Learning Experiences

June 2004 Issue




Hard Landing; Hard Lesson

“On final after the go-around, I felt I was a little high and pulled off some more power. This is where things got away from me.”

I am a student pilot with around 28 hours total time. I am training in a Cessna 150 which, although a little small, I have found to be a nice little airplane to fly.

I was enjoying the thrill of controlling an airplane and soon it came time for me to begin taking the controls during approaches and landings. This is where I started to struggle; when it came time to touch down I was all over the place. I spent many a lesson in the pattern trying to get the darned thing on the ground without any help and things did improve, slightly; my approaches became more fluid and more stabilized. But it was the last 20 feet that always let me down (and the plane). I would either flare too soon or not soon enough; I just couldn’t figure it out and I began to get annoyed with myself, so much so that I left off the flying for a couple of weeks until a little voice in my head said “get back out there, you’re going to be like a first timer all over again if you don’t keep flying”.

It was a blustery day and I got a lot of practice flying in windy conditions. First landing: passable. Wow, how’d I do that? Second landing: better. Good Lord! Third Landing: Needed a bit of help, but otherwise OK. After a few more good landings my instructor left me with the news that I was going to do a test in my next lesson and, if my performance was consistent, I would solo.

To cut a long story short, I soloed and got my T-shirt cut, it was a great feeling and I really felt that I had achieved something. I was endorsed to fly solo to the practice area and back for pattern work as required. I flew solo thereafter on two occasions, first one was good, I took off went to the area and came back and shot three touch-and-go landings without any trouble. The next time things didn’t go so well.

I took off and flew out to the area where I carried out some basic maneuvers: S-turns, turns about a point and some steep turns in both directions. These tasks completed, I turned back to the airport and announced my position. I was amazed at how quickly I had reached the airport and realized that I had a good tailwind. I entered the downwind and barely had time to carry out my prelanding checks—“Oops, where’s the runway?”

I had passed the threshold and flown an extended downwind, which led to an extended base. “I’m outta here” I thought and pushed the carb heat off while applying full power.

On final after the go-around, I felt I was a little high and pulled off more power. This is where things got away from me. I became so fixated on the runway that I took my eyes off the airspeed and the stiff wind did the rest. Close to the runway, my airspeed dropped like a stone and so did I. I rammed the throttle to the firewall, but it was too late.

I tried as best I could to keep the nose up but the plane was badly damaged—the nose gear had been wiped out—and it inevitably came down on the prop. We got the plane towed back to the hangar and, after clearing the runway of debris, assessed the damage. Things didn’t turn out to be as bad as they could have been and I got away with a bill for $4,790. Here is what I learned from my experience:

1. On this day, I had a bad feeling in my gut—I can’t explain it, but I just didn’t feel right. Listen to that feeling: Don’t feel compelled to fly alone; call an instructor and explain the until you feel more comfortable.

2. Don’t set foot in any rented airplane without insurance. I had to get a loan to pay for the damage.

3. The three other lessons I learned are “Airspeed”, “Airspeed” and “Airspeed.” I actually say this to myself as I fly the approach after every item on the checklist. I probably look funny saying, “Gas (airspeed), Undercarriage (airspeed), Mixture (airspeed)”—well, you get the picture. I’m flying again and am doing okay. I received a wake-up call and was lucky enough to walk away from my mistake.