Quick Turn

Landing on a runway 30 minutes ago doesnt mean its the best choice for taking off again now.


If pilots engage in many cross-country flights during their careers, theyll often find themselves landing at a destination airport and then departing shortly thereafter. The landing may be to pick up a passenger, to refuel, to take a potty break or for any number of other reasons.

As we gain experience, we also develop familiarity with the aircraft and with various aspects of the pre-flight ritual. One of these aspects is getting a weather briefing for the next leg, something were often tempted to short-circuit. After all, we just flew through that weather and landed here-how much could it have changed while we were in the head?

The temptation during a quick turn like this is to pay the fuel bill, check the fuel caps security, light the fire and push on to the next stop without doing much else. We just climbed out of a perfectly good airplane. What could go wrong?

Often, conducting an abbreviated pre-flight isnt a problem, especially in calm conditions at well-equipped airports. But when theres a dynamic weather situation-even if we just flew through it-its a good idea to at least update our weather information and pay attention to changing conditions. Additionally, were tempted to cut other corners, sometimes involving passengers and cargo. We had a smooth ride in here, right? So why do we need to secure the additional luggage we just tossed in, or ensure all passengers are adequately briefed and belted?

The old watch-phrase is “familiarity breeds contempt,” meaning once weve done something a few times, the novelty wears off and we grow accustomed to the various procedures, often determining which we can eliminate in the interest of time. What could go wrong?

One of the more benign things is forgetting the wheel chocks the line guy placed when your back was turned. A more dangerous item is failing to note the wind has shifted and taking off on the same runway we used for landing means a substantial tailwind.


On June 3, 2008, at 1007 Central time, a Socata TBM-700 (850), owned and piloted by a private pilot, received substantial damage on impact with terrain during initial climb from the Iowa City (Iowa) Municipal Airport (IOW). Visual conditions and convective activity prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight was departing Runway 30 on an IFR clearance.

The pilot and one passenger received minor injuries, and the second passenger received fatal injuries. The two passengers were a mother and her daughter who were being transported through Angel Flight, a non-profit charitable organization arranging free air transportation for children requiring medical care. The fatally injured passenger, who had received medical treatment, was two years and 10 months old at the time of the accident. She was held by her mother during the short flight but was otherwise unrestrained.

The IOW airport manager later recalled the ASOS showed wind conditions were steady at 25 knots gusting to 33 knots. He did not recall the wind direction but stated the wind tee visible from the terminal building favored Runway 12.

The takeoff on Runway 30 appeared normal to him, but the airplane was only about 100 feet agl upon reaching the runway departure end. The airplane then “suddenly” went nose-up and into the vertical. The airplane then began to roll counter-clockwise.


The pilot subsequently stated he noticed the wind before takeoff was “nearly the same as on landing.” The first portion of the takeoff was “normal,” but he then “felt a wind change and gust that pushed the aircraft a little to the left.” He “glanced” at the airspeed indicator, saw it indicated a rotation speed of 85 knots, and rotated about 3000 feet down the runway.

At the time of the accident, the pilot had accumulated 5688 hours of flight time, of which 4388 hours were in the accident airplane make and model, 145 hours were in the last 90 days, and 58.4 hours in the last 30 days.

The pilot landed at IOW at 0936 local time. At 0936, the IOW ASOS recorded minute peak wind direction and speed as 073 degrees at six knots. At 1007 local time, during the takeoff roll on Runway 30, the values were 103 degrees and 36 knots.

The main wreckage, consisting of the airframe without the empennage and engine, was located in the parking lot of an office building. The wreckage path was about 640 feet in length-from a ground scar consistent with an initial impact point to the main wreckage-and oriented on a heading of about 244 degrees.

The propeller displayed S-shaped bending and twisting about the blades spanwise axis. One of the propeller tips was separated from its propeller blade and exhibited a granular fracture surface consistent with overload. The flaps and cockpit flap control were both in takeoff positions. The landing gear and cockpit landing gear controls were both in the down positions. No mechanical anomalies precluding normal operations were noted.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of this accident included “The pilots improper decision to depart with a pre-existing tailwind and failure to abort takeoff. Contributing to the severity of the injuries was the failure to properly restrain (FAA-required) the child passenger.”

In its report on this accident, the NTSB reiterated FAR 91.107, which allows a person who has not reached his or her second birthday to not occupy or use any restraining device. Clearly, the accident was survivable, if the little girl-who was more than two years old-had been belted.

As the record shows, surface wind direction didnt change much during the 30 minutes between the pilots arrival and when he began the takeoff roll-only 30 degrees. Its velocity, however, increased by 30 knots, meaning the difference between a very slight quartering tailwind at landing and an almost-direct and substantial tailwind at takeoff. Surface wind changes of that nature are relatively common, especially in the vicinity of frontal activity, as was the case this day. Its possible the wind shifted only after the pilot began taxiing to Runway 30.

This was a needless accident made all the more tragic by the death of the little girl on whose behalf the flight was being conducted. The takeaways are to realize airport conditions can change substantially in only 30 minutes and to secure all passengers during takeoff and landing.


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