Back in 1968, I belonged to a flying club with a new 1967 Cherokee 140 at Pascagoula, Mississippi. With my wife and a baby and a 16-year old niece, I flew up to Grove Hill, Alabama, to drop off the niece. The airstrip was oriented east and west in an area where prevailing winds are southwest to northeast. The wind was 10 to 15 mph as I circled to land on the 2000 ft., hard-surfaced strip.
The crosswind blew me a little past the runway line as I came around on final and I banked it left and added a bit of power to get lined up. Things suddenly got quiet and I had an epiphany! For the first time I really understood why my instructors had said never bank over 30 degrees in the pattern. I was on the ragged edge of stalling out!
I made the landing with no problem, other than slightly shaky knees. After dropping off the niece, we lined up to take off in about 90 degrees of temperature and I was not worried because we were only two adults and a baby in a four-place airplane with about a half tank of gas, right? And, the crosswind wasn’t too strong.
As I went over the end of the runway at about 20 feet of altitude, a little red flag went up in my mind, admittedly a bit late. A mile farther a church steeple passed by on my left higher than my altitude. Finally, we got a little altitude and a deep breath of air. I had learned two very dangerous lessons in one approach, landing, and takeoff. We should be home free now!
Staying overnight with some friends at Butler, Alabama, we got socked in the next day and had to stay over until Monday when I was supposed to go to work for my very grouchy employer. By Monday afternoon, get-home-itis was really working on me when a Cherokee Six landed after a flight from Mobile. He said the way was open, just stay under the clouds.
Not being instrument rated at the time, I took off and started scud running, primarily following a river since otherwise I would be as lost as a barnyard goose. For 100 miles I never got over 100 feet. I wanted to turn around and go back but would have been instantly lost so labored on. Finally, after a gut-wrenching flight we approached Bates Field at Mobile and saw a black wall just southwest of Bates and headed for us. We landed and were immediately in a torrential downpour, which contuinued for hours.
Leaving the plane, a friend picked us up and we went home. Returning after the rain stopped, I fired up the Cherokee to go on the few miles to Jackson field at Pascagoula. It was nearing darkness and when I got to Jackson a low layer of clouds had covered the field. Just as I was pouring the coal to the plane to go back to Bates a hole opened and I saw the runway numbers on my end of the field. A quick yank on the manual flap bar and we dropped with a deep, heartfelt gratitude into the field and parked the plane.
No doubt I was a much wiser boy after those flights but I never mentioned those two flights to anyone until now!
- “Never bank over 30 degrees in the pattern,” and other lessons - April 13, 2015