Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Paranoia Of Landings

Landings aren’t the most important thing, they’re the only thing—not

REAL “SMOOTH.” Though it’s not the most important yardstick, landings typically are the criterion on which a pilot’s flying abilities are judged by their nonpilot peers.
I had been hired to fly a Cessna 340 from Torrance, Calif., to Glasgow, U.K., on an Atlantic tour with the owner in the right seat. The first four days of the trip had gone well. We had departed Torrance, stopped in Denver and made it to Ohio the first day, then managed to have lunch in Bangor and fly on to Goose Bay the second day.

Our third day consisted of a fairly easy two legs, the first up to Frobisher Bay, Nunavut, and the second across the Davis Strait to Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland, to avoid some weather in the southern part of the island continent. We departed the fourth day and flew across the ice cap to Kulusuk, Greenland, refueled and went on to Reykjavik, Iceland.

The doctor who owned the airplane specifically wanted me to do all the flying while he shot pictures. He pointed his Nikon at everything that didn’t move, and some things that did, and he blazed through probably 100 rolls of Kodachrome during our trip. (Yes, this was a few years ago.)

Personally, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’ll sit quietly in the right seat and open my mouth only to avoid dying, if that’s what the client wants, but I far prefer to fly. The doc’s 340 was a nicely equipped and well-maintained airplane that he hardly ever flew (the all-too-typical syndrome: plenty of money and no time), and it was good for a solid 200 knots up high. The plan was for me to deliver him to Glasgow, then fly home on the jet and return 10 days later to make the return trip with him back to California.

The final leg of our trip was from Reykjavik down to Glasgow, where the doctor had relatives. Day five started on a low note when the weather went down in Iceland. I filed IFR to Scotland, launched into the murk, then was surprised to see a contrail streaming off the right wing. The right fuel cap had come loose after refueling, and fuel was siphoning from the right tank. The cap hung on by its chain, fortunately not bouncing around much.

Embarrassed by my stupidity for not double-checking the cap before takeoff (“Gee, Bill, I thought you’d done this before”), I throttled way back, climbed up into the clouds, flew to the outer marker and shot the ILS back into Reykjavik. I taxied back in, shut down, refueled, secured the cap and departed a second time, grumbling to myself. Fortunately, the good doctor seemed not to mind. It was just part of the adventure for him.


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