Early flight adventures – and errors

I suspect I am not the only one to have made a few errors during their early hours of flying.

First one that comes to mind was under the watchful eye of my CFI brother. As I recall, I carried a little extra speed on approach and, upon flaring, the Cherokee ballooned. Being very early in my flight instruction, rather than waiting for the extra speed to bleed off, I moved the control slightly forward.

The aircraft immediately dropped and arrived on the runway slightly nose wheel first followed by the mains being firmly planted. My CFI immediately turned and startled me with nearly a shout, “What the hell was that?” Sheepish, I responded that I wasn’t sure what happened. He scolded me by emphasizing that, once you flare, you never move the control forward, power maybe to arrest a descent, but never move the control forward. Later, as we pushed the Cherokee back into the hangar, my CFI at the prop, I heard him apologizing to the nose wheel for treating it poorly. Lesson learned and definitely remembered.

A second incident was while flying a cross country. Landing at a selected rural airport, I planned to quickly taxi back to the runway threshold, run a pre-flight check of controls, and depart. After running the mag and carb heat checks, I checked the controls including the flaps, announced my departure, rolled onto the runway and began my takeoff roll.

At takeoff speed I commenced rotation, but the Cherokee just didn’t want to lift off and the controls were heavy. Being a newly-soloed student, I muscled the aircraft into the air. It was then that I glanced out at the wings and to my surprise found the flaps in the full down position. I had very obviously failed to release the flap lever in my haste to depart.

Cherokee takeoff
A Cherokee will take off with flaps down, but preferably not full flaps.

I was obviously airborne and wanted to remain so. I knew instinctively that raising the flaps completely would cause the struggling plane to settle, and the end of the runway was fast approaching. So I milked the flaps up a little at a time, each time the aircraft settled slightly but gained speed. Reaching the end of the runway, the plane had a positive rate of climb, and fortunately there were no significant structures to avoid, and I was happily on my way back home. Lesson learned: Don’t rush!

Third, on a recent flight with a fellow pilot in our flight club Cessna 150 to a remote airport, I made the approach. Immediately upon landing, my fellow pilot surprised me by saying I had made the landing without flaps. I knew with two sizable pilots and at least half fuel, the little Cessna would settle pretty quickly and managed the speed accordingly. In retrospect, I somehow had engaged the flap lever, heard and felt the flap extension, but somehow had bumped the control lever back up without realizing as I concentrated on the landing.

Looking for the left windscreen column flap linear gauge from the left seat, I couldn’t see it. I hadn’t looked out at the flaps to see them engaged and made the landing configured that way. Another lesson learned: Look out at the flaps to confirm their position.

Fourth, while landing at another non-towered rural airport, I took a break then prepared to depart. Taking the runway and starting to roll and just before rotation, the door popped open on the Cherokee. Fortunately I had plenty of runway to complete an abort. I then back taxied, secured the door, and departed. Lesson learned: Follow the complete pre-takeoff check list either verbally while touching or observing each control item is best.

Finally, a positive story. My CFI was checking me out in a Cessna 172. My first attempt at landing was near perfect. Flared and the Cessna just kissed the runway. He turned to me and said, “Bet you can’t do that again!”

Second approach was near perfect, CFI eye rolls. Third attempt, CFI pulls power to idle three-quarters of the way downwind and said, “Now get it on the runway!” I slowed to approach speed, banked towards the runway (didn’t want to be short), saw I was high and put the Cessna in a fairly hard slip to lose altitude, and banked as I dove for the runway. Got lined up, on speed, flared, and plopped it on. Not anything to brag about, but a safe and effective landing given the surprise. Lesson learned: Don’t let things surprise you so much as to make things more difficult, but use your training to take control and create a positive outcome.

Another little lesson while practicing short field takeoffs in the C172: My CFI had me hold the brakes, throttle up, and upon release said, “Once we reach rotation speed, pull back the controls.” That was an elevator ride. We were 100 feet in the air within seconds. I pushed over and flew away. We were lightly loaded. Not sure what the flap setting was, probably one-third, but it sure was effective.

For the record, my CFI was an 18,000 hour corporate pilot, and had flown nearly every type of GA aircraft from Cubs to corporate jets. He had experienced a few surprise events during those flying hours, but through resourceful decision making, and what he learned from those experiences, became an extremely valuable flight training resource.

I trust you have found my little adventures of interest, maybe even were reminded of some of your own.

9 Comments

  • The day my instructor and I landed at his friends “strip” (my first $60.00 + hamburger) at lunch, visited…upon leaving, the old 140 just wouldn’t reach V1. There is no Vr…no V2…………………but more than 2 miles in any direction (this is outside of Tucson, Arizona) of hard flat earth to “slip the surly bonds of Earth, and touch the face of God” but airspeed wasn’t happening to this fledgling.

    Had I not had my feet resting on the top of he pedals, pushing them back just enough to actuate the brakes…….well………upon release the old girl, in away I never was able to duplicate, sorta’ lept off of the earth to this smiling surprised “just dangerous enough aviator”………… and the voice of my gabazillion hour flight instructor saying: “Dumb ass – – – – I wondered when you were going to notice that…………………”

  • Great stories, Michael. It sure makes me a more aware pilot by reading such great real life experiences like those you had. I wish you blue skies.

  • Hey Mike, Enjoyed reading your adventures. Now I think other pilots make the same mistakes I have made. Just remember that they put the center line there for a reason.

  • W.W. Corrigan, your comment some time ago was revealing. I bet that comment from your CFI still resonates through your brain on every takeoff. Reminds me of my CFI brother’s “what the hell was that!” comment. Lol!

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