Unicom

July 2006 Issue




Unicom: 07/06

Short, Soft And Bold
Jeff Pardo’s “Soft Touch” in the June 2006 issue asks rhetorically what to do if a field is short and soft, without giving a definitive answer. This question was asked by the Gulf Coast instructors who signed my logbook as a trick question, because the correct answer was “there is no such thing as a short/soft takeoff.”

Pardo notes that most POHs don’t cover this territory. The technical reason for this is that the techniques for soft-field takoffs and short-field takeoffs are mutually incompatible, so that trying to combine them means the pilot is doing neither. “The Advanced Pilot’s Flight Manual,” by William Kershner, briefly mentions combining a short-field approach with a soft-field landing. However, it is impossible to combine the two takeoff techniques.

It is possible to do a short, soft field landing, if you are lucky enough keep the rolling parts beneath you. My hangar partner succeeded with this on an 1800-ft grass field surrounded by a real 50-ft-high pine forest shortly after heavy rain softened the sod. He routinely operated there when dry, but after a wet short/soft takeoff, the only option for staying out of the pine trees was to overboost the turbo for enough extra power to clear the trees, resulting in a new oil leak from a cracked engine case that he had to replace.

In summary, if the field is short and soft, either wait for the turf to dry out before taking off, or trailer your airplane home. Better yet, except for an emergency, pretend there is also no such thing as a short/soft field landing.

Robert Patlovany
Westminster, Colo.


You raise some excellent points, Robert, and make them well. Our basic rule of thumb is that we can get the airplane into just about any field but getting out again may be a problem. We recall standing beside a small Alaskan lake with a rifle slung over our shoulder, waiting on a Super Cub to pick us up because the Cessna 180 on floats couldn’t get out with a full load, even though it got in.

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Idiot Lights
Orin Koukol’s article (“Coming Up Short,” June 2006) and “Tanks For The Memories,” (Learning Experiences, June 2006) by a pilot whose sharp-eyed wife kept them from running out of fuel both point to the need for a low-fuel light based on tank sensors. Why anyone would put down a quarter of a million dollars for an airplane without this safety feature is beyond me.

For the last 15 years, all the autos I have owned have had this feature. Have airplane designers concluded that we are all “Smilin’ Jacks” who would never need such a sophisticated warning? Or is it an FAA problem, because they never made this sensor mandatory?

Howard Carter
Via e-mail


We would guess it’s an FAA “problem” and based on some engineer’s decision that pilots, being the non-engineers we are, would fly the airplane until the little red light came on and then look for a place to land, a place that might be unreachable.

Most, if not all, of the STC’d electronic fuel totalizers include a feature that flashes the display when available fuel gets low. We presume it works, since we’ve never run our tanks that dry. And therein is the real issue: Nothing can replace the tried and true practice of knowing how much fuel is on board and comparing it to our airplane’s fuel consumption in gallons per hour. The idea is being on the ground, next to a fuel truck, well before the numbers match.

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Old Or Bold?
Round about 50 years ago, a guest visit by Jesse Stonecipher, then chief pilot at the University of Illinois Institute of Aviation, to our class of aspiring Commercial pilots carried a message that has stuck in my ears every flight since. Reading “Lucky Or Good” (Accident Recap, June 2006) reinforced it all in spades: You can get away with risky behavior in airplanes once, twice, three times, maybe a hundred times, but sooner or later you will be dead meat.

Young pilots need to know that “getting away with it” once, twice or three times is just several invitations to the same funeral. Old pilots and bold pilots, don’t you know?

Good article.

Frank Pugh
Fort Myers, Fla.