While researching what has happened to some of the planes that I have flown in the past, I stumbled across this bit of news. The plane in which I learned to fly was damaged beyond repair in a landing accident. The good news is that it doesn’t appear that anyone was seriously hurt.
While I have had some close calls, knock on wood, so far my landings have not required the services of an A&P; I hope I don’t regret having written this. Now don’t get me wrong, I have had some noteworthy arrivals that have really been a testament to the durability of the Pitts landing gear. If you are too fast, you have problems. If you are too slow, especially if you are power off, you have bigger problems. If your speed is exactly right, you still have plenty of opportunity to make it go bad. And if you add in some nasty wind conditions, all bets are off.
Someone once quoted Ken Ericksen as having said: “I hate it when I have a good landing in a Pitts; that means the next 9 are all going to be bad.” I find it hard to believe that he really said it, it certainly can’t possibly apply to him, but in my case…..it is a fairly good rule of thumb. I am currently in the process of trying to refine my landings in a plane with an enormous prop and precious little clearance between the prop and the ground; but I am trying to keep my posts in chronological order and still have a lot of territory to cover before I get to real time reporting. But if anybody should happen to read this, then please wish me luck.
In 1988, I packed up my family and we moved to Pocatello, Idaho; and, upon arriving, if not on one of my pre-move visits, I visited a local FBO and inquired about the type of planes available for rent. The employee behind the desk recited a long list of Piper model numbers that meant nothing to me; then he paused and said: “…but then I don’t know how much complex or twin time that you have.” I told him that I had never flown a plane with a nose wheel. There was a very long pause before the conversation resumed; and then it took quite a bit of effort on my part to convince this fellow that I was serious.
As luck would have it, they had one taildragger—N1877G, a 7KCAB Citabtria. Citabria 77G might as well have been my own personal plane; after a quick checkout, I must have used it 90% of the time that it was flown. Compared to flying in the bay area, this was a dream: drive right up and park outside the hangar; the plane is waiting, ready to go, right inside. It seemed like all of southeast Idaho was my personal playground, at least everything from Rexburg down to Twin Falls. There were flights that hugged the path of the Snake river as it meandered through Idaho Falls and near Pocatello and day trips further north in the shadows of the Tetons. There were so many out of the way places to go and relatively few people taking advantage of it.
I scoured the internet for a picture of 77G that I could add to this post but found none; what I did find was sad: 77G was destroyed in an accident that killed both people aboard; it happened in 1990, only a few months after I left Pocatello. Stupid accident that never should have happened. The idiotic details can be found here.
N5032G. That’s where it all started. At Reid Hillview Airport in East San Jose, California, in the year 1987.
Joe was my instructor and he was merciless. On my second lesson Joe commanded that I keep my feet on the rudder pedals and keep the plane going straight as we took off; it was horrifying. At first, it was benign and we went straight; but Joe raised the tail quickly; we surged to the left. The grass raced at us from the left of the runway and I responded with too much right rudder; then the grass raced up from the right. Joe mercifully lifted us off at this point but the damage was done; I was a basket case and couldn’t tell you what we did for the rest of that lesson. A few weeks later, Joe felt that I did not fully appreciate the capabilities of this fully aerobatic 115 horsepower rocket ship; so he climbed a few thousand feet and demonstrated a three turn spin; I had a headache for the rest of the day.
I learned a lot in 32G including a healthy respect for the wind. Or you might say that I had the crap scared out of me. I started my lessons in March and it took almost a year before I finally got my license. During that first year somehow I managed to schedule all of my lessons on days when there was no wind; that was terribly unfortunate. Shortly after I was licensed I awoke one day to severe clear weather in the San Francisco bay area, visibility was unlimited. It was a great day for flying; the fact that the wind was blowing 25 gusting to 35, albeit it straight down the runway, didn’t seem to matter one iota. Something was different from the moment I took off; the plane seemed to climb much steeper; it didn’t feel right. And there were the bumps-lots of bumps. But that was only the beginning. As I paralleled a ridge line, I ran into severe turbulence; the right wing pitched up 60 degrees knocking the stick from my hand. After quickly recovering my few remaining wits, I retreated to the airport and managed to get the plane back on the ground on the second try. That episode instilled such fear that I would not fly in wind exceeding 10 knots; and, if I hit bumps, I froze, even when I was a passenger on a commercial airliner; it took nineteen years for me to shake it off.
But I learned a lot. Today, I cannot believe that I did my mandatory cross country flights using only a sectional, an E6B, a watch and the compass. The VOR in 32G didn’t even work; well it did work a little but the To-From flag was broken; it was only useful if you already knew where you were located. But eventually I had finished all the required training and passed the private pilot check ride; I was a newly minted pilot and the Citabria was my magic carpet to adventure.