Here’s a good lesson that every pilot should learn: When something out of the ordinary happens in an airplane, think before you act. The stranger the occurrence, the more thinking you should do before you make your next move or decision.
Years ago, I was standing on the flight line, chatting with a friend, when we heard a twin rev up its engines: Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Thump!
The airport went silent.
We ran in the direction of the sudden silence, only to find an Apache with its tail up in the air and its nose on the ground. It looked like an enormous lawn dart.
The Apache’s instructor climbed out of the cockpit, walked to the front of his machine, and removed the nosewheel chock—the one responsible for collapsing the nose gear assembly.
According to the instructor, he sensed that something wasn’t right when he throttled up for taxi. “I just couldn’t put my finger on the problem,” he said. Unfortunately, his throttle fingers were part of the problem.
The moral of this story is: When something doesn’t feel right in an airplane, think before you continue to act. If you’re not sure what to do, then follow the bank robber’s advice: Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt. Stop your machine if it’s on the ground. If it’s in the air, don’t do anything quickly until you’ve taken the time to think about what’s happening to you. Had the Apache instructor stopped trying to move forward after experiencing something out of the ordinary, he might have easily deduced the reason for his stasis.
Several years ago, a commercial student and I began our takeoff run in a Piper Arrow on a relatively short runway. During the takeoff roll, I sensed that something wasn’t right. The engine sounded fine, but we weren’t accelerating normally. There was no time to think the problem through, so I applied the bank robber’s advice: Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt. I powered back, aborted the takeoff, and taxied to the maintenance hangar for a mechanic’s inspection. It turned out that the throttle cable had slipped, preventing the engine from developing its maximum takeoff power.
Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who gave advice followed their advice? Unfortunately, everyone can make a mistake if they fail to think before they act. Me, too.
A few years ago, I was holding short of and perpendicular to the airport’s taxiway after obtaining an IFR clearance. Having just switched to ground control frequency, I spied an absolutely gorgeous green and white Mooney Ovation taxiing from my left to my right. As it taxied by, I watched as all three landing gear retracted into its belly. The airplane plopped onto the ground as if mortally wounded.
My very first thought was, “Now there’s something you don’t see every day.” I remember looking at the two fellows exiting the airplane and feeling very bad for them. How embarrassing.
Since there was nothing much I could do to help, I applied power and taxied to the runup area. While checking my controls, I received a call from ground control: “Ahh, Two-One-Three-Two Bravo, did you contact ground control before taxi?”
The humorist in me wanted to respond by asking, “Why? Is that important?” Of course I didn’t do that. It turned out that I had forgotten to obtain a taxi clearance. Clearly, the shock of the Mooney’s gear collapse had been something out of the ordinary for me. At that point, I should have realized that I was much more vulnerable to making a mistake—any mistake. Staying put and not moving until I had rerun my taxi checklist would have been the prudent thing to do. Live and learn.
Needless to say, the folks in the tower weren’t too happy with me, and it took some talking to work things out. The lesson here is: When something out of the ordinary happens in an airplane, think before you act. Apply the “nobody moves, nobody gets hurt” strategy. The stranger the occurrence, the more you should think before you act.
One more thing: If you say the phrase, “Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt,” please say it silently and not out loud—especially if you’re on a checkride. Saying it out loud might scare the examiner, eliminating your chances of obtaining your certificate on that day. However, it might get you the examiner’s wallet or purse; so that’s some compensation, at least.
Rod Machado will be a featured speaker at AOPA Fly-Ins this summer.