Saturday, August 01, 2009

Jackasses are contagious.

I have always been harshly critical of pilots who make stupid mistakes. Perhaps a bit too critical. I've made mistakes in the past and I have always caught them, and learned from them. Now I've made a jackass style mistake and am very grateful that I added the non-owned aircraft coverage to my renter's policy.

Last Monday, Christy and I thought it would be a nice idea to take Melissa and a friend of her choosing to dinner someplace by plane. I booked an aircraft that I knew would have been flying that day so it would not have full fuel and we planned a flight up to Savannah. When we arrived at the airport, I had to switch aircraft from the one that I had filed our IFR flight plan with, so I called for an updated briefing. The current weather showed thunderstorms and rain all along the route to Savannah...after about 10 minutes of getting lots of detail from the briefer and wandering over to the radar display to see the uckumpucky in the sky, I changed the plan to go to Daytona instead. This proved to be both a good choice and a bad choice for reasons that will become evident.

For my preflight inspection, I added a dipping of the fuel to determine more precisely how much weight we had as flying with four souls aboard a Skyhawk can never be done with full fuel. I had calculated my weight and balance based on 40 gallons of fuel - which would be enough to almost reach the bottom of the filler neck in each tank. Of course the tanks weren't filled to the same level, so the fuel dipper showed us how many gallons were in each tank. Fortunately we were at 40 gallons on the dot, and that would give me a whopping 5 pounds of additional capacity.

After preflighting and loading everyone on board, I ran through the checklists and tried to start the plane. The damn thing just wouldn't start. After trying five or six times, I got out to see if there was fuel dripping as an indication that I had flooded the engine. Nope, no drips. I got back in and re-primed the engine. Two more tries and nothing. The last time, I advanced the throttle to about half and then slowly advanced the mixture from idle cutoff to full rich and the engine finally started. I immediately reduced the throttle and leaned the mixture as I suspected there might be a fouled plug or two. Looking to the North, we could see a nasty storm headed our way and I wanted to be out of there ASAP.

I dialed the ATIS, then called for my IFR clearance. The controller advised me to contact the TOWER for taxi clearance, so I tuned 132.1 as the active frequency and called for clearance. I was cleared to runway 14 via Alpha. I flipped on the taxi light, released the brakes and we were rolling. When my back seat passengers had boarded, the nose tilted high eliciting a "Whoa!" from my wife. The nose was still high, so I tested the brakes and the nose came back down where it belonged. Because of the threatening storm and the nearly 1 mile distance to the departure end of runway 14, I completed the runup on the roll. I also entered the departure frequency in the standby, plugged in the transponder code and entered OMN as the first point on the flight plan in the GPS. I was relieved to find no problem with the sparkplugs and everything checked out ok although I noted an intermittent fault in the fuel reading from the right tank. An occasional red X appeared where the fuel reading should have been, but it was only intermittent and the fuel display showed most of the time. Also, our flight was expected to be about 45 minutes and we had about 4 hours of fuel on board.

As I approached the runway 14 hold short line, I called for take off clearance which came very shortly. Bobby was my copilot (his first flight) and I told him to close the window as I closed mine. We were cleared to take off on 14 and turn left to 090 while climbing to 3000 feet. and that's exactly what we did. The reason for the turn away from our destination was that there were several planes trying to get in to KCRG on the ILS-32 and this heading would put us clear of them.

Eventually we were cleared to turn direct to OMN and off we went. Our final altitude was 4000' which made for nice viewing of the beaches below without the bumps of the air close to the ground. Once I had the plane leveled off and trimmed, I offered the controls to Bobby with some minimal instruction. This was his first flight in a small aircraft and he did an outstanding job. He was prone to a little instrument fixation and I tried to get him to focus outside the plane and use the instruments as a check on his altitude and heading. He's a natural - may be a pilot's certificate in his future.

We arrived in Daytona and were cleared to land straight in on 16. I have flown practice approaches here but never actually landed so this was an unfamiliar airport to say the least. After landing, we made a turn to the right on taxiway W-3 and that's were the fun begins.

I contacted ground and asked for clearance to taxi to the general aviation ramp. The tower advised me that there were three FBOs, but Sheltair was directly in front of me. I told her that would be fine and she told me to taxi "straight ahead to Sheltair". I taxied past the hold short in to the ramp area between two long rows of aircraft which were full. After slowly taxiing past about 3/4 of the planes, the follow-me cart appeared. He pulled from between the aircraft parked on my right, across my path and then stopped abeam my left wing. The handler walked up to my plane and I opened the window. He yelled, "You can park on the front line next to the LearJet." I said that would be great. This was three rows to the north of me and I was taxiing roughly to the West into the sun. He got back in to his cart and disappeared behind me. (Jackass maneuver number one). I taxied to the end of the parked planes which were parked even beyond the tiedowns on my right. Once I was past the last plane, I began my right turn slowly, but not carefully enough. About the time I completed the turn and was safely beyond the parked plane on my right, the sun was removed from my eyes just in time for me to hear CRUNCH!!! My left wingtip had just barely contacted the corner of the hanger. "SHIT!" I muttered into the mic. (Jackass Maneuver #2) Well, we were past the hanger now and I could see where I was going. I pulled up next to the jet and shut down the plane. The handler finally arrived and asked if I had hit the hanger.

"Yeah, I suppose so." I answered dejectedly. I was angry. I was angry with myself as this was a bonehead move. I was angry with the handler for not doing his damn job. I was angry with myself for not insisting that the handler do his job properly...but I didn't do my job properly, either. I have reached the conclusion that Jackasses are bad for flying.

I examined the wingtip and fortunately only the plexiglass cover over the left position light was cracked and the metal flash shroud on the strobe was damaged. I saw no damage to the wingtip and both lights were still functioning.

I went inside the FBO after taking a picture of the damage to the hanger - which was very minor. I completed paperwork and explained what had happened to the boss. Amazingly, the FBO was kind enough to offer me the use of their crew car - a newish PT Cruiser with a fake surfboard bolted to the roof as advertising.

The four of us piled in the car and headed to Ponce Inlet for a very nice dinner on the water. I was a bit upset, but we still had fun.

We flew back that evening after a thorough re-examination of the wingtip. Satisfied that there were no problems that would adversely impact the airworthiness of the plane, we departed. The night flight home was beautiful and uneventful. I let Bobby take the controls again and he did an even better job this time. We were arriving at KCRG just at closing time. I was handed off to the tower who advised me to enter a left base on 23. I kept my speed up on the approach as the controller also said they were closing in 2 minutes. I acknowledged the instructions and realizing that I would probably require more than the 2 minutes left, I told the controller to have a nice night. About a mile out, the controller told me that the winds were 280 at 4 and I could have 32 if I wanted. That would put me straight in and I advised him that's what I would do. On final, I heard a twin advising that he would be departing on 32. I called my position and advised that I was on short final for 32. I landed and cleared the runway quickly. Announcing that I was clear of the runway, I taxied to North Florida.

I called North Florida ( that night and left a message and called them again the next morning. They were able to repair the plane the same day by swapping a wingtip from a plane that was down for its annual inspection. According to Erik, only one flight was missed that day, and I was happy to hear that. I also called the AOPA Insurance Agency and filed my claim. The adjuster contacted me later that same day and they seem to be handling the claim effectively.

So, that's the tale of my first plane stupid as it was. I was embarassed and my ego was severely bruised. All told, 1.8 hours with about .3 actual instrument and 0.9 night. The flying was exciting, fun and overall the trip was a blast. I'm still coming to grips with my stupid mistake and I am fortunate that the damage wasn't any worse than it was.