AOPA Pilot Magazine
Never Again Online: Propwash
The day began peacefully enough. I flew my Kitfox down to Montgomery Field to visit my friend Steve, who was doing some work on his Beech Sierra. It seems his landing gear failed to rise on the last flight around the patch. I admired his plane and we speculated about causes until it was time for him to leave. Firing up the Kitfox, I slowly wound my way out amongst the small city of T-hangars.
In the middle of this “town” was a large hangar and apron where it appeared several twins and turboprops were being serviced. I had seen this facility on the way in and thought how odd it was that a major service facility should be found in the middle of a field of T-hangars.
As I taxied by I noticed that a King Air was sitting on the edge of the apron with both engines turning. There was a guy out front with an instrumentation cart and a headset, clearly talking to the pilot. I thought, “Hmm. Looks dangerous. His prop wash is blowing directly across the taxiway. He’s probably at idle, though. Nobody would do a run-up in the middle of a bunch of hangars. I’ll be extra careful.”
I tiptoed slowly up to the King Air, as far back as I could, which was only about 30 or 40 feet. I was thinking that if it started to get rough, I’d just stop and wait it out. What an idiot.
As I taxied into the propwash, the Kitfox started to buffet a little. I stopped. I crept forward little and the buffeting increased. Suddenly I was showered with polycarbonate as the right door slammed shut and exploded under the blast of the prop. (I taxi with them open: air-conditioning, you know.) Then things really got exciting. The right wing started to lift and I slammed it back down with the ailerons. Thankfully, the Kitfox has full-length flaperons that are really powerful. Unfortunately, when the wing lifted, the right wheel did, too, and I spun around a little. This brought the rudder into the prop wash and I was very quickly danced around until I was pointed right at the King Air’s rudder.
I was now fully engulfed in the prop wash, and the King Air was clearly putting out some serious horsepower. I fought the controls, trying to keep the nose pointed straight at the turboprop and the wings level. Unfortunately, though, when a wing lifted, that wheel dropped back, advancing the other wing into the breeze. I was hopping wildly back and forth, and loosing ground rapidly. I knew that there was gravel behind me and that I would soon be in it. Once there, I would loose all braking and would then be carried away by the blast.
Panic began to rise as I realized that, sooner or later, I’d be a little late on a control input and would be flipped over on my back. I wasn’t too worried about being hurt, but I just couldn’t bear the though of my beautiful plane being destroyed in the middle of a taxiway just because I’d been stupid.
I realized suddenly that my only hope lay in trying something crazy. I’d try to fly formation with a King-Air in the middle of a taxiway in the middle of Montgomery Field! I pushed the throttle almost all the way forward and raised the tail. Whoops! Too much! Don’t want to get any closer! I found a good throttle setting and stirred the controls frantically. The turbulence was just as bad, but at least I wasn’t going backward anymore, and I had a lot more rudder control.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the technician in front of the King-Air began to wonder why some idiot in a Kitfox was flying formation on his plane in the middle of the taxiway. He casually walked around the wing and stared blankly at me while I frantically played Charades. He caught on, though, and the King-Air’s engines spooled down, giving me my very first close-formation landing.
When the engines stopped I shut down, pushed the plane around, (I was too close by now to rotate under power) and taxied to a place where I could shut down. I then sat in the aircraft amongst the plastic shards waiting for my heart to slow. I walked back, expecting to meet a concerned technician and pilot. I looked around but they had wandered off who knows where. Was this is a regular occurrence? Looking around, I saw pieces of my door scattered here and there. I picked up the pieces, some as much as 200 feet away, and stuffed them into my baggage compartment. This gave me a chance to give myself a royal chewing. Man—I haven’t heard language like that since I lived with my parents.
Feeling a little better, I flew the Kitfox gingerly back to Ramona. Thankfully, it likes to fly without doors. Now, when I’m on the ground, I taxi like my grandma used to drive. I refuse to taxi past rotating Robinson R22s. I stay 200 feet behind Piper Cubs; and if I even see a turboprop, I head the other way. Light Sport pilots beware.
Guy Buchanan, AOPA 3645551, is a retired engineer and aircraft owner living in Ramona, California. A private pilot for more than seven years, he has logged around 450 flight hours.
E-mail the author at email@example.com.