Monday, February 28, 2005

The Navy Dolt and N375LP

December 17th was a strange day on earth. The stupid law for improving US intelligence - the one that outlaws butane lighters from passenger planes - was signed by President Bush. ALSO, some yahoo from the Navy Flying Club rented N375LP and crashed this beautiful, new Skyhawk into a taxiway sign.

I simply cannot fathom how a pilot could have performed such a poor landing job.

Here's what he did. He began his flight from CRG enroute to some place on the west coast of Florida. Although he did not file a flight plan (there was no requirement to do so), his reported intention was to fly directly to some place on the west coast (I just don't remember is documented). Along the way, he decided to perform a touch-n-go landing at Lakeland Linder airport. As things turned out, I'll bet that he did this to make sure he didn't embarass himself with a poor landing at his ultimate destination.

He approached runway 9 which is an 8500' long by 150' wide runway. This is more than enough space to land a Skyhawk (Heck, a pilot who is very proficient in short field landings and who has favorable winds could probably land the plane across the runway!)

Instead of making a nice smooth landing in one of the easiest aircraft to land, he bounced the landing. This is generally caused when a pilot flares at too high an altitude or is coming in at too steep a rate of descent without flaring. Perhaps he was used to flying low wing planes and expected a cushion of air to hold him up. Whatever the cause, he botched the landing.

According to the preliminary NTSB report, at some point, he applied full power to execute a go-around. The report indicates that the plane drifted to the left of the 150' wide runway and struck a taxiway sign thereby forcing the separation of the nose gear and damaging the propeller, engine and firewall.

The pilot claims that the plane drifted left and he could not stop it drifting.

As any pilot knows, when you apply full power to a single engine Cessna, there is a natural left turning tendency that must be overcome by the application of right rudder. Even with the nosewheel off the ground, there is sufficient rudder effect to enable the plane to be effectively steered. Even if the bungees that control the nose wheel steering were ineffective, the rudder itself would have been able to control the aircraft. If the rudder control and the nose wheel steering were both out, then differential braking could have been used to effect a turn.

So, there were three ways that this yahoo could have avoided losing control of the aircraft, but he managed to lose control of an aircraft on the ground and struck a fixed object.

Perhaps I should be more sympathetic. I've made mistakes while flying - entering the downwind for the wrong runway, telling ATC I was East of the airport when I was West, turning the wrong direction on a taxiway. But none of these mistakes jeopardized lives or were related to the fundamental aspects of flying the aircraft. (And I've only made these mistakes once!)

Rumor has it that the pilot was taught to fly by the Navy Flying Club and although he had logged over 300 hours of PIC time, the rumor is that for all but about 50 hours of his logged time, he was really a radio operator and not actually the PIC.

The end result is that Sterling Flight Training which had over 50,000 hours of flying without even an incident, now has a blemished record thanks to some jerk who did not get his training from this fine flying school. They have also lost the use of a formerly excellent aircraft for over 3 months. Unfortunately for me, they are also reevaluating their rental policy and are no longer renting aircraft for more than 3 hours at a time - and that hampers me considerably.

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