Now older himself, the author of this 2011 close call rues the combination of inexperience and confidence that almost got him killed.
Name withheld by request
This happened some years ago but now it’s time to come clean because my father no longer reads Flight Safety Australia, so he won’t know, and the hapless passengers along with the wife (a pilot) of one of them have also probably forgotten. But I haven’t.
Dad had been an instructor in World War II so I should have listened more attentively to his clear and concise instructions when he phoned me that eventful afternoon some years ago.
It was late on a warm summer’s afternoon in the wheatbelt of Western Australia and his words had been simple and clear: fly out to his friend’s farm, pick up a couple of guys, do a couple of circuits, drop them back at the farm and return home – about an hour for everything.
He’d also said: ‘Just watch for the power lines… land parallel to them on the big paddock… on some slightly rising ground.
I grabbed the plane keys and the car keys and powered out to the strip in the big V8 and parked near Dad’s pride and joy – a gleaming red and white Cessna 172, tethered to the dry windswept earth.
After a cursory pre-flight check I lifted off the strip and settled back into the luxurious brocade and leather seat while the docile 172 virtually flew itself in a light sou’ westerly in VFR conditions.
I had the onerous navigational duties of following a couple of the roads that led to the farm.
I had never been to the farm by air or road but I knew where it was so I sat back and relaxed – ‘just take it easy old son!’
As a rather inexperienced pilot in command (and one who was loafing on the job) I was simply unprepared, inexperienced, and just not ‘with it’ – how could I possibly cope with the events of the next hour, on my first, real, out-of-field landing?
Suddenly the farm was there – ‘yes, that’s it: house, sheds, windmill, and powerlines running north/south across the top paddock. No problem.’ – or so I thought for this PIC.
I managed to land Dad’s pride and joy as per instructions, taxied over the stubble and dried earth to the farmhouse, picked up the two guys and took off from the same area. Still no problem.
A couple of OK circuits – with my mind just slightly more engaged in what I was doing – but then I foolishly decided to land at right angles to the power lines (no, the lines were not my undoing!). I was planning to land a little more into wind and closer to the farm.
Full flaps, like barn doors, not much on the ASI or tacho, everything fairly steady, windmill sliding under the left wing, house under the right, and suddenly, with a helluva thump, we landed, or arrived, or something, with the shortest landing roll in the history of powered flight – and right at the back door of the farm!
Now, really alert, and suddenly with it I checked the shaken passengers – they were OK – and, more importantly, the pride and joy – it, too, was OK. Thank God for sturdy undercarriages!!
’Sorry, guys, about the rough landing – must have been a glitch in the Autoland 3 system!’
My shaken passengers retired to the sidelines to recuperate with a couple of tinnies and sit back and watch this comic attempt a take-off.
Incredibly, again, another stupid decision – take off in the same direction after taxiing under the power lines. Stupid? – yes, because I didn’t notice a number of one to one and a half metre shallow depressions or ‘crab holes’ along with a couple of rabbit warrens which flashed past me during the take off!
To this day I don’t know how I didn’t wreck Dad’s pride and joy, oh, and also kill two passengers and myself!
Apart from those minor details, how on earth did I make so many mistakes and wrong decisions?
So, a few words of wisdom…
- Pilot in command: You’re the boss, the driver man, so keep your mind focused on the job.
- React: Make sure that you are capable of reacting quickly.
- Anticipate: Think ahead and be mentally prepared with a plan of action.
- Prepare: Even for a joy ride – we don’t know how many rabbit holes might be on the strip so get someone to check! And listen to your ‘old man’ (instructor, senior pilot, etc, because they have a wealth of advice.)
- Windshear: Watch out for it – ’cause it’s a washout! Learn to know where it lurks and be ready to firewall the throttle.