Thursday, February 01, 2007

Heading south for a few days soon; more pics of palm trees and sunburns coming right up.

An old story now.

At the time, I wasn't sure if we had crashed or not.

We were still sitting upright in the cockpit; myself in the left seat and my instructor in the right seat. He turned to me and said "Turn everything off and get the hell out!". I flipped the main electrical switch off and undid my seatbelt while my instructor popped the door. We were out of the Seneca and a hundred feet away within seconds - we both knew how much energy is stored in aviation fuel and neither of us wanted to be anywhere near the plane if it decided to spark up.

The sirens of the emergency vehicles were already ear-stinging loud, and as I looked up I saw a firetruck drive up and start to spray foam on the airplane and the pavement around it. We waited and watched, and after a minute or two with no obvious fire coming from it, we started to walk toward our airplane, which was sitting right in the middle of the runway, but facing 90 degrees to the left of the runway.

"You confirmed we had three green, right?"
My mind was muddy with the recent events, but I could clearly remember the green lights on the gear.
"Yeah, we had three green"
"Well then I don't know what the hell happened"

A small pickup truck pulled alongside us and the fireman inside asked if we were okay.

"Yup, just nerves is all" I wasn't in shock or anything, but things no longer felt entirely real. I mean, no WAY was I in a plane crash just then; it was crazy to even consider.

"I think I may have taken a hunk out of the seat cushion at the end there"

The fireman in the pickup offered us a ride back to our flight training school, and we hopped in the back and hunkered down while he drove us up the ramp to my local flight school, the place where I got my private licence and where I was currently renewing my multi-IFR in anticipation of a Navajo position at Northern Dene.

I walked in the door and my instructor told the boss "The Seneca is down. We had a nose-gear failure. The props hit too."

"Oh great. And we just got the plane fixed. Damn it!"

In the background, another pickup truck slowly moved toward our ramp, with the nose of our poor Seneca in the back of the truck bed. The Seneca's main landing gear was extended, but the nose wheel was tucked up in the nose compartment of the airplane.

I was curious as to what had happened, so I waited an hour or so for the mechanics to take a look. They quickly found out the problem.

It was the overcenter downlock spring. What the hell is that? Well, in a Piper Seneca it holds the nosewheel locked in place when you extend the landing gear, but if the spring breaks it's entirely possible to push the nosewheel back up inside the airplane. A nice little side-effect is that the landing gear indicator system won't show any malfunction as the nose gear initially falls into place, it's just not locked in place.

This was in 1996 or 1997. I had just gotten a job up north, dispatching for a small air taxi service. I was on my days off, and I was doing some circuits in a Seneca to get familiar with aircraft again - I had been out of aviation for 5 years at the time, and I wanted to get some dual time in a twin before my boss at the air taxi service cut me loose in a Navajo to face the tender mercies of the Canadian North.

This was the final circuit of our session, and the landing was going great right up to the point where our nosewheel folded back, causing our nose to scrape down the runway, and our propellors to strike the pavement while the engines were running. We could see the skid marks on the runway where the nose had hit the asphalt, leaving bits of paint and metal skin behind and came to the conclusion that our total ground roll had been less than 300 feet. I could make a joke about being able to see the skid marks in the pilots' seat cushions, but, while accurate, it might be in poor taste.

The unfortunate part is that the propellors hit the pavement while under power. That meant they were all bent up, and it also meant that the crankshafts of both engines were probably bent also. When that happens to props and engines, you pretty much have to throw them away and get new ones. Engines are generally the most expensive pieces of equipment on aircraft, so repair bills quickly get crazy expensive. This would easily be a $60,000 repair job on a $120,000 airplane.

Anyway, as I gathered up my flight bag and got ready to head home, I heard a soft cough. I turned around and saw the owner, Janet, standing by their front counter.

"You still need to settle up for the flying lesson"

And I did. It cost me $212 for the privilege of having my first accident.


Anonymous said...

I still get heated over the outrageous treatment of a 17 year old by that money grabbing , small minded and unsafe company you were "trained" by. In fact I want to reclaim the $212, with interest. Great story , lots there.

Anonymous said...

I cant believe you had to pay. I once had more of an incident blowing a cylinder on takoff, we didnt have to declair an emergency but got priority at a class c airport on a cross country. Anyhow once our rescue plane arrived i got nothing but apoligies from the flight school and was able to log 1.5 for free. I still cant believe they made you pay.

Anonymous said...

I think I know who you are talking about. A few weeks ago her husband with his gold chains (paid by her?) set an airplane on fire - not to sure on the details, but heard it was a good one!!!

Anonymous said...

You know, before the internet existed pilots had to put ther names to all the vicious gossip. :)

Splendor said...

mmmmm sounds like you had fun.

I was once stranded overnight in YLQ when the starter ate itself. It took quite an argument to get the hotel bill paid for...