The year was 1998 and it had been 14 years since I had last been in an airplane as a pilot. When I stopped flying in 1984, I held commercial, multiengine and instrument ratings and had approximately 1,000 hours of flying rented complex singles and light twins.
The time was finally right to get back into flying. After I got a medical certificate, I signed up for flight instruction from a highly qualified, mature CFI. The flying came back quickly, but the communications and instrument proficiency required more effort. Putting them all together was both frustrating and more demanding than Id anticipated.
After more than 50 hours of instruction, I convinced myself I could do it. The next task was to purchase my first airplane, a new 1998 Piper PA-32R-301 Saratoga II HP, with all the bells and whistles. I was finally back flying.After a total of maybe 100 hours of current flying, I flew my new Saratoga from South Carolina to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., landing at FLL. I was under an IFR flight plan and conditions were VMC on arrival. Traffic on the approach and tower frequencies was extremely busy and this was my first recent encounter with dense traffic at an unfamiliar commercial airport.
I managed to sequence into the traffic and land on 27R without incident. Nervous but exhilarated, I taxied to the FBO, unloaded passengers and refueled for the flight back to South Carolina.
I got back in the airplane, started the engine, received my IFR clearance and tried to taxi to 27L. I became disoriented and had to receive progressive taxi instructions, which unnerved me.
At the hold short marker for 27L I proceeded to start my run-up and checklist. Another private aircraft behind me was in a hurry to depart. He received clearance to taxi around me and departed runway 27L while I was still plugging through my checklist. This again disrupted my concentration.
While I was still performing my run-up, the controller asked me if I would do a left to 360, maintain 3,000 and join V3 north as filed. I responded affirmative without truly understanding the request.
Traffic for 27L was extremely busy. I was just completing my run-up when I was cleared to 27L for immediate departure. Things were moving too fast and I was getting behind the situation. In an effort to remember the departure request, I put the heading bug on 360 and taxied onto runway 27L. As I started my roll, I was concentrating on engine and airspeed gauges and noticed 360 was to my right and not to my left.
I broke into the 27L-tower frequency and asked, Tower, what is my heading? Tower responded, 360. North. I turned right. The tower controller immediately screamed for me to reverse course. I responded with, You said 360, north. It was too late for me to change course; I was on my way north.
It took me a while to figure out what caused his reaction. FLL has parallel runways and I had crossed 27R at departure altitude. Fortunately, no traffic was departing 27R at that moment. The tower never responded after my last transmission, other than to pass me over to departure.
My error scared me enough to almost make me stop flying. It is now more than two years and 400+ recent hours of safe flying later. I now make certain to fully understand all ATC instructions and I do not allow myself to get rushed.
Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings
I had filed for the local practice area for some mild aerobatics and had taxied the Cessna 152 Aerobat to the run-up area. Id flown this aircraft almost daily for the past three weeks and I was fairly comfortable with the feel and sounds from the engine.
However, on this run-up I could feel that something was not right. An odd vibration seemed to peak and fade at a steady power setting. A call to ground control cleared me back to the parking ramp where the club mechanic was called out.
After helping the mechanic uncowl the engine, I stood leaning on the spinner just watching while he checked the ignition harness and anything that would be obvious. Curiosity had me looking at all details of the power plant and something made me look down just behind the spinner at the propeller hub.
There it was: a spiral 270-degree crack in the crankshaft big enough to take the smile off Jimmy Carters face. The records showed no record of unusual operation or reported sudden engine stoppage. The powerplant had 980 hours since new. My learning experience showed me that if something doesnt feel right, it probably isnt. Trust your gut feel…
Darkness on the Edge of Flight
I fly a club 172. After engine start-up a few days ago, the avionics remained dark after the avionics master was turned on, and there was a steady 1/5 positive deflection of the ammeter.
I hadnt flown in a while, so I double checked all the switch settings and cycled the avionics switch to see if the switch was flaky or if its built-in breaker had tripped. I wanted the engine to warm up a bit anyway, so I had plenty of time to inspect the switches. I finished by trying all the various switches and settings to see if I could get a pop or crackle that might point toward one particular item.
Nothing I did made any difference, so I shut down and wrote up the incident on the squawk sheet.
I wrote up another detailed description and dropped it off at the maintenance officers office. The next day, I learned that no problems were found and two pilots have flown the plane without experiencing any problems.
I talked to the mechanic later and learned that he never got the detailed explanation. He was just told by phone that, Someone cant hear the radios. He found the radio switch set on speaker instead of phones said, Of course, and put the plane back on the line.
The setting of the audio panel switch does not explain why the Loran, the transponder, and other equipment displays were dark, nor why I didnt hear the radios through the speaker. Would the mechanic have looked at the situation differently with the full story?
I think there is a lesson here for clubs that have more complex chains of communication than the individual owner/operator. This airplane seems to have a flaky problem, one which might never reoccur, or which might crop up on the next flight. I suspect the starter failed to disengage, but it could be other things.
No one is particularly concerned, but that is probably appropriate. Every preflight and flight should be approached with the same expectation and planning for possible failure. That which can be checked and tested should be.
Even if a clear cause has been found and corrected, the next flight should be conducted exactly as if this event were still a mystery.
In Case of a Tie, You Lose
I was flying our Mooney 201 from our vacation house on the Florida Panhandle back home to Nashville. It was a relatively routine trip. My son was keeping himself entertained in the back seat while my wife relaxed next to me.
The weather was forecast to be moderate IFR, but it was well above my personal minimums. The trip was routine until I began the descent toward the destination airport.
We were being vectored for an ILS approach to runway 2C at Nashville International when the house of cards started to tumble.
The controller vectored me toward the final approach course, but the localizer needle would not budge from full deflection. Id had some trouble receiving some ILS frequencies on the KNS-80 before, but the station identified clearly through the receiver.
The controller then amended my heading another 10 degrees to the right, then checked herself. No, thats not going to do it. Turn 20 degrees right to intercept the localizer.
The controller eventually changed my vector four times before the final approach fix before the indicator started to come in. The wind shifts apparently were becomung pronounced.
I was a bit above glideslope as the localizer started to center, and occasionally Id see patches of ground through the ragged bases of the clouds. I was beginning to think this would be a routine approach when the controller interrupted me: Mooney 01Victor, there is a Level Four thunderstorm five northwest of the field, moving southeast. Say intentions.
I looked through the windscreen and saw the airport playing peek-a-boo through the clouds. Without thinking, I replied, Airport in sight. Ill land.
I was cleared to land. As I acknowledged the clearance, the airplane was slapped down hard. My head hit the ceiling despite the fact that my seatbelt was tight around my hips. My wife screamed and began to cry. We lost 200 or 300 feet essentially instantly.
Fortunately – if anything could be called fortunate at this point – the shear dropped us precisely onto the glideslope just as we crossed the final approach fix. I looked ahead and saw a nasty wall of black racing me to the airport.
I kept my speed up as long as I dared, emboldened by the fact that I had 8,000 feet of concrete ahead. At the last minute I dumped gear and flaps and kicked in a slip for good measure. With only a little extra float, the Mooney landed and I taxied to the ramp.
No sooner had I shut the engine down when the skies opened up. It rained so hard we sat in the airplane for 20 minutes, waiting for a break, before we gave up and accepted the soaking. I felt I kind of deserved it.
Racing the storm to the airport was simply stupid. Another shear closer to the ground would have meant disaster. The deluge that hit just as we parked would have caused me to lose control if it had hit while I was flaring to land. In short, I should have abandoned the approach when I had the chance.
We had relatives 40 miles in the opposite direction of the bad weather. Granted it would have meant staying with my mother-in-law, but that would have been better than the fate I almost selected.
Nobody ever taught me that the wings of a plane should be fueled in any particular order. Both wings need fuel, right?
Well, recently I pulled up to the self-serve pump and dragged out the ladder and hose. I fueled the left wing of the rented Cessna 152 and then dragged the gear to the right side and did the same. I then put the hose away, signed the ticket and proceeded to taxi away.
The next thing I heard was the loud crash of the large metal platform-style ladder that I had left hiding in the blind spot on the right side of the plane. I shut down and went out to assess the damage. Much to my relief, everything was in one piece. My next job was to see if anyone was around to share in my moment of stupidity. Lucky again.
Fortunately, the rest of my day was uneventful. It didnt occur to me until later how lucky I was that the ladder did not fall into the prop. I hate to even imagine that.
Now, whenever I fuel an airplane, I always fuel the wing opposite the pilots door first and the pilots side last. I also make a walk-around when Im done. That way, anything I leave will be in plain sight when I return to the aircraft.