I regularly fly my KIS experimental VFR back and forth between St. Simons Island, Ga., to Rome, Ga. My dog flies in the co-pilot seat, something he absolutely hates.
I have a course plugged into my GPS that brings me over 10 airports on the way, just in case something happens. I also never switch fuel tanks unless Im over one of these waypoints. Flying over the waypoints instead of flying direct adds a few minutes and a few miles to the trips, but I figure that some day it would pay off. It did today.
As I was taxiing in St. Simons this morning, I had a hand out the gullwing door, holding it ajar just a bit to get some air. Before I did my run-up, I secured the door latch – at least I thought I did. As I climbed out of the low patchy clouds on the island, and flew toward my first waypoint, something didnt sound right in the cabin.
I looked over to see that the door latch was not secure and was about to let go and jettison the door into the water below. I was strapped in tight, so my biggest concern was my dog. I knew if the door flew off, hed bolt for the open door regardless.
I slowed the airplane in hopes the pressure on the door would decrease while I decided what to do next. I had a brief thought of opening, then re-closing the door like one would in a car, but thank God, I wasnt that stupid (only stupid enough not to check the door, as stated on the checklist). My GPS told me I was a mile from Glynco Jetport, and through the low clouds I could see it dead ahead.
I came in for a quick undeclared emergency landing, and secured the door. I checked it twice before I took off again. I dont think the door would have withstood the air pressure trying to open it for very long, so I was glad I always follow my waypoints, and didnt have far to go for the safety of an airport.
Other lessons to consider: You might think about some kind of restraining device for the dog, even for those times when the doors dont threaten to blow open. Pet supply stores carry devices that attach to seat belts, and there may be one available that fits the harness in your airplane.
There are several reasons to consider restraints for animals. You dont want the animal bolting across the ramp after you land. You dont want it getting spooked by turbulence or far-off thunder or any of the myriad reasons pets sometimes go inexplicably temporarily insane. Finally, you dont want the dog to be a projectile in case youre forced to make an off-airport landing or have some other disaster in the works.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
My Sandel electronic HSI began to have a compass card error of from 45 to 90 degrees while continuing to track correctly with the autopilot and the Garmin 430 GPS/nav/comm. With the CDI centered, the heading bug would synchronize with a radial 45 degrees to 90 degrees off course.
By the time the avionics guys got to it, the unit was operating incorrectly all of the time. But the surprise fix was simple.
The unit had slid an eighth-inch out of its tray, and once it was reseated and tightened in it went back to normal and correct operation. I never noticed the unit protruding from the panel or anything else that might have indicated its connections were loose. Nor did it occur to me that this kind of malfunction could even occur.
Other lessons to consider: While the failure telegraphed its presence in this case, this is the kind of problem that usually seems to happen at the worst possible time. Many pilots feel the temptation to make additional flights to gather data to supply the tech for troubleshooting purposes. While thats useful, dont fly in IMC with known deficiencies like this, because you never know when an intermittent problem will become permanent or a slight fault become major – especially with electronics.
Lets Have a Pint
I flew a single-engine Cherokee on an IFR flight plan one clear June day from my home base in Freeport, Ill., over Lake Michigan to Ann Arbor, Mich. I parked the airplane at the local FBO with instructions to top off the tanks. I spent the weekend in Michigan with friends and family.
It got stormy over the weekend, but the weather was clear again for my trip back on Sunday afternoon. My preflight inspection wasnt the most thorough Id ever done, but soon I was on my way back home.
Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security had raised the threat alert to orange, so air traffic control sent me way around Chicago airspace. I ended up being vectored up the middle of Lake Michigan to an intersection off the coast of Milwaukee. I spent a long time out of gliding range of land. Eventually, however, I was vectored to Janesville, Wisc., and on home to Freeport for an uneventful landing to another safe flight.
Or so I thought.
The next day, someone from the FBO that operates the airplane called to tell me they had drained a pint of water from the right tank. Now I even check the sumps for local flights, just as I had been taught.
The thought of what might have happened is a scary reminder not to get lax, even if it means crawling under the wings of a low-wing airplane.
Other lessons to consider: We hope your newfound motivation to explore the airplanes underbelly includes checking the brakes and tires, landing gear structure, fuel tank vents, pitot mast and other goodies that hide out under there.
My wife and I were flying a Cessna Skylane on the first leg of a trip from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Gettysburg, Pa. At the time I was a 600-hour instrument-rated pilot with about 35 hours of actual instrument time. I wasnt a real expert, but I was getting used to flying IFR.
We were flying up the western side of the Smokies and Appalachian Mountains. We planned GPS direct at 7,000 feet to a waypoint in West Virginia, and then directly east to our destination.
The weather was supposed to be clear and 10 miles visibility, but the morning of the flight there was some unexpected light snow over the Smokies. Fortunately it was well east of our planned route of flight.
I could tell things were not going to go as planned when we entered IMC shortly after takeoff. The Knoxville and Tri-Cities airports both announced IFR landings only. Although temperatures were hovering at freezing, we didnt collect any ice. Well, once I thought we had picked some up and alerted the controller, only to retract my statement when I got a better look at the wings.
As we cruised along in the muck, suddenly the airplane was coated with a layer of ice. In an instant it covered the windshield and the wings and I could hear it breaking off the prop and hitting the windshield.
I notified ATC – this time with conviction – and asked for lower. They could only give me 5,000 feet because I was off the airways and the mountains in the east raised the whole sectors minimum vectoring altitude. From a pilot report, I knew it was warmer and clear below.
The outside air temperature was still 32, we were still in IMC and the ice wasnt melting. The only thing left to do was head for the nearest airport, fly the GPS approach and land. We broke out at 2,500 to 3,000 feet with water dripping off the melting ice and landed uneventfully at Hazard, Ky.
There were several pilots in the FBO with tales of snow all to the west of us. I called a briefer and was assured the weather about a half hour north was much better. But how to get there?
Then I noticed a Victor airway more or less on our way that had a minimum en route altitude of only 3,200 feet. After knocking the rest of the half-inch of ice off of the leading edges – and with some anxiety – we took off and cruised gratefully below the cloud layer until we got into the clear northern skies.
Now, when I plan a trip in the winter, I always plan my route to make use of airways. The sole reason for this is that I hope that if I encounter IMC with icing potential I have a better chance of flying under the clouds safely. I love GPS direct, but this is one case where it takes a back seat.
Other lessons to consider: If this kind of trip is routine, you may do well to consider a de-iced airplane.