This happened several years ago as my wife and I were returning from Oshkosh. We stopped in Ames, Iowa, to spend the night with our daughter-in-law. It was 5:00 on a hot, sunny August afternoon. No clouds in the sky, no sign of an impending weather change.
As I tied my light sport airplane down, I couldn’t help noticing the Ercoupe sitting adjacent to me. Not only is an Ercoupe a rare craft, this one was notable because it wasn’t tied down–it just had two straps hanging loose from the wings–as if someone started to tie it down and stopped mid-process.
As I tied our plane down, I thought perhaps I should tie the Ercoupe down also. Then I thought, “No, you shouldn’t mess with other people’s planes.”
We left the airport about 5:30 pm and headed off to dinner with our daughter-in-law. When we left the restaurant at 8:00, the difference in the weather was stunning. Thunderclouds, lightning, huge winds (69 mph we later learned). As we drove to our daughter-in-law’s house, the winds increased, bending small trees over until they were nearly horizontal. All night I worried about whether the ropes I had used were strong enough to withstand the load.
Next morning we drove to the airport and, as it drew into sight, my wife screamed in surprise. Our plane was intact and upright but the Ercoupe was upside down, lying directly in front of our plane. The winds had been a quartering tailwind and the Ercoupe had been flipped over, narrowly missing our aircraft but landing immediately in front of us. It was totaled, bent and twisted.
This experience raises the question: what are your responsibilities toward other aircraft owners and how firmly should the hands-off rule be adhered to?
With the benefit of hindsight, I made three wrong decisions. First, I should not have parked next to a plane that wasn’t tied down. Second, if I was going to park there, I should have risked the ire of the owner and tied his craft down for him. My maybe getting bawled out is not nearly so bad as his losing his plane, perhaps destroying mine in the process. And before leaving the airport, I should have opened ForeFlight on my iPad and looked at the radar picture which probably would have shown the storm on course for Ames. All around, I blew it.
In short, always tie your plane down, no matter how mild the weather. And don’t park next to an aircraft that isn’t tied down.
Is Jim being too hard on himself? Was he right in not tying down the other fellow’s airplane? When does one pilot cross the line when it comes to the safety of another pilot and their airplane? Share with us what you would have done in this situation.