Disc of Death

Melodramatic, maybe, but treating the prop arc with respect - even paranoia - is prudent


When I arrived at the airport, the line crew had taken the airplane out of the gang hangar in Smyrna, Tenn., leaving it on the ramp in front of the hangar door. Due to a slight slope in the ramp, there was a chock in front of the nosewheel; otherwise, the airplane was unsecured.

As I did the preflight inspection, I noted the chock and also the fact that the airplane would roll downhill if it were removed. I deferred that until we were packed up to go.

Preflight completed, I loaded the bags into the back of the Mooney and waited for my three passengers to emerge from the facilities. Finally, toddler and infant were secure in their car seats in the back of the airplane and my wife and I boarded for a weekend at the beach.

As always, the Mooney fired effortlessly and I tuned ATIS. As I was recording the information, I noted out of the corner of my eye someone moving toward the leading edge of the left wing.

The FBO manager was motioning that I had left the chock in front of the nose gear and indicated that he would remove it. Before I could kill the engine with the mixture, he bent down within inches of the spinning blades and pulled it out.

He was aware of the prop danger, but I still get the willies when I think of how close he cut it.

Fast forward to another flight. I was leaving the airport after talking business with the owner of a flight school. I was on the ramp with the engine running, awaiting a pause in the busy ground control chatter so I could pick up my IFR clearance.

Again, motion at the leading edge of the left wing caught my attention. The owner of the flight school was approaching the airplane, and motioned me to open the small storm window. Before I could shut down the engine, he was standing between the wing and the prop, intending to stuff some logo merchandise through the tiny hole.

That one, too, makes me think of how close some people like to cut it.

Those incidents are why I was a bit shocked when talking recently to a company certifying a new low-wing airplane design. They intended to mount the steps to enter the cabin at the leading edge of the wing on both sides of the fuselage.

All other things being equal, I asked, why in the world would you want passengers routinely stepping between prop and wing? I think they saw my point and began studying moving the steps to the trailing edge.

Sometimes even aviation professionals lose sight of how dangerous the prop arc is. But when it comes to a spinning blade, close to too close because, in case of a tie, you lose.

-Ken Ibold


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