So, what did you do on Saturday?
Like the rest of you, I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard that question. Well, Saturday, March 5, 2005, was one that I’ll remember for a long time.
I own and operate a flying school at Jandakot Airport (Perth’s GA airport) in Western Australia. Normally I take Saturdays off. This particular Saturday I went in to work to do a Test Flight on our aerobatic Robin 2160. As I was going out the door my wife said, “Let someone else do the flight and stay home.”
Well, faced with mowing the lawn and a multitude of “honey do’s,” the decision was made, of course, in favour of the test flight. Plus, an old squadron skipper once beat into me, “Don’t ask your people to do flights that you don’t want to do.”
Besides, it gave me an excuse to go flying and that’s always fun in my book.
Down at the tarmac, preparation was a bit more detailed than usual since the wings and tail had recently been replaced after removal for periodic checking and a new engine had just been installed. But after crawling over and under the little Robin, checking everything twice, I jumped in, started the engine and headed off for 2+30 hours of no telephones, no stress and no worries – right?
Not so fast Chuck!
The day was perfect. High clouds, cool with unlimited visibility. Everything was going to plan. The controls were spot on; the engine did not miss a beat. A perfect flight. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that extra cup of coffee I’d had just before the flight! Should I land? Nahh! Only another 30 minutes or so to go.
Descended to 1500 feet, headed through the Shipyard, an initial entry point.
“Jandakot Tower, OXY Shipyards 1500 feet with ATIS.”
So far, this had been a great flight and I was thinking that I might even take the wife out to lunch!
All landing checks were done, so I started checking for traffic in the pattern. I spotted one aircraft but it wasn’t a problem. I was at Adventure World, the last entry point before entering the pattern.
“Jandakot Tower, OXY Adventure World.”
Should I request a low fly-by to get the tower boys excited? Nahh! That last cup of coffee…
From the Tower: “OXY, enter downwind 06, your traffic is a Cessna turning final.”
How great is this? Up here with the birds, not mowing the lawn below.
“Oscar, X-ray, Yankee, acknowledge.”
I started my descent from 1500 feet to 1000 feet. Everything checked good. Wait a minute, why is the prop slowing down? Fuel gauge says there is fuel. Electric fuel pump is on. RPM is at the bottom of the green arc and falling.
Got big problems!
“Tower, OXY has problems! Am proceeding direct to the field. I’ll take any runway I can make!”
My mind raced: set glide speed 75 kts. Might not make the field! How far is the Freeway? High tension powerlines! Pull up! Pull up! Full Power! Full Power! Nothing!
Clear of powerlines! Where now? Nothing but houses! Pick a street with no one on it! Got it!
“MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!”
I tried to stay lined up on the street, but I was too fast so I got rid of some speed. Then the stall warning started to sound. Time to land hard and stand on the brakes. The street was still clear, thank God!
So much for that lunch.
What the…? I was somersaulting and upside down.
Damn that was hard! I released the harness, and tried to catch myself so I didn’t land on my head.
I wish I would have listened to the wife. I tried to go left, but was blocked. I noticed a guy outside the aircraft, yelling.
So I went right, through the canopy plastic. Finally, I was clear! What is that guy saying – something about sitting down? Blood! Damn! Poor ol’ OXY is really busted up. Time to sit down now!
So now when someone asks me what I did on one particular Saturday, I can offer the following:
- I did my 501st arrested landing. Unfortunately, there was no aircraft carrier available.
- I did a wheels-up landing in a fixed-gear aircraft. Luckily, I’m hard-headed.
- Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.
- I made my aircraft an un-reusable container.
- I should have listened to my wife.
- It can happen to you and, when it does, you won’t be ready. Don’t panic. Rely on your training.
- Fly the aircraft! But be ready to change your plan.
- Time will pass very fast!
- Don’t worry about what will happen after the flight.