Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Control Failures

Learning to fly with trim can save your life

What did I do wrong? In each case, I admit I was really lucky. I made mistakes, but I did some things right, too. I dealt with each situation methodically. I didn't try to troubleshoot in the air. My primary mission was to keep flying the airplane and get it safely on the ground. I didn't bother with a lot of radio chatter. Also, I had practiced flying with trim only and made sure my trim controls were smooth and responsive.

Mistakes? I didn't ask my passenger if his pockets were empty before we did aerobatics. I also second-guessed the battery tray and didn't remove it with the battery in the Pitts incident; I didn't listen to warning signs with the loose fuel cap in the Extra and was waiting for the annual to get it replaced; I rushed the avionics technician and didn't watch when he replaced the cowl to check for loose items.
I took off the rear fuselage inspection panel and voilá!
A full set of keys were wrapped around the
elevator bellcrank.
The worst thing about a control failure in an airplane is a loss of faith. Instead of being your friend, the aerobatic airplane that you wear and not just fly becomes the wolf that bites the hand that feeds it. A friend of mine had the stick in his aerobatic airplane break off during flight. He was able to land it safely and told me later that the first thing he thought when it happened was how much this would affect his confidence and trust in the equipment later.

The loss of faith is a test. We fix the problem and need to move on to restore our confidence. Get back on the horse that bucked us off. When I'm flying an air show, I need to trust my airplane and have confidence in it.

I'm not telling these stories to make some sort of emotional confession. They taught me something, and if I pass them on, they might help you avoid the same mistakes. In all likelihood, you'll never have these situations happen in your Cessna or Piper, but I'd suggest keeping a sterile cockpit and checking inside the airplane for loose tools and parts after annual but before your mechanic zips it up.

We don't have to be air show pilots to know what we need to have confidence in the machines we fly. We're all capable of making mistakes, but solid preflights, good preventive maintenance, keeping a sterile cockpit, not waiting until annual to fix or repair things, staying current and practicing flying with trim all help give confidence and trust, and enable us not only to be safe, but allow us to get maximum pleasure and enjoyment out of our flying. Isn't that what it's really about?


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