Ahead Of The Airplane


Im a private pilot with (at the time) 1800 hours over 35 years. I have owned three airplanes, and now fly a Piper Archer. I had decided to reward myself with an instrument rating as a retirement present.

I had to work during my ground school as the 60-year-old mind does not function


like that of the 20-year-old, and the flying also was a challenge since hand/eye coordination is in about the same shape. Still, I had a fun time learning from my young CFI-I, who had been a good friend for some time. We flew mostly by his schedule, in weather, and even picked up ice during some training flights. It was great experience.

When the time came for the long dual cross-country, we planned to fly from our base in Davenport, Iowa, to Iowa City and make a VOR approach to a full stop. We then would pick up a new clearance, fly to Omaha for an NDB approach and pick up my daughter who was stationed at Offutt AFB. Wed fly back to Davenport for an ILS.

As I pulled the plane from the hangar with a long tow bar, I unhitched it from the lawn-tractor tug I used and put the tractor away. Normally, I would push the plane back some distance to avoid walking in the wet grass before boarding the plane. That day, the grass was dry and I was going to save some time. (How many times have you heard that?) I put the tractor away, and started to close the hangar. Then, I thought Id better take a quart of oil with me, just in case. I got the oil, shut the hangar door and approached the plane from the rear.

My mind was on a lot of things: The weather in western Iowa was not the best; I was not looking forward to five hours under the hood, either.

I got in, closed the door and did the pre-start checklist. When I hit the starter, an awful “clunk” was the result. I realized the prop hit the tow bar. I had not removed it and did not see it as I approached the plane from the rear. I was sick.

After putting the plane back in the hangar and cancelling the flight, I went to the shop chief. His first remark was, “Call your insurance company. You cant afford whats about to happen.” The engine was removed, torn down (no damage noted) and reinstalled. A new prop was needed.

After two months on the ground, I resumed training and finally passed my check ride a few months later.

The insurance break I got for my instrument rating was about equal to the amount the rate went up due to the accident. My first claim in 35 years of flying, but nothing could be done. The bill was over $12,000.

Stay focused on the task at hand, double-check the plane before you get in if you vary from a routine and never unhook a tow bar and leave it on the plane.


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