Hurry Up And Crash

When were behind schedule, overlooking or ignoring certain basic tasks directly impacts safety.


Most of us dont fly personal airplanes to waste time. Sure; there are occasions we might pull back the power, look around for things other than traffic, and revel in the view and the freedom aviation provides. But, those of us who use these airplanes for personal transportation often have to stay on a schedule, regardless of whether its self-inflicted or imposed on us by others. And schedules are made to be broken.

Im often reminded of a truism: If you have time to spare, go by air. It seems no matter how hard I try, Im frequently behind someones idea of a schedule. In fact, when people at my destination ask when Ill arrive, I just laugh.

The moral is the ability to use a personal airplane and set our own schedules is both a blessing and a curse: The flexibility we gain is offset by the responsibility we assume. When we file a flight plan calling for a specific departure time, theres pressure to at least make an attempt to put the wheels in the well within a few minutes of that time. Delays forced upon us by passengers, weather, traffic, ATC and lazy linemen can add up, making us too late at our destination to get the rental car before the FBO closes. Or, we wind up racing sunset because were not night current.

In our haste to meet a schedule, were going to be tempted to cut corners: That slack tire should be good for one more landing; well get fuel at the destination; I just flew the airplane last night, so theres no need to do a full pre-flight inspection this morning. And these are the kinds of situations leading us to forget removing a gust lock, checking the oil or adding fuel.

Frequently, passengers can impose their own schedules on us, to great detriment. Most of the time, were not operating for compensation or hire, and can inject into the situation some common sense and flexibility. Other times, though, the situation is out of our hands. And, as well see, when were flying paying customers, theres a lot more pressure-real or imagined-giving us incentives to cut corners.


On November 8, 2005, at 1017 Central time, a Piper PA-31-350 Navajo operated as a Part 135 on-demand air taxi was destroyed on impact with terrain about 2.5 miles northeast of the Ankeny (Iowa) Regional Airport (IKV).

The flight departed IKV 10 minutes earlier, en route to the Emmetsburg (Iowa) Municipal Airport (EGQ). However, shortly after takeoff, the pilot reported a problem with the right engine and was attempting to return for a landing. The airline transport pilot and pilot-rated passenger were fatally injured. Visual conditions prevailed.

The passenger arrived at 0900 for the flight but, because the flight had not been confirmed, a pilot was not available. The scheduler called the accident pilot, who accepted the flight. Once the pilot arrived at the airport, he “was not in the office for more than two minutes.” He obtained the airplanes paperwork, walked straight to it and boarded.

Earlier, a lineman checked the accident airplanes fuel and oil, adding two quarts of oil to each engine. At that point, another airplane arrived. Using a tug, the lineman moved the accident airplane on the ramp to make room for the arriving airplane. While the lineman was assisting the new arrival, the pilot and passenger boarded the accident airplane and started its engines. The airplane taxied forward about five feet before abruptly stopping and shutting down. The pilot got out of the airplane, closed the oil access door on the right engine, restarted the engines and taxied for takeoff.

Shortly after takeoff, the pilot informed ATC he wanted to return to IKV due to an oil leak. He subsequently radioed the FBO to advise he was returning. About this time, an employee brought an oil dipstick into the FBO, having found it on the ramp.

Shortly, the lineman, now on a tug and awaiting the accident airplane, observed it fly over the airport at about 400-500 feet agl with landing gear and flaps retracted. Both engines were operating and both propellers were turning at a synchronized speed. Another witness saw the airplane in level flight but decreasing in altitude. This witness saw the airplane hit the ground.


The airplane impacted a harvested cornfield about 2.5 miles northeast of IKV. All major aircraft components were located at the accident site. The main landing gear were found in the down and locked position. The landing gear switch was found in the down position; the flap switch was found in the up position. The left throttle lever was found in the full forward position, and the right lever was found one inch from the aft stop. Both left and right mixture levers were found in the lean position. The left propeller lever was found one inch from the forward stop, and the right propeller lever was found in the feathered position. The top inboard area of the right wing, including the top of the engine cowling, was covered in oil. The right engines oil dipstick was not located at the accident site. Approximately 1 to 2 quarts of oil were drained from the oil sump.

Inspection of the left propeller revealed all three blades exhibited rotational scoring. One blade of the right propeller exhibited no damage. The other two blades were bent aft about 30 degrees at the / radius.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause(s) of the accident to include: “The pilots failure to preflight the airplane, the pilots improper in-flight decision not to land the airplane on the runway when he had the opportunity, and the inadvertent stall when the pilot allowed the airspeed to get too low. Factors that contributed to the accident were the linemans improper servicing of the airplane when he left the oil dipstick out and the subsequent oil leak.”

Weve all forgotten some portion of the pre-flight inspection only to have our oversight rear its ugly head. Most of the time, its as simple as trying to taxi while still tied down or chocked. Other times, were getting vectored for an ILS at our destination only to remember our approach plates are on the back seat of the rental car we turned in before takeoff.

Being in a hurry is basically incompatible with a complicated task like flying an aircraft, yet we usually manage to pull it off. As the sidebar on the opposite page discusses, properly handling these high-stress/high-workload situations requires planning, prioritizing and sequencing the various tasks were required to perform. All of which is part of being a pilot. We cant let scheduling issues change that.


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