Saturday, July 25, 2009

Getting Stuck

Generally speaking, one will get the aircraft stuck once a season. Fortunately I avoided the dreaded occurrence this spring! I feel it's as important to talk about how to avoid getting stuck as it's getting one's self un-stuck.

How do you avoid it? Here are a few things you should do to prevent the situation:

1) Training - During your aircraft training, ask the trainer to go over the tow points. Also flying into the strips during your training with someone who knows the strip will save you many headaches down the road. I find being pulled with tow straps wrapped around the main gear will work best. Never pull a stuck aircraft by the nose wheel. The nose gear is not designed to handle the stress of pulling it free.

2) Airstrip Operator - When you finally hit the real world, you will find it a challenge to keep up on the weather and strip condition during the busy season. Strong thunderstorm activity can leave an area completely saturated and miss them all together. It's good practice to check with the strip operator for an in depth weather report and strip condition. Having your questions made up prior to the call will allow you to gain more info. The strip operators aren't normally pilots and therefore may not be sure of what you are looking for.

3) Co-workers - Many times you will be flying all day and won't be sure what the other pilots are doing for the day. While you're out and about, make radio contact with them to see if they have been to the strip yet, or if they know of anyone who has gone in there yet today. The strips change daily, so the most current info is best.

4) Weather reports - Keeping an eye on the weather systems can improve your chances greatly. Watch each Front closely and take note of its route of travel. It may seem like it's not along your route but mother nature has been known to throw a fast ball now and again.

If you are unfamiliar with a strip, weather its paved or not, get a briefing from a co-worker or someone who knows the area. With how quickly the weather can change, you will want to be knowledgeable about the route and strip.

When flying over head, I suggest you fly as low as possible without jeopardizing safety. They teach you to fly at 1000ft above ground level (AGL) but at that height, there is less detail. When flying the strip, keep a close eye on areas of darker soil or standing water, these areas love to eat airplanes. If you can find a side that is dry, plan to stop on that side of the strip. I will normally take a light tail wind in order to stop on the hard dry surface. On the departure, this will help you again because you will be able to accelerate the aircraft that much faster.

I once took a C-206 into a new strip; they were in the process of building it. It's a long strip with rising terrain at either end. It has a clay surface which makes it pretty solid when dry or a little rain. Well I went in there one day and it was pretty wet, well it was soaked. The info I received was that the strip was wet but still do able. Gotta love it when they are more interested in getting out of camp than their own safety. Upon landing the aircraft, it became was very difficult to control. I got it stopped but I was STUCK! The tires were in deep and I had used half the runway up. There wasn't an option of back tracking the runway to use the full length, the strip was un-usable. I loaded my one passenger, got two guys pushing on each strut as I gave her the juice. As I started down the 2500ft and I couldn't get the speed up. I started rocking the aircraft controls to get the nose wheel out of the mud and finally got the aircraft airborne. It was too late though so I banked the aircraft towards and accelerated down the service road. As I accelerated the aircraft in between the clearing I was able to build enough speed to out climb the terrain. I still remember looking over at my white passenger and giving him an evil laugh. I felt a rush of empowerment which ran through my veins.

Many of you reading this, you will still get yourself into similar situations. Learn from them, as pilots are similar to cats we aren't guaranteed nine lives. Fly safe and keep the rubber side down.


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