I was a 4000-hour Mooney pilot (all in the same Mooney) several years ago when a friend, a well-known sculptor who was having three pieces fabricated in Princeton, New Jersey (39N), asked if I would fly him from our home base in East Hampton, New York (HTO), to check on how they were progressing. My friend was eager to fly, so we looked forward to our adventure on a chilly, blustery spring day.
To appreciate what happened, you need to know that Bill was very thin, very tall, and in his 80s. He actually got into the right seat pretty easily, but his legs were a little tight – even with the seat fully back.
While it was a VFR day, I filed IFR as was my practice, particularly flying around the busy New York/Newark airspace. Our flight to Princeton was uneventful other than some bumps and bounces.
Unfortunately, our return trip wasn’t so easy. About 10 minutes after takeoff, we discovered that the door wasn’t fully closed. It was difficult to explain to Bill how to try to close the door… a procedure I admittedly hadn’t practiced in a long time, and, with winter coats on, it was difficult to reach the POH. We were unsuccessful. Knowing it probably wouldn’t work, we tried opening the door and slamming it… anyone who has tried that knows it doesn’t work.
While not a dangerous situation, it was uncomfortable and cold and windy and I wanted to land to close the door. ATC asked if I wanted to declare an emergency and I explained that I simply wanted vectors to a nearby airport where we’d cancel IFR, land, fix the door and take off and report back in. “No Problem” was the gracious reply, with vectors to an airport almost underneath us.
As promised, I cancelled IFR and announced our intentions at the small airport. But, as I lined up on final, the plane was almost uncontrollable. I couldn’t figure out why. Having the door open might create a little drag and noise but shouldn’t be affecting the plane like that. I did a missed approach and did a longer downwind, base and final. Still the plane was difficult to control. I couldn’t figure it out, but had no choice but to try to wrestle it to the runway, which I finally managed to do.
As we started to slow on the runway, I asked Bill to try to properly close the door. It was only then that I realized he had both hands on the door to try to keep it as closed as possible and to avoid the cold draft. To brace himself as he pulled, he had put his left foot on the rudder peddle and was pushing as hard as he could. It’s so easy to diagnose a problem once you see it.
Door closed, passenger feet on the floor, we headed home with no problem. And for any of you who live in the Council Bluffs area and have seen the aluminum sculptures of the girl with the streaming hair near the interstate (the piece is called Interstate), or the two pieces near the performance center…. those were the pieces that Bill King was fabricating.