Winged Low Rider: Learning Experiences 09/05


I was flying a Piper Arrow out of the Tamiami airport, south of Miami, for some touch-and-go landings on a windy, crystal clear morning after a cold front had blown through. I taxied out, did the run-up and took off, making right traffic. Even with a right quartering crosswind, I managed to complete three circuits uneventfully.

After my fourth landing, I noticed the view out the windshield looked different: The nose appeared lower than normal, about eight inches or more. Not good. Fully engaged in the touch-and-gos go portion, I was too fast to stop in the runway remaining. I also worried that applying maximum braking and trying to stop would cause a prop strike. I really had no idea how much clearance the prop had from the runway. With the crosswind I had, the airspeed around 70 KIAS and the nose pointing down, the nosewheel was beginning to shimmy badly. The quickest, easiest thing to do at this point was to get airborne, which I did.

On the upwind, I told the tower I had a problem with the nosegear but was getting three green lights. I figured I would have to deal with a collapsed nose strut on the upcoming landing. I asked for the runways full length, planned to perform a soft-field landing and planned not to use brakes to stop the plane.

Buffeted by the strong crosswind on final, I danced down the runway from one main gear to the other, trying to keep the nose off the ground as long as possible. When it finally came down, I relished in the fact that I did not have a prop strike. I coasted to the end of the runway and on to the taxiway without braking and taxied back to the ramp.

After shutting down, I got out and took a look at the nose gear, which made the Arrow look like a low-rider with wings. Apparently, an O-ring seal in the strut had let go in the cold (for south Florida) weather, allowing the nitrogen in it to leak out.

Many takeoffs and landings-along with running a mental checklist of what-ifs-helped me deal with a situation that remains unexplored in the Arrows POH. While a flat nose strut leading to a prop strike isnt the end of the world and rarely causes any injuries, the airplane wasnt damaged and soon flew again.

Downhill Density Altitude
Most of us think of density altitude as something that causes problems on takeoff or on a climb. It can also bite you on landing.

It was a nice, but hot and humid morning as my wife and I returned from our short flight in search of the perfect Sunday brunch. Following another plane already in the pattern, I self-announced a mid-field entry for the downwind and, because of the slower aircraft in front of me, delayed my initial descent from pattern altitude longer than normal. In my Skylane, with its barn-door flaps, being higher than normal and at the top of the white arc on short final is not a problem.

But, much to my surprise, I floated more than halfway down the 3000-foot runway. I decided that a go-around was in order and, despite the Skylanes modified, more powerful engine, cleared by only 30 or 40 feet the 50-foot tall stand of trees which live almost half a mile from the end of the runway.

Density altitude changed our airports normal 1300 msl elevation to about 3200 feet, significantly increasing our landing distance. Review your POH. Density altitude is an issue on landing and on takeoff.


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