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I learned about flying from that – my personal story

Posted by on April 6, 2008 3 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags :

I have in a previous post discussed the popular column in Flying Magazine, “I learned about flying from that.” If you haven’t read that aforementioned post or the magazine, this column share stories of reader’s often harrowing accounts of things they have done while flying that  made them better pilots.  This is my story.

It happened a few years ago while I was based at Chicago’s DuPage (DPA) airport.  I was a very blessed young corporate pilot with about 1200 hours of total time and a brand new CitationJet (C525) type rating.  I also was blessed in the fact that at the time I was flying that CJ about 15 hours a month.  That gave me lots of extra time.  I used some of this time by freelancing at a local avionics shop.  My work consisted of checking out newly installed avionics systems by taking the aircraft up and verifying that everything was working ok with the new GPS.

I got a call one morning asking if I could go pick up a older Piper Aztec that was being painted and deliver it to DuPage for the avoincs and new interior installation.  Having nothing else planned for the day and wanting the flight time I readily agreed.

I was flown over in the company’s 172 by a local flight instructor and dropped off at a very small, mostly unimproved strip about 20 minutes away.  I wandered around until I found the airplane I was set to deliver.  This said airplane, I believe to this day, is still the oldest airplane I have ever flew in.  It was obviously bought at a real bargain and the new owner was putting in A LOT of money to restore it.  I took a quick glance at the airplane, fuel on board (not much), required paperwork (ARROW) and hopped in.  Some pilots refer to this kind of aircraft inspection as, “kicking the tires and lighting the fires.”  I don’t remember kicking the tires.

At this point in the story I should inject that at the time I had roughly a grand total of 50 hours of Multi-engine piston time and approximately ZERO hours in a Piper Aztec.   Although I had a good deal of jet time (relatively) , I really had flown very little M.E. piston aircraft.  In fact, most of my M.E. time was in a Piper Seminole.  I figured that it would all come back to me quick enough.

After remembering how to start a piston engine, I taxied out and took off on a very short runway.  Noticed I missed the part about a run-up.  About 5 seconds after takeoff, I realized I was in trouble.  This airplane was completely out of trim!  That means, I was fighting hard to keep the airplane from nosing up and stalling.  I had my elbows locked and was desperately trying to find where in the world the trim control was.  I looked at all the normal places and could not for the life of me, find anything that resembled a trim wheel or switch.  After thinking, this will be the longest (or shortest) flight of my life, I glanced UP and found it.  Apparently, in an older Aztec the pitch trim is located, yep, on the ceiling.

After trimming the airplane up and figuring out where I was, I managed to head in the direction of DPA.  I got in the pattern, bleed off some speed and reached for the gear extension handle.  Oops.  Mistake #2!  The gear was already down!  In my panic on takeoff I had forgot to bring the gear up! Any good pilot at this point realizes that this implies I had done NO checklists to this point in the flight.

I managed to get it on the ground (it was in fact a good landing) and taxi to the interior shop.  As I exited the airplane, I glanced at the wing and realized that I had forgot to retract the flaps after landing (Mistake 3)  I was thanked for my services and paid my $40.

Over the next few hours, as I mulled this flight over, I thought to myself what an idiot I had been.  Not only did I allow myself to be talked into piloting a unfamiliar airplane, I also did not take the time (for whatever reason) to familiarize myself with the airplane flight controls or checklists.  I was so anxious for the P.I.C. ME flight time that it never occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the right man for the job.  I was unfamiliar with the airplane, the remote airfield and just about everything in between.  I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had lost an engine during takeoff out of that small strip.

In primary flight training they call this kind of attitude, Macho.  I have instructed many primary and commercial students about it but in the pursuit of my career, flight time and increased opportunities I didn’t want to turn ANY flight down. I wanted to show ANYONE that I was capable of flying ANYTHING. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Even though since then, my ratings and experience has grown, I now take the time to make sure I am COMPLETELY familiar with an aircraft before I go flying in it.    I also make sure to receive a checkout from someone who has flown that airplane recently before.

So that’s my story.  Most pilots have at least one (many more than one).  Hopefully we can learn from each other’s stories and mistakes and take caution from walking down a similar path.



  1. PlasticPilot on Apr 07, 2008

    Yes, we all have at least one. Sharing it is not easy, so congrats for that.

    On my first PA28 flight after the familiarization (my total flight time was below 100h), the weather was rather marginal. I flew a 25 minutes leg, and when approaching destination, I found the airspeed was really lower than usual… then I realised I never retracted the flaps after take-off… oops

  2. instructor on Apr 07, 2008

    Yeah, nothing like eating a little humble pie. I actually think it is a good exercise to keep me from thinking I am invulnerable (another dangerous attitude) Every pilot, no matter how great, has made their fair share of mistakes. Mistakes, unfortunately, are a great teacher.

  3. What is required to fly a high performance airplane? | Ask a Flight Instructor on Jul 26, 2010

    […] If you feel uncomfortable flying this airplane with this other pilot, don’t do it, even if is “legal”. Find a pilot or instructor who meets all the provisions above PLUS someone you feel comfortable flying with.  There are countless stories of pilots getting themselves killed flying unfamiliar aircraft.  In case you missed it,  here is my personal story of flying a unfamiliar airplane. […]

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