Sunday, December 17, 2006

Runway Departure

I have seen the plane leave the Rwy and end up in a ditch few weeks ago. I know that bent planes do happen sometimes and with me flying every weekend, it was just a matter of time before I have seen one. I am hoping (and practicing) that I would never BE in one, but nothing would provide me a perfect insurance against some mechanical issue or a simple mistake.

Anyways, back to the story, the accident was as minor as they get in terms of pilots conditions – they were both unharmed. Not even a bruise. The plane was not that lucky. It ended up nose down in a ditch that runs along the right side of the Runway with the nose wheel sheered off and prop missing large pieces. Aside from broken nose wheel and injured prop, the rest of the frame seemed in good condition.

I was actually flying at the time they were landing. I just announced entering the zone and my intentions when I heard them announcing final. I looked and saw them fly what looked like a good approach, flare, touch down…. and head straight for the bushes (and I though only my Citabria was in the habit of doing that). From high above, I initially thought that they were overshooting, however, when I saw the dust and the plane not moving and almost perpendicular to the Rwy, I realized what happened. By that time I was directly over field and right over the plane and could see both occupants walking away, so I was quite relieved.

The relief was temporary, as I still had to land there myself. As I was passing over, I confirmed that the airplane was completely off the Rwy. At the time, I had no idea how an airplane ended up in a ditch in the first place. I felt myself starting to get really tense and concerned about my landing. It was quite turbulent and gusty and i was concerned that if conditions were bad enough for a tricycle airplane to run off, then what were the chances my Citabria would end up straight? With millions of thoughts per second racing through my brain, compounded by excessive turbulence, my approach was beginning to approximate the misaligned rollercoaster that was about to fly off the rails. Earlier in the downwind, I announced my decision to do a low pass to check Rwy conditions and, fighting to keep the airplane straight on final, I was glad that I already made that decision. I came over the Rwy and suddenly the turbulence stopped. Completely. I was flying straight and low enough that I could have chopped the power and landed right there. However, I did not want to change my decision, so I applied power and took off.

That low pass achieved two goals. First, it gave me a bit of time to get myself together and mentally prepare for a safe landing. And secondly, I realized that as bumpy as the approach would be, as long as I fly it straight, once I get low enough, it’ll get smoother. I was on final when I got a call from one of the planes on the ground – the guys walked the Rwy and confirmed no foreign objects. I landed just fine, taxied off, shut the plane down and went to see the runaway plane.

It actually did not look too bad. Aside from prop and front wheel, the airframe seemed OK. I could see that they did almost a straight line to the right almost from the point of touchdown. One of the pilots mentioned that they had issues with rudder in the air and seemed to have lost all steering control once they were on a ground.

They since discovered the source of a problem and confirmed that it was not something that they could have picked up during a walk-around. It looks like the plane will be flying again by mid-January. And somehow that incident made me want to spend the whole day just practicing landings to make sure I have complete confidence in a Citabria.

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