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A lesson learned... - Tina Marie's Ramblings
Red hair and black leather, my favorite colour scheme...
A lesson learned...
Yesterday, for the first time in 8 years and 900 hours of flying, I hurt an airplane.

It was my tow day. It was miserably hot, and I was dragging a little bit because I haven't been sleeping well the last few days. I did a few tows in the little Pawnee early in the day, until the starter stopped working.

I switched to Pawnee 2, but without the second tow plane, this meant I was stuck doing all the towing. Eventually, somebody handpropped Pawnee 1, and John lugged a few gliders up for me.

By about 3:30, I'd been in the Pawnee for 3 hours straight, with only one quick break where I hopped out, pumped it full of gas, and climbed back in. I'd left my water in Pawnee 1 by mistake, so I was hot and dehydrated and miserable. I was finding the landings more and more challenging, but there were still a bunch of people needing towed up....

Eventually, I just couldn't do it anymore. There were two people still waiting to go up, but I just couldn't fly another round without water.

So I pulled up close to the clubhouse, and shut down the engine...except I shut it down too early. When I tried to spin the tail around with the rudder, I didn't have enough rudder authority to get it around, and I was moving too fast to stop. This wouldn't have been a big deal, except that I'd pushed it really close, and without being able to turn, I was about to hit a row of parked cars.

The one I whacked with the wingtip belonged to a club instructor.

I didn't hit hard - 2 or 3 more inches and I'd have missed it entirely - but I bent the sheet metal wingtip of the Pawnee and made a pretty deep scratch in the car. The Pawnee was flyable (in fact, the ding on the left wingtip perfectly matched the ding on the right wingtip, made by a different pilot who did the same thing to the fuel pump), and after a break to cool down and slam a liter of water, I got back in the plane to finish the day.

When I got back in the Pawnee, I found the rudder return spring on the left rudder petal was broken and hanging down. Did it break earlier in the day, and I didn't notice it until I needed the rudder travel? Or did I break it by pushing too hard when I didn't have the airspeed to get the tail around anyway? Or did it break while someone else was flying while I cooled off? I'll never know. As penance, I crawled into the belly and replaced it so John didn't have to.

So what did I learn? Well, on a low-level, that I should know better then to cut it that close. It wouldn't have made any difference if I had parked 10 ft further away, and then I wouldn't have needed the rudder and brakes to work perfectly.

But on a more important level, it told me that I'd been thinking about this whole commercial flying thing from the wrong angle.

I've always believed that flying for compensation (in my case, free flight time), taught you a lesson about setting minimums that nothing else would. When there's nothing at stake, deciding not to go has no cost. It encourages you to set your minimums too high, and if you never fly on the edge you never grow. Flying commercially makes you stretch your wings, and makes you grow as a pilot. It puts a price on saying no, so you're more willing to say yes.

But yesterday, I realized that was only half the lesson. Sometimes you have to say no. And saying no is harder then saying yes, at least for me. I should have said "No more" a few tows earlier....but I didn't, because it was easier to drag myself back to 3000 ft and back down then it was to park the plane and take a break.

It all comes down to a happy medium....and I didn't realize until yesterday how far away from it I was. Once again, a Pawnee has taught me a lesson I needed to learn.

I really do love those airplanes. And I know that Pawnee will forgive me for one more little ding on a wingtip. I'd like to hope that every ding on that airplane has taught a lesson this important...

Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

2 comments or Leave a comment
alioth1 From: alioth1 Date: September 7th, 2004 10:39 am (UTC) (Link)


Not as bad I know, but I managed (through pre-occupation with desperately trying to struggle in a weak thermal) to stall my glider at 700 ft AGL on Sunday and have the wing drop pretty sharply, so we all have off days - sometimes we are just lucky that we had our off-day with enough air between us and whatever it was we were gonna hit. Sometimes not.

I never remembered to bring my CamelBak when towing in Houston, and I remember feeling sorry for my poor C140 when I got home extra tired (due to improper drinking during a hot day of towing) and bouncing down the runway. The CamelBak is great, some glider pilots use it on a long XC, and on the rare occasions I remembered to bring it on a tow day it came in handy.
skywhisperer From: skywhisperer Date: September 8th, 2004 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Augh.

I almost always bring my CamelBack - I just didn't remember it this weekend...
2 comments or Leave a comment