Monday, January 29, 2007

Stuck in the snow.

Burst of power, left rudder, left brake … the plane absolutely refused to turn and continued straight. Silence soon followed as the propeller stopped moving when I pulled the power back. I secured the engine and accessed the situation. Bad news was that the right wheel was now off the plowed surface, in the deeper snow then before and the plane was still facing the wrong way. Good news was that I killed power soon enough before the plane had a chance to make a run for the ditch.

As I sat in there in silence considering my options, it occurred to me that I only had one option – I had to get out of the plane, lift the tail and turn it around. That would have placed the tailwheel in the deep snow as well, but I would then hopefully have enough power to pull it out. Having engine already shut at least prevented me from contemplating getting out of the plane with engine still running.

As I was preparing to exit the plane, I thought that another good new was that at least no one would see me struggling to turn the plane to exit the Runway as I the only one flying at that time. Just as I was finishing that thought, I heard another plane announce entering the zone with the intention to land. The guy in that plane was one of the guys that were in the little Pelican when it ran off the runway couple of months earlier due to steering gear problems. Imagine his surprise when in response to his “I am entering the zone announcement”, he heard “uh, CABC, just to let you know the Citabria is stuck at the end of Rwy having difficulties turning”. I thought of explaining how I ended up stuck in the first place, but thought that the time would be better used by getting out of the plane and moving the tail around.

Given there was now traffic waiting to land, I was getting out of the plane in a hurry. As I was climbing out it occurred to me that that was a good egress practice in case I ever had to jump out of the plane in flight and use my parachute. That thought ended very unpleasantly half way out of the plane as my head was jerked back by the headset that I forgot to unplug. I guess I need more egress practice.

Lifting the tail and turning the plane around so that I finally faced in the right direction was surprisingly easy and soon I was back in. The plane restarted right away and I did not need a lot of power before I was out of the deep snow. I still needed to make a 45 degree turn to get out, but that was an easier task that trying to do a 180 at the end of Rwy with tail wheel getting zero traction.

Realizing that with tail wheel getting no traction at all, I needed to be more aggressive with my inputs, I pushed the rudder quite firmly and soon we were finally turning off the Rwy just as the guy were doing an overshoot (guess I did not get out fast enough). Coming to the parking area I did not even attempt to turn the plane around as I would normally do if there was any traction. I shut the plane down, got out (remembered my headsets this time) and moved the tail around.

I got out of the airplane thinking that I learned yet another lesson about the fact that you may have a good braking action and directional control on landing and take off on a snow covered Rwy, however, the tail wheel traction may not be sufficient for tight turns at low speed.

I also asked couple of people with way more hours in the Citabria than me what would they do in that situation and one option was big turns with a lot of rudder and forward stick to lift the tail off. That would not work too well in a narrow bay at the end of Rwy. I really liked the other option involving 20 ft of rope and a passenger, but my potential passenger was not all too keen on the idea.

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