The Limbo Dance

I decided to follow the highway, holding steady at 30 feet agl


It was a flying day. The sky had not a single cloud, the temperature was 78 degrees. It was April 1st and I was an 18-year-old April fool with a freshly minted private pilot license.

I actually flew twice that day. The first flight of the day was just not enough, so I had to go for more. The afternoon sun was dipping to the west as I headed out in the 152 with my passenger, a friends roommate.

What a grand time we had zooming over the hills and valleys of the desert right out to a large lake north of town. Then, the foolishness began to kick in. Wanna get a closer look at that boat? I yelled above the roar of the engine. Sure! she hollered back.

So I dipped lower, getting us closer to the water. The waves zipped by under the aircraft and I really could really feel that sensation of speed. And what testosterone-packed male teenager doesnt like speed?

I moved even closer to the water to make the sensation even more intense. I was in a full blown rush, a man in control of my machine. We buzzed a few more boats and finally I made a left to head back to town.

I decided to follow the highway that runs from the city to the lake, holding steady at 30 feet agl like I had over the water. I was flying about 50 feet to the side of the road and we were laughing and waving at the stunned passengers in the cars that we overtook. Did I mention the April fool part?

To my right, I saw a set of power lines that ran parallel to the highway. Never did it cross my mind that at some point they may cross the road. However, they did, right at the same point where I had to cross the road because of a hill that springs up on the right.

About the time I figured I should climb and give the approach controller something to see on radar, I saw the biggest flash of blue light Id ever seen. It was like a welder striking an arc right in my face. This was followed by a sound like several hands smacking the outside of the plane from the front to the back.

The engine sound went from a nice healthy roar to sounding like a potato was stuffed in the exhaust pipe. Yes, I had hit those power lines. In the brief instance that followed the flash of light came all the anecdotes Id heard of people hitting power lines. I couldnt dredge up even one that ended with a live pilot.

Two seconds later, my mind was back inside my head and I was aware that we were still flying and the engine was still running. I hauled back on the yoke and climbed to about 1,500 feet agl. I looked around and tried to assess the damage.

Though the engine sounded strange it was still responding. The plane flew fine and we were headed back to the airport. I felt like the great big fool that I was. How could I be so stupid? How could I be so careless with another person in the aircraft?

I always felt it was somehow OK to kill yourself doing something stupid, as long as you didnt take some innocent with you. I checked the main gear on my side of the plane and asked my passenger if the wheel was on the other.

She had a kind of quizzical look on her face. What was that? she asked. We just hit the &*&@#^ power lines! I shot back. Her expression revealed that she had no idea of how serious a situation this was.

I went back to troubleshooting the plane. Since we had two main wheels, and I figured the plane would have been jerked out of the sky if the wires had been able to rip the nosewheel off, we must be OK to land.

I considered asking for a flyby to confirm that there was a nose gear on the plane but realized it would make no difference if we did or not because I had to land one way or another. So I declared no emergency and asked for the right base to runway 25.

I had to go around because of landing traffic on the intersecting runway, but on the next try I made the softest soft field landing ever. I held the nose off as long as I could and as it, too, chirped onto the pavement I braced for the sound of the prop chipping away at the runway. But it never happened.

We taxied in and tied the plane down, then got out, wondering what wed find.

The damage to the plane was superficial. The prop had gouges burned into it about two inches from each tip where it had contacted, cut, and shorted two of the wires together.

Each wing had a crease in the leading edge and little holes punched in the wing as the two ends of one of the lines that were cut made intermittent contact and a gazillion volts zapped though the wing. The stuffy engine sound was caused by the exhaust stack being crushed by the lower power line that was cut. That line also broke the landing light. The plastic cap on the top of the vertical stabilizer was trimmed off just above the aluminum.

I had contacted the two lowest lines of a string of four power lines right where they crossed the road. The propeller cut the lower two lines and the third one up had done the damage to the stabilizer. The FAA suspended my license for 45 days for my little stunt. I broke the flying too close to man made objects rule.

I considered this a mere slap on the wrist for doing something as stupid as this. I now have an instrument rating, and love to fly aerobatics. I take everything about flying very seriously and consider myself lucky that I had the chance to learn from my mistake.

Perhaps theres one other April fool out there who sees himself in this story. If you do, please learn from my mistake, you may not live through your own.


Talk Louder, I Cant Hear You
I recently had a 6 a.m. flight lesson at my home base airport, where the tower opens at 7 a.m.

After pre-flight, and start-up, but before leaving my parking position, I announced on the CTAF that I was about to taxi from the ramp to cross the runway at midfield. The radio was quiet, showing me I had the airport to myself.

As we approached the intersection, I automatically looked left and right for possible landing traffic, and, deciding the coast was clear, I intended to cross the runway without stopping. When we were about 20 feet from the hold line at the intersection, we suddenly saw a DC-3 on a take-off roll from left to right. I slammed on the brakes and my instructor and I looked at each other wide-eyed, wondering, Where did he come from; he didnt even say anything on the CTAF!

Then my instructor noticed that the volume on the radio was turned all the way down. It was entirely possible that the DC-3 was making proper announcements, or that the pattern was full of traffic for all we knew, and we couldnt hear them.

With the tower in operation, a radio problem is obvious when a call to ground control for a taxi clearance receives no response. But in a non-towered situation, the silence can be deadly.

Ironically, I attended an FAA Safety Seminar partially devoted to the topic of runway incursions only five days earlier. At the time, I thought, something like that could never happen to me. Well, I learned a lesson the scary way to always check not only the frequency dialed into the radio, but also the volume levels.


Cleared for Takeoff, Sort of
What a great day to fly, I thought, light winds and clear skies. I was a student pilot training at a Class D airport. On this particular day I was to fly solo out of the airport area without going more than 25 nm, then return to the airport. The purpose was to ensure that I could find the airport again.

The airport had two intersecting runways, 9/27 and 4/22 with trees blocking the view between the approach ends of runways 22 and 27. On this day the tower was using 27 to depart and 22 for arrivals.

I was cleared by ground control to taxi to runway 27. I proceeded to the run-up area and performed my checks. All the while I was monitoring the radio and heard nothing. No one was on the air. I thought, Great, not a lot of traffic to confuse me. I notified the tower that I was ready for departure. After a pause, the tower replied that I was cleared to depart runway 27. I then taxied on to the runway and applied full power.

Everything was going along just great. My rented Cessna 172 was rolling down the runway, the engine gauges looked good, power was right and airspeed was building. I was about to rotate as I approached the intersection of runway 22.

Then, out of the corner of my right eye I saw another plane nearing touchdown on runway 22. I slammed on the brakes, reduced power and watched his wheels cross right in front of me. That was close, real close. The tower never said anything.

I keyed the mike and said, ABORTING! After a pause the tower said, I dont know where he came from. He wasnt talking to us. The other pilot never said a word. I dont think he even saw me.

If I was a little faster or the other pilot was a little slower, you would be reading about this in the Accident Probe section instead of the Learning Experiences section.

I taxied back to runway 27 and again was cleared for take-off. This time watching runway 22 much more carefully, I departed and returned from my solo flight without any more surprises.

After I landed and was taxiing back to the flight school, the tower explained that it was their error. Apparently, the departing controllers did not tell the arriving controllers about the airplane in the pattern. So when I called on the radio, the tower cleared me for departure.

I was impressed that the tower admitted their error on the air for all to hear. After all, I did not ask for an explanation.

My instructor was on the ground with a hand held radio so that he could monitor my progress. The push-to-talk button was broken, so he could only listen. When I got back to the flight school and shut everything down, my instructor came over and had this look on his face as if to say; This students flying career is over! I was happy to let him know it was not.

I still have a lot of respect for the people who work in the control tower but they are human, just like pilots.


The Sounds of Silence
I took my Mooney in for its annual, and after the annual was completed we flew the airplane from the east coast of Florida to the west coast to pick up a part for someone else. Everything worked great.

When we returned with the part, the airplane was refueld and washed and I taxied about two miles to take off from a 10,000-foot runway. I did my runup and took off. At about 50 feet the engine just stopped. I got the gear down and locked on the remaining runway and the engine started again. I taxied back to the FBO, where we removed more than a quart of water from the left tank.

Now, if I shut down the engine for even two minutes, I make a thorough preflight inspection.


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