“Do you hear that?” I said.
“I do,” she replied.
“Sounds like water running but that can’t be! There’s no water in this airplane.”
Two hours earlier…
Beautiful clear blue skies. It was one of those bell ringer days in the Las Vegas area and we were excited to take to the sky in our Cessna 310 for a weekend trip to Disneyland. My girlfriend had never been to the Magic Kingdom. Growing up as the oldest of seven kids in Southern California, I seemed to make an annual pilgrimage there as each new sibling came of age, so I was eager to share the excitement I had known as a kid at the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
With the aircraft pre-flighted and a flight plan filed, we loaded up and started to taxi to the active runway. It was starting to warm up and the aluminum cylinder we were in was getting pretty toasty, so we taxied with the passenger door open a bit. I went through the run-up procedures and the right side prop was proving to be a nice fan to offset the building heat. Upon completion of the run-up, I said we needed to secure the door for takeoff. Without the fan effect, my girlfriend took her jacket off and I asked her to close the door. I reached over to secure it by moving the latch forward but then heard a radio call with my call sign.
Las Vegas International Airport can be one busy place for a general aviation pilot. As I latched the door, tower issued a “cleared for immediate takeoff” as there were several airliners lining up on the approach.
Not wanting to sit on the hot tarmac waiting for several airliners to land, I took my hand off the latch and pushed the throttles forward. We were on our way!
The flight to SoCal was uneventful, with smooth air and blue skies. As we approached the San Gabriel mountains, I could see the all too common marine layer trapped in the valley. Living in Nevada, we don’t get as much fog as they do on the coast. Even though I was instrument rated and legally current, I was anxious about descending through the cloud deck. I told my girlfriend I needed to focus on our approach and mentally prepared to “go on the gauges.”
As I cleared the mountain ridge, we started to descend into the fog. Everything turned white but we were on course and a stable flight path. I was given clearance to the approach course and I configured the plane for landing by adding a notch of flaps. That’s when I heard it!
I broke the cockpit silence and said to my girlfriend, “do you hear that?” She said she did and I said it sounded like running water but that couldn’t be. The engines are air cooled and there was no water on board. Being in the soup, I recalled all the articles I had read about loss of control in the clouds and decided to just focus on the task at hand and fly the aircraft.
We broke out of the clouds about 800 feet AGL and had the runway in sight, but still that weird sound persisted. We landed uneventfully and as I cleared the runway, the sound mysteriously went away. We taxied to the FBO and as we approached, you could see the surprised expression on the linemen’s face.
As we shut down and opened the door, we discovered the source of the “running water.” Seems that when my girlfriend took off her jacket, a sleeve was left hanging outside of the aircraft. When in cruise flight, it was pinned against the fuselage. When we started our approach, the disturbed air caused it to slap against the airframe. In my haste to take off, I neglected to check (as I normally would) to make sure the door was secured and latched. Well, the jacket was shredded but we were OK.
It’s been said many times in aviation, that when something doesn’t seem right, just “fly the plane.” I had heard that enough times and fortunately that’s what I did. I learned however, never to rush a takeoff ever again. We wound up having an awesome weekend at Disneyland and oh, I doubled checked that door on the return flight.