I damaged my airplane. Now what?

About three years ago, I had an unfortunate incident with my airplane. I flew to a nearby airport to pick up my instructor for a couple of days of training. We typically did intensive IFR training but this year, I wanted to refresh some basic flying skills so we planned a combination of some VFR basics and some IFR.

We briefed our day and decided we would start with some power-off spot landing practice at the airport. I mentioned I had not practiced this in quite some time. It was also a windy day.

The airport was a 40-minute flight from my home airport in New Jersey, and I expected that we would start with some long IFR legs so I had full fuel, including 20 gallons in each tip tank (I was flying a Bonanza Turbonormalized G36 at the time with tip tanks.) With full fuel, I had 114 gallons of fuel and, after the flight up, I was still probably carrying more than 100 gallons.

Looking back, practicing power-off landings in windy conditions with full fuel in the tips was not the best idea. We took off and started a standard pattern. On downwind, I pulled power to idle and guided her to the runway, focusing on my landing spot.

Bonanza bent metal
Just a hard landing?

Either a gust of wind hit or perhaps I pulled up on the yoke, trying to stretch the glide, when all of a sudden I felt like we were sinking. I came in with full power but too late. She impacted hard on the ground. We took off and I said, “I think we might be OK, just seemed like a hard landing.” (I’ve certainly had those before). My instructor said, “I don’t think so. I think we dragged a wing.” We flew the pattern, landed and taxied to the ramp.

When we got out, it was not pretty. The left tip tank had been damaged and was leaking and you could see ripples in the left wing.

So now what?

So here I was at an airport with limited maintenance facilities. I had an airplane that could still be flown and my home airport, with my maintenance facility, was only a short flight away. The temptation to take off and head home was enormous. What would I do with my plane? How would I get home?

After a few moments, sanity prevailed and we called it a day. My instructor was kind enough to give me a lift back to my home airport.

So now I had some things to take care of.

First, let’s call my insurance company and report this incident and figure out what to do. I had never had an insurance claim before and I had no idea what to expect. But my insurance company was terrific. They took all the info, told me I was covered and they would take care of the repair and recommended a repair shop. It happened to be in Oklahoma but it was the shop with the best reputation to fix my Bonanza.

Second, do I need to report this to the NTSB or the FAA? In looking at the rules, I didn’t think I did but I wanted some help. I am a member of AOPA so I called them and they were very helpful in helping me understand the rules and my obligations. I ultimately decided it did not need to be reported.

Wing tip
Resist the temptation to fly it home.

Well, it turned out that it really didn’t matter. A few days after the incident, I was walking my dog and I got a call on my cell. It was from your friendly local FAA inspector who said he heard about the incident and wanted to know what happened. Since I didn’t think I did anything wrong, and I was flying with an instructor, I explained and he said it sounded fine to him and that was it. How he heard about it is unclear to me but he did. Now think how that conversation would have gone if I had then flown the airplane back home?

After a long nine months, I picked up my airplane in Oklahoma and she was good as new. You couldn’t tell anything had ever happened to her.

So what lessons did I learn?

  1. Think through your training plan and have the airplane properly configured for your plan. The first mistake I made was attempting the maneuver with a heavy airplane with full fuel and full fuel in the tips. I should have said, “let’s do this later after we get lighter and transfer fuel from the tips.”
  2. If you are involved in an incident, avoid the temptation to fly an airplane that may not be airworthy, even if you are flying a short distance. Had I chosen to do that, I would have had serious issues with the FAA or perhaps something even worse!
  3. Get your insurance company involved right away. In my experience, they were very easy to work with and really helpful. They ended up covering the entire repair, including trucking the plane from New York to Oklahoma.
  4. Determine what your reporting obligations are and get help if you need it. AOPA has great folks who can help you with that.
  5. Pick the right repair shop. I recently sold my airplane and I was expecting to take a major hit on sale due to its damage history. But because the airplane was in great condition and the repair was completed by a renowned shop known for its quality in repairing Bonanzas, I ended up getting a great price. I’m sure that would not have been the case if I had taken my plane elsewhere.
  6. It took a long nine months waiting for the repair and I did little to no flying during that time. I brought an instructor with me to pick her up in Oklahoma and fly her back to my home airport in New Jersey. Yes, the same instructor. We did training for a couple of days flying her home. Don’t get back in the air after a long layoff without proper training.

Editor’s Note: This article is from our series called “I Can’t Believe I Did That,” where pilots ‘fess up about mistakes they’ve made but lived to tell about. If you have a story to tell, email us at: editor@airfactsjournal.com

8 Comments

  • Thank you for the “share,” Larry. All experience all of us “hope” we will never have but very cogent advice. Makes me feel all that much better about my AOPA membership…you hope you never need the services but are glad you have them when you need them.

  • Great article, Larry. You know the old sage, “There are pilots who have and pilots who will,” do the unthinkable. I am one. If you fly long enough you will learn a lot from experience. Hopefully we really do learn from our misfortunes and become less bold and more old.

  • Practicing maneuvers in only a favorable configuration is a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t ” situation. For example, we tend to practice stalls with 2 people up front in
    a 172. The stalls are very benign so we brush them off with a “what’s the big deal “. “How could anyone go to LOC from a stall in this airplane”? Try it sometime at max weight on the aft edge of envelope. Well no not really, just kidding, don’t do that. I suspect that good simulators are the answer there.

  • As a former CFI I have to say that your instructor was really the one responsible. I’m surprised your insurance company didn’t look to him to cover the loss.

    • My plane was not airworthy so it couldn’t fly to Oklahoma. They came with a truck, took the wings off, and put it all on the truck and drove out there. But I did fly it back home!

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