Dangerous technology – and not for the reason you think

Three years ago, I proudly purchased my first airplane. My training began and I had soloed in 1967 in a Piper J-3 Cub in our university’s student flight club. That was the only airplane we could afford at that time. The Cub was a solid airplane and produced in abundance by the military as an observation platform among other things. Back then, CFIs would make sure you really wanted to learn by taking you up on your first hour and performing power on and power off stalls, spins and unusual attitudes to make sure you would not panic if it happened to you. It was sort of an initiation to see if you could take it.

iPad mount
iPads are a tremendous help, but watch that mount.

I quickly converted my new-to-me 2000 Cessna 182S into a Technically Advanced Aircraft with a Garmin G500 glass cockpit, GTN 750 GPS/COM, portable 796, KAP 140 autopilot, internal AHRS and all the bells and whistles that go with it. But as an added note of precaution, I also downloaded ForeFlight and bought the companion Stratus ADS-B receiver as a backup.

Everything was put on. But then I placed a RAM Large Mount on the yoke to hold my iPad. However, when I put the mount on the yoke, I forgot that I had pulled the yoke all the way back for convenience in mounting it securely, while at the same time standing outside the plane. That was my first mistake because I had inadvertently fastened the mount to the yoke too far back, so that it prevented me from being able to push the elevator all the way down to the stops by about one inch.

Later in the day, when I got in my airplane with my passengers and the preflight and weight and balance were in the green, I tested the elevators and ailerons as is the customary for a pilot on preflight again. But unfortunately I did not notice any shortening of the ability to push the yoke all the way “in” to the usual stops. The elevator sounded a little different when I pushed it all the way in. But I didn’t realize the reason.

All went well until about 100 feet above the runway on takeoff when I wanted to drop the nose a little. The airplane wanted to continue to climb as if it were approaching a power-on stall and I could not get the nose down. Terrible things could have easily happened if I would not have kept my wits about me.

182 in climb
It’s hard to maintain the proper angle of attack when the yoke is stuck.

Through my use of the pitch trim and finally getting the iPad mount loose enough to allow the plane to nose over, the airplane flew out of one very-low-to-the-ground (and scary) power-on stall. My instructors had drilled into me the importance of keeping the ball centered in the turn and bank indicator so that on a stall you would not go into a spin. I’m sure that the plane would have gone into a spin that would not have been recoverable at that altitude if I had not kept my eyes on the ball while pushing the trim all the way down and later unfastening the mount.

Clearly, I was embarrassed and not proud of this stupid mistake. But I share it with my fellow pilots to keep others from making the same mistake. As a Captain with the Civil Air Patrol and Director of Search and Recovery having found crash sites and directed emergency vehicles to the site while circling above. The crash often reveals that the pilot made some very innocent mistake that ended in tragedy. I write this article hoping that my confession will keep someone else from following in my footsteps and prevent a tragedy.

Before this happened, I was quick to blame the pilot and was almost self-righteous in my perception that I would never do what other pilots did to cause a crash. I am much more humble now, realizing how easy it is to slip into a graveyard if you get too cocky. As the good book says in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” Never knew how literal that verse in the Bible was until this mistake.

9 Comments

  • What an appropriate and timely article, Rick. Thanks for sharing. In the past few years we lost a Gulfstream (and crew and passengers) in Massachusetts becuase the gust lock was inadvertently left engaged and the cew never checked their control freedom before takeoff.

    Recently we also lost a C-130J in Afghanistan in an incident so reminiscent of your own experience … the pilot wedged the hard case of some equipment in between the yoke and the instrument panel to keep the elevators “up” during loading. They taxied out, failed to check control freedom and range of travel and the rest is (sad) history.

    Guys and gals, you have GOT to check for correct and full travel every single time. It doesn’t matter how many hours, how many ratings you have or how much the airplane is worth, it won’t fly properly if the controls won’t move!

  • Wow, very scary. Thank you for sharing. I don’t have a yoke mount for my ipad but I know those that do, I will be sure and warn them.

  • What piques my curiosity there is why the pitch trim had any effect if the elevator was indeed, locked. With a locked elevator, the trim setting for nose down would actually cause a nose up pitching moment as the tab trailing edge goes up. Maybe it was just stretching the cables enough to lower the nose a bit.

    • reply to stephen^

      The Ipad mount prevented full forward travel, not the elevator itself. If I recall the machine correctly the pitch trim, controls a trim tab on the elevator, via a wheel in the cockpit. Instead of trimming the control surface entirely, which would have been the case of a stabilator.

      This is common at least to Cessna, Beechcraft, and Diamond aircraft I’ve flown. With a locked yoke, you can absolutely trim the pitch of those aircraft up and down. unlike say Sioux city crash, where the boys had no control because everything was hydraulic but managed to use engine power to get them into the flare.

  • When an elevator is locked the trim tab can be used, but In reverse of its usual application. The locked elevator now becomes like an extension of the stabilizer, and the trim tab becomes like the elevator except much smaller. My instructor pointed out that if moving the controls makes things worse, then put them back where they were and try a small amount of opposite control. The B29 prototype was saved by the Boeing test pilot on its first flight attempt by reversing the controls as the aircraft began tipping to the right on liftoff. It was determined that the aileron control was installed in reverse. I’ve seen the actual video clip of that event. They scaped the right wingtip, but otherwise saved the aircraft.

  • What happened to “controls FREE and CORRECT” in your pre-takeoff checklist? I’m sure you’ve pounded yourself over that as you’ve analyzed and re-analyzed how this ‘little’ clamp problem could have slipped by you.

    I too have learned the hard lesson of closely attending to pre-takeoff chores that include a thorough, stop to stop control check that includes a ‘thumbs UP’ for the ailerons, LEFT/RIGHT on the rudder, and FULL UP/DOWN for the elevator. I’ve also learned tonvisually check to assure full play on the controls and full deflection of all surfaces. Distractions from passengers are really, really tough to ignore. For this reason I include Sterile Cockpit as an item on both my pre-Taxi and pre-Takeoff briefings. I too fly with a RAM mount clamped to my control column. I move my iPad from aircraft to aircraft, sometimes two or three times daily in the summer busy season. It’s easy to see how your near mishap moved from innocently clamping the RAM to your yoke, to near catastrophe. Thanks for the very important reminder that ANYTHING clamped to an aircraft control, control surface, or air foil has potential to create unforeseen hazards.

  • To check rudder during preflight I assume you are flying a tail dragger or checking rudder movement while taxiing. Cherokee I am training on must be moving to use rudder pedals. Thanks.

  • Being a good pilot doesn’t mean to never make any mistakes. On the contrary, what really makes good pilots is the ability and willingness to learn from our own mistakes and from those of others.
    So thank You for sharing a valuable lesson and helping us to become safer pilots by learning from it, as well as from higher wisdom 😉
    Two ways that frequently help me to stay humbly realistic…

  • Thank you, fellow pilots – especially Andreas – for all the encouraging comments regarding my embarrassing stupid mistake. I did share it only because this was so very easy to overlook even during what I consider a thorough preflight checklist. Wanted other pilots to realize how easy it was to fall into this trap. And yes, so glad, Dave, that I didn’t become another statistic for NTSB reports like your friends who apparently also easily slipped into this trap. Amazing to me that as instrument rated pilots, we all are carefully trained to brief all approaches since it is so easy to forget or perhaps violate those “minimums” and missed approaches. But after my mistake, I approach the preflight checklist with the same amount of attention. And yet as John reminds all of us, sometimes we must learn the importance of preflight checks by a “2 x 4 between the antlers” lesson before we REALLY appreciate how important ALL those checks are to even our very next breath. Perhaps my confession will keep someone from making the same mistake. You are absolutely correct, Don, about the trim tabs. They do become like a little elevator. They deflected the elevator just enough to save my bacon this time. Trust that it will not happen to me again. And I hope and pray that not only you, Roca, but everyone who reads this article will share with their pilot friends how easy it was to overlook the dangers of the Ipad RAM mounts. Really wish that RAM would put a warning with their product to remind pilots of this danger since it was so easy to overlook. But ultimately, we are the pilots in command and responsible for the safety of the flight and our passengers. Just wanted to warn all of you of how easy it was to make this mistake while thinking I was improving the safety of flight for myself and my passengers. Fly Safe!! 🙂

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