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09-28-2012, 11:41 PM #1
A Flight From Hell - (Story)
Just read this and thought of sharing. Thunderstorms and a Skyhawk never mix well.
I fly in Florida and at the time, might have had about 200 hours total, just enough to feel slightly invincible. I was flying an old school Skyhawk with a STOL kit that I had come to love. I can park that plane anywhere. Onboard were myself and the girlfriend. We had just flown down to Venice for some sun and surf as the beach and a great restaurant are a short walk from the airport.
Now let's talk about Get-home-itus and how it can make you do some really stupid things. We'd finished dinner and were on our way back the field. The restaurant I mentioned faces south south west so you get one hell of a sunset with your meal. That being said, as one would expect, its very dark when we get back to the airport. I had noticed some off shore lightning on the walk back but didn't think much of it. However the lightning that did get my attention was north and east of the field. I spin up the GPS and sure enough, there are three cells in the previous mention directions forming up a nice horse shoe around central Florida but wide enough that we might make it back before they roll over the airport. My instincts are screaming at me, DO NOT FLY THIS OUT! The GF on the other hand was extremely concerned about getting home as she had to work in the morning. She had started a new job and was ultra concerned about making the right impressions..yadda yadda. Long story short, I gave in and we jumped in the hawk.
Right off the bat I knew this was a bad idea. We took off down wind (only four knots by the awos) to avoid flying over the black hole of the gulf of Mexico and to avoid the storm already closing in from that direction. So, long take off roll, reluctance to climb. Otherwise smooth. I expected this. I'm on the horn with Tampa ATC and immediately notice the surprise in the controllers voice that anyone would even be out in these conditions. Should have been a clue. I'm getting vectors north around the cells and thinking everything's relatively cool although I can see lighting in all four directions. Ok, getting my attention but not sweating it yet.
ATC calls up and tells me he needs a turn to 090 to clear the way for a Mooney on a long 15 mile straight in final to Sarasota. Another invincible soul who thought he could sniff his way through the CB clouds that night. This is when alarm bells start a faint whisper in my ear. Here's another aircraft getting a 15 mile final straight into an airport. 15 miles out. I suppose it crossed my mind that if he can't make a turn, or setup for a local pattern or approach then something must be very damn wrong with the weather since he hasn't declared an emergency. ATC tells me that the nearest cell to me is 20 miles away and he will get me turned back on course before I get too close. I'm about to learn a very important lesson about what ATC can and can't see on their radar scopes.
Radar can only reflect falling precipitation. It can't do anything for you as far as clouds are concerned and the sweeps are a bit delayed from reality. So what seems like a wide open hole in the sky could actually be a filled with all kinds of nasty weather. I turn to 090 blindly accepting that ATC has the world completely under control. I'm at 2500 at the time. Just as I roll level the world outside the window goes completely black. I've just flown into a wall of cloud and I'm completely in the soup. I immediately tell Tampa what's going on and roll back into a left turn, intending to 180 out of there. Tampa is actually a lot more concerned about this as I am and starts rapid firing instructions to do exactly what I was already doing. I'm completely glued to the instrument through this. The outside world is starting to deteriorate rapidly however, the plane is getting bounced and is starting to roll uncommanded by the pilot. Just as I break out we get hit. It must have been a downdraft just breaking over the crest of the CB it came from but it hit the Skyhawk full broadside while we were in a 30 plus degree bank. The bottom suddenly fell out from under the plane. The GF is death griping the sides of her chair and the only part of the world I can even recognize are the instruments in front of me. The most alarming of which is the vertical speed indicator showing a 2000 per minute decent correlated by an altimeter which is spinning off just as rapidly...things have gone very very south.
The plane is still getting buffeted but I finally get her to level off around a grand, wings level and somehow under Va speed. I had just lost 1500 feet of precious altitude in the span of a few seconds. I have a white knuckle grip on the yoke and a laser focus on the panel in front of me. The rest of the planet as far as I'm concerned does not exist. Calm as a coma I key the mike and ask Tampa for a straight in to Sarasota, I'm completely done with this flight and want nothing more than to be on the ground. I get the request, switch to tower and make the smoothest landing I've ever performed in my flying career. I didn't even realize I had landed, the wheels just started rolling. After I taxi and shut down I finally look to my signif other in the right seat. She's completely pale, and still white knuckling the chair in both hands, and simply mutters "Nice landing"
We managed to get home later that night after waiting a solid two hours for the surrounding convection to burn off. Lessons learned were stark and profound. Never let the urge to complete the mission compromise the flight. Never fly into box canyon formed by surrounding weather. And never put your complete faith in ATC, they're just as human as the pilots they direct. I later required surgery to remove the seat cushion from my ass. Google pucker factor if you're not sure what I'm referring to.“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
09-29-2012, 02:07 PM #2
Awesome post!"I drink a great deal. I sleep a little, and I smoke cigar after cigar. That is why I am in two-hundred-percent form." Winston Churchill
09-29-2012, 10:02 PM #3
I'd have passed outIt is not what you did yesterday to affect you today as it is what you do today to influence others tomorrow - Me
09-30-2012, 02:27 AM #4
I think all pilots will experience some "oh shit" moments sometime during their time aloft. I surely have. Thankfully this story had a happy ending and valuable lesson. What's that old saying? "There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, there are no old, bold pilots." As well as, "bad wx, the young pilot takes off and crash lands, the little more experienced pilot takes off and has to return, the experienced pilot didn't even take off in the first place." Something to that affect.
10-01-2012, 04:39 AM #5Banned
- Join Date
- Dec 2011
- Houston, Texas / Paris, France
10-01-2012, 08:02 PM #6
I had an "Oh! Shit" moment a few months back when I was getting checked out in another aircraft and as we came in to descend for the airport pattern the bottom literally just fell out and we lost an immediate 2-300 feet. It was so bad my bag that weighs about 3lbs flew up and hit the top of the cabin and my headphones came off completely and my hands went off the controls. I seriously thought someone shot at us from the ground or that the wings were going to break apart from all the stress that bump in the air created. It definitely made me re-think about flying over hills on a hot day and to make sure I do w/e possible to never experience that again.“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
10-02-2012, 03:08 AM #7
I refuse to get on a plane or any aircraft without a script of Xanax , take one before entering the airport , and another as I board and sat in my seat . After reading this and knowing that I am flying to NYC at end of the month and Mexico in Nov has reminded to call my MD and ask for a refill .
OP .. god be with you while your in the air . and if I had to have a plane lose control Id want you to be the pilot of my flight ..
10-02-2012, 07:12 AM #8
Ya know, I don't have a problem with flying, not afraid, jittery, whatever. But there is just something unsettling about small aircraft.
-Markus-"Silence your enemies with success"
"Tears will get you sympathy, Sweat will get you results"
10-02-2012, 08:04 AM #9
Hahah looks like a scared you two on here. As a matter of fact a Cessna single engine aircraft is an inherently stable machine which means that even without the gadgets that some fancier planes have, the plane will stay level on it's own even if the pilot let's go of the controls. Think about it, we live to tell you our stories. Those little propeller planes are even designed to limp home and the design hasn't changed in decades. Obviously if small planes were really that dangerous we'd have a much better design by now.
If the engine fails on a single engine propeller plane, it literally turns into a glider and can be put down anywhere you'd like given that you have enough altitude. It's easy to maintain and easy to fly and almost every Pilot begins his/her career in one.
No need to fear guys, airplanes are safer than the cars you drive or the walking you do outside.
@Markus you're more likely to die at an EDM event than in a small aircraft lol.“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
10-02-2012, 04:46 PM #10Banned
- Join Date
- Dec 2011
- Houston, Texas / Paris, France