Flying – Lesson Learned (I hope)

May 23rd, 2014

Boy was I stupid. Fortunately nothing bad happened so I could learn without damage but I was sure shook up. Still am a little.

I had to ferry an airplane from one airport to another literally 1 mile (or less) away. I needed a ferry permit as it was out of annual.

One mechanic said: Just fly it (without the ferry permit).

I thought that was a bad idea and the person would be a bad mechanic. (We went elsewhere). Reminded me of the reason Bob Newhart, comedian, actor, who had started out as an accountant left that profession. Bob N. said: “I kept saying (re the numbers not matching up) – close enough”.

I wouldn’t want a mechanic checking out the airplane saying: Not right, but close enough.””Close enough”can cause more than minor bad.

The FAA was quickly responsive (thank you, FAA!) and gave us the ferry permit.

I hadn’t flown in two months so when one of the pilots in another shop said he flew J-3 cubs and had high time, I asked jokingly if he wanted to go along as a back-up pilot and navigator.

He jumped at the chance. As we headed to the airplane, he asked if I was current.

Me: Yes.

CP (as in co-pilot): I’m not. (and I thought indicated that it was a recent thing).

Me: Well, I am so there’s no problem. (I should have taken this clue too – that he was assuming more responsibility than I intended).

Me: Ever flown this type of aircraft?

CP: No.

Me (smiling): Well I have, so we’re good.

Reminded me of my hang gliding story in Switzerland and France. (if haven’t told, will tell later).

I readied the plane. We got in.

I told him: “I do the checklist out loud – makes other pilots feel more comfortable that they know what I’m doing.”

He said, “That’s okay.” It occurred to me momentarily that his attitude was “there there” to make me feel better as opposed to appreciative that I was considerate of other pilots. I ignored that momentary feeling. Oops.

He had his feet on the pedals. I looked at them, showed him and told him where the brake was. He said: The cub has heel brakes.

Me: I know. Can be a challenge to get used to. The brakes are right here.

(I didn’t say Don’t touch them – I frankly assumed he knew being a taildragger pilot).

As I taxied towards the appropriate runway, I noticed everyone else was taking off downwind to the South.

Passenger (turns out he had never flown this tail dragger, and not only was he not current, all the hours were 15 years prior but I didn’t know this at the time).

The winds were now a direct crosswind of 11 knots. I contemplated taking the rarely used crosswind runway other airport was to the north but that crosswind on take-off had my attention but was not out of my comfort zone.  It seemed prudent to follow the others.

Me: If the crosswinds are too much for me at the other airport, we’ll just come back here and use the crosswind runway here.

CP: It’s never used.

I didn’t respond. I just thought: except maybe by me, today.

With having options, I felt comfortable to fly and that I could land safely somewhere within fuel range.

We got to the run-up area. First plane took off. I did the run-up and was ready to go but the pilot ahead of me got done just as I was making the call to ask him.

He did the student 360 although a bit close to me – so I quickly repositioned so as not to be blown over by the other’s prop wash. Student then took the active and took off.

I took the active, waited a little to give him a head start even though he was headed south and I would be turning west fairly quickly.

I turned west, saw the other airport and headed that way. My “co-pilot” then said, “There it is”, reached forward to point and blocked my vision for a minute.

I simply replied, “Thank you.” Second mistake. I should have told him, Yes, thank you, I saw it the moment we were airborne – not to one-up him – but to let him know I knew what I was doing. You’ll see why soon.

I debated which runway to use. He said 1-7 is the preferred and since it’s a direct crosswind we should use that. (He had been based at that airport for several months so I took his word).

I headed for a left turn approach. He said it was right. I replied: I thought I read south was left and north was right.

CP: No.

No one was around so I just stayed more vigilant and made all the calls.

I stayed at 500′ – no need to waste fuel – and got on downwind of destination airport. I also needed to stay below 1600′ re military air space. Co-pilot said, “You have to go to traffic pattern altititude- 1000′.”

I climbed a little but then asked: Why?

CP: You’re supposed to.

Me: No. Waste of fuel.

CP: There are houses underneath.

Me: There are houses underneath final as well

CP: Well you just fly as you want to.

Me: Right.

He kept chattering the whole way. I should have told him to be quiet – sterile cockpit.

He said 11 knots crosswind.

I got on final, no problems. I was making calls. Somehow kept mispronouncing “county” – just one of those momentary tongue/brain issues. No one was listening by my CP and me.

As we approached, I was very concerned about the alleged crosswind so only did no flaps at first until final, then put in one notch.

As I got closer, CP raised voice said: Slow down! You’re going to fast.

As I flared, I felt pressure on the stick as we climbed.

It took a moment and I sternly said: What are you doing? Are you on th-

CP: Trying to lose speed – we’re too fast

Me: DON’T TOUCH THE STICK!

I put full power in to do a go-around. This runway was not a long runway and I recognized that while I may be able to re-group and land……Why? Just do a go-around and take my time to re-group and land.

I continued: You are NOT an instructor. You are NOT current. You’ve never flown this airplane. You’re not insured. Don’t EVER do that!

As I started to climb (by my decision), I noticed a larger aircraft coming in for a straight landing straight at me.

While one normally would go to the right, the aircraft was not diverting (and I had right of way), not acknowledging but left seemed appropriate in that situation.

I wondered why other pilot hadn’t called in. I looked at my radio. I hadn’t switched it over….so all my calls were to air. (I later learned that many of the aircraft at that airport don’t have radios and never call in).

I switched over immediately and got back in the pattern. I called down to the fellow who had just landed and asked if the winds were favoring landing to the north as he had just done.

CP started to answer talking over the pilot on the ground who had just landed and just might know more than CP. I said, Be quiet to CP (without mike keyed so other pilot did not hear me).

I heard enough of the other pilot’s, No, I just was coming from the south and it was easier.

So I continued on downwind to land to the south.

CP started to talk.

I said, Be quiet. No more talking. Sterile cockpit.

He apologized for taking the stick. Just instinct he said.

Wow.

Thankfully he then stopped talking.

I got on final and realized I might be too high and another go-around might be in order. I could slip it but that might scare this guy into doing I-don’t-know-what at this point and I was concerned about those pesky crosswinds.

I said out loud: Might have to do another go-around.

CP: That’s okay. (With the “there there” voice again – as though – poor woman – I better make her feel better).

I thought another go-around with this guy – if I have to, but if I can avoid it…..So I zigzagged on final to have more distance to lose altitude.

I had been told there were often funky winds on this end of the runway so had discussed landing a little long.

I also was concerned about those pesky crosswinds. Indeed, after the first go-around – on our climb, the air was turbulent.

I put in one notch of flaps as we neared the runway. I flared and floated a little – cognescent of the other end of the runway looming up towards us. I always kept my option of a go-around.

And we kissed the ground with two wheels and a nano-second later the tailwheel. We did seem a little fast but it served us well.

I kept the stick back, made sure power was all the way off, felt like we were still while touching not completely down. One wheel started to come up, I put the stick slightly toward the wheel (left). It came down.

We were down. Those kiss the runway landings in the tail dragger often  make me wonder if I’ve actually landed.

As we slowed, I thought maybe a little braking would be okay – I wasn’t confident we’d come to a stop in time with just rolling out.

So I tapped on the brakes a little and we had probably 700′ to go when I turned off.

I rolled on up to the hangar. Clearly still a little worn out and discombobulated because:

The owner came out and signaled me to move left. I would have hit the wing had I gone straight another 100′. Apparently that has happened often because the middle of the ramp is natural to follow but dangerous.

He had us pull up pretty close to another plane.

I shut down and got out. CP got out as well.

I joked with the owner: CP only screamed twice. I think he’s okay now.

So what did I learn? What was so stupid?

I rarely took passengers other than General Yeager, instructor pilots instructing or checking me out, two people I knew well. I generally don’t take passengers and sadly don’t participate in taking Young Eagles not because I wouldn’t love to do so but here’s why:

I don’t know what they will do in the two-seater aircraft. I’m not big enough to knock them out if they are dangerously acting out or grabbing the stick or putting on the brakes or…..

And I didn’t vet this passenger at all. I didn’t tell him (didn’t think I had to): don’t touch ANYTHING.

Not changing over the radio, I was also clearly distracted by his chatter, his arm blocking my view) – paying attention in case there was something I needed to know – but I had already researched the airport.

Why wouldn’t he just wait until I ask or wait until he sees I go the wrong direction (I didn’t) Or worst case, just ask: Do you see the airport?  Instead of putting his arm in front of my face blocking my view while trying to get me to see an airport. (which I had seen several minutes before).

Taking the stick – frankly I’m still having a little post stress reaction to that – I can’t even fathom it. Not current for 15 years!, never flew that airplane…

And me? Not recognizing that this guy was so nervous flying that he would do crazy things. And clearly I did not exude enough confidence with this guy – a seasoned pilot would have appreciated my critical thinking. I know General Yeager, while he patiently watches me analyze the situation, situations that he through experience and instinct has already made a determination but through his amazing patience allows me to gain experience and instinct.

General Yeager’s advice to me after this event: “You need to tell anyone who flies with you: ‘Don’t touch the controls (including the pedals and brakes). I know what I’m doing.’ See they think you’re an amateur.” 

One cool thing about the whole adventure, other than General Yeager’s advice and guidance, is that I took control without hesitation and with great confidence. And ahead of time, I had analyzed the situation, my own abilities, and I gave myself way outs that were in my comfort zone which helped me stay functioning when new events presented themselves.

As General Yeager has often said, “The best pilots are the most experienced because they have lived through their mistakes.”

I think I’ll do what General Yeager did with Col Joe Engle when they did the luge in New York: I’m driving, you’re the brake man and DON’T YOU TOUCH NO (West Virginian for THE)  BRAKES (brakes, controls, me, fill in the blank) UNLESS I TELL YOU TO!!!!!

c. GCYI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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