, “I’m finally on my way.”  I was nervous about getting back in the plane…but Mary assured me there was no need for it, and it turned out that there wasn’t.  I was nervous about the Toastmasters meeting, but  again–nothing to worry about.  Conquering fears, becoming stronger, continuing training…these are the things that I’ve chosen as my road to follow, and so far, I’m driving a Lexus down a brand new highway.

Eight Years Isn’t So Long, Is it?

Eight years ago, I made the decision to switch careers in the middle of college.  Like many kids my age, I had to “come into my own” and figure out that working hard will get you to where you want to be.  Only now am I realizing that a great work ethic and extensive network of people will get you there far, far faster.

In a couple of days, I’m finally able to get back into an airplane as a student (thank you, tax return).  Being now in my late twenties (and a little more wise), I have gotten out my old Private Practical Test Standards (PTS) book, and begun the arduous process of relearning the things I used to know fairly well.  I am determined never to get caught with my pants down because of poor preparation, as I did so many times in school.  I’ll also have to adjust to the sheer speed that things need to be done–after all, as an aircraft mechanic we do literally everything by the book, with the manual detailing each step with verbage and pictures, and you have time to study it to make sure that your work is correct.  In the cockpit, many times, you don’t have that option, and your decisions could be life or death, or the difference between saving the aircraft or major damage.  Sure, you’ll pull out the Emergency Procedures checklist if your engine quits, but no matter how long you study it, gravity will still do its job.  In an aircraft, you have to know those procedures like the back of your hand.  But of course, that’s what flight training is for.

I have been fascinated by airplanes ever since I was a kid, and I noticed that, like most things you want and then get, eventually the novelty wears off, and you begin to take that thing for granted.  For me, that was flying.  I spent my whole life wanting to fly, and when I finally got there, I lost the enthusiasm to pursue a career that would suck the life and fun out of flying for me.  (Plus, I needed to build those practical skills that I was always so proud of my dad for having…I have, and I’m proud to have them as well.)  Once again, I have begun to take my mechanical skills for granted, as my job has sucked the ever-loving life out of the fun of fixing things.  I suppose I’ll eventually grow apathetic about flying once I get a job doing it to build time, but this time around, I have an entirely new set of skills on which to place a flight foundation.  Almost as soon as I realized I wasn’t content to do one thing for one company for the rest of my life, I realized I wasn’t limited to doing it, either.  And oh boy, once I realized I had more options than I knew, it set my imagination on fire.

What have you been putting off that will light a fire under your butt to go and do?

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