Going Direct: Is Hand Propping Stupid Or Not Stupid?


I’ve seen it. You’ve seen. Our kids and grandparents and dogs have probably seen it, that viral video of a poor guy who hand propped a Cirrus SR22 and struggled against to odds to scramble back inside of it and stop it before it crashed into who knows what. Hangars? Porsches? Well, you know the punch line. Everybody lived and the Porsche stayed shiny and new. The same cannot be said for the Cirrus or the hangar it impacted at a goodly rate of speed.

Immediately the social media world started piling on. And if we know anything about social media, we know that when someone screws up in a big way, and this one was spectacular, the digital world isn’t shy about weighing in. I know one person who openly mocked the pilot for his lack of common sense and ability to foresee the outcome of his actions. Yeah, that was me.

But was there anything useful to be gained by the online burning at the digital flame of the hand-propping guy? (whose name I do not know and wouldn’t publish if I did know it). And the answer is, yes.

But did we have the right question? I’d say, the answer to that is, no.

The question was, should we ever hand prop? Yes! I went through my seaplane rating at good ole Jack Brown’s in Winter Haven Florida without an electric system on the J-3 Cub on straight floats. It was a blast. And in case I need to point it out, no electrical system, no starter. So, it had to be hand started. I did everything but beg my instructor to let me go to the end of the float and hand prop it at least one time, but he was resolute. Insurance and his job were fairly big concerns to him. But the point is, if nobody hand starts an airplane without a battery, it isn’t going flying.

There’s nothing wrong with hand propping, and I have to admit, I’ve been educated these past several days about hand propping big bore engines. It works. I’ve never hand propped anything more than an O-200, and I believed the tale that big engines were impossible to hand prop and dangerous to even try. Well, apparently this isn’t necessarily true. I stand corrected.

Is hand propping safe? No! But then again, neither is flying! But it’s a blast. And without taking to the air, you can’t go flying. So without some risk, there’s no fun. Is hand propping a plane fun? It is. Should just anyone do it? No, just as not everyone should be a pilot.

With all that said, here’s the real question: is the way the sad sack video guy hand propped his plane smart? Duh.

So the right answer to the right question is very simply this. If you’re going to hand prop a plane, know what you’re doing and take all the appropriate safety precautions, of which precautions our unwitting video guy did none.

6 thoughts on “Going Direct: Is Hand Propping Stupid Or Not Stupid?

  1. You say hand propping and flying isn’t safe. That may be true to an extent, but in the grand scheme of things when an accident with a plane happens everyone across the country hears of it. But at the same time there could be a dozen car accidents during the morning commute, some fatal, in the city next to yours and you wouldn’t know. I agree with you, ignore the hype and be smart and careful whether you are in a car or plane or public transit for that matter. Life goes on, do your part to keep yours going.

  2. Isabel,
    I do agree to you to certain extent. Hand propping is probably as safe as you take precautions, to prevent the bird rolling away. But I’m asking myself: Why would someone start an airplane with an electrical system? It could be just to make the experience of a hand propping (which might be worth it), or a battery is just dead. If that’s the case, would it be safe to fly with an electrical system that apparently has an issue? Especially with an airplane like the Cirrus that heavily relies on the electronics working properly?
    I haven’t seen the video you have mentioned, nor do I know the reason why that poor guy hand propped his Cirrus. I just felt like the point should be made that flying with electrical system airplanes relying on the alternator only is not a wise idea, when the battery is dead.

  3. I had to hand-prop the Luscombe on floats I learned to fly with. No electrical system, no starter — even the clock didn’t work. I had to prime the engine, switch to Left Mag, then crawl out on the float and hand-prop from behind. I was less concerned with sharks than with wind, the current and local boats. My point being that you can do almost anything the wrong way, prove your stupidity, and in the extreme do harm. There’s no age limit to belief in the personal Teflon shield that says “I can get away with this idiotic thing.” Sometimes you have to hand-prop and some people do it wrong or attempt it when it shouldn’t be an option at all. But that doesn’t make it evil.

  4. My father taught me to hand prop our Piper Vagabond at the age of 13, some 52 yrs ago.
    Has the knowledge served me? yes!
    Would I attempt it on larger more complex engines if there wre any alternative available? No
    Knowing you could do something , doesn’t mean you should.

  5. My issue was that he was obviously at a fairly busy airfield….I would assume there was a start cart, battery charger or at least another battery available….if his battery was dead due to not shutting off the master switch and leaving something that will draw power, fine, boost and watch your voltmeter and or ammeter and go…a mysterious dead battery in a cirrus would make me question flying it….if he was at a remote airfield in the middle of nowhere, maybe then, set the brakes, chock the wheels and crank her over

  6. Switches off, throttle closed. Switches off, throttle wide open. Switches set on one, throttle set…..CLEAR…..then swing the prop…..if started, turn the other mag on. Did this many a time on a DH82.

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