Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Mysteries Of Landing
No, this isn’t the 11,398th story on how to land an airplane
Perhaps the amazing thing is that I've never busted an airplane. Well, okay, there was that '76 Piper Lance in Ethiopia back in '98 on its way from Santa Monica to Nairobi, Kenya. The big Lycoming ate a valve four hours out of Djibouti, disassembled itself in about two minutes, and forced me to plant the airplane into the remote Ogaden Desert, harvesting acacia trees as I went.
Certainly, I've had my share of engine failures (Question: What do you do when the engine quits? Answer: Land), 13 at last count. One of them (two of them?) was a double, a Crusader over Tchibanga, Gabon, in 1984, that suffered massive fuel contamination in a fuselage ferry tank and killed BOTH engines within about 10 seconds. (No, there was no sump drain—clients aren't big on drilling new holes in the bottom of the fuselage.) Somehow, I've been fortunate to find airports or unpopulated roads to land on without damage, definitely more luck than skill.
So, for whatever it's worth, here are a few things I've learned—or at least absorbed—over the years. These are experiences that allowed me to get older without growing up, interesting moments that sometimes taught me what not to do.
It was the first Extra 400 ever ferried across the Atlantic, and my trip north from Aachen, Germany, to Wick, Scotland, and second leg to Reykjavik, Iceland, had been fairly routine. I dropped out of the clouds over Reykjavik at 500 feet on the ILS to see runway 19 straight ahead, partially shrouded by light snow. Out of habit, I tapped the brakes to make sure they were there.
They weren't. I pumped furiously as I neared the ground, but there was no resistance. I touched down more or less normally, but I knew runway 19 at Reykjavik is downhill to a lava field. Without brakes, I'd stand almost no chance of stopping, and would probably leave the airplane in pieces on the lava beach or in the bay beyond.
The only answer was to go around. Predictably, the controller was more than a little surprised—"N400EX, what are you DOING?" I explained my situation, and advised him I planned to orbit out over the bay below the overcast until I could come up with Plan B.
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Labels: Decision Making, Emergency Situations, Flight Training, Flying Skills, Learn To Fly, Pilot Skills, Pilot Safety