Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fell off a Tractor in Tennessee, part III

DC has had a habit of approaching too high, ending up with excess altitude to burn off on final. Sometimes that is ok, for example, at Hot Springs where there is plenty of runway, and often a downdraft on short final. Sometimes, it becomes problematic. I've taught him to deal with it properly though. If he finds himself too high, he will slip the plane in, or he will add flaps, until the problem is solved. If those don't fix it, he is ready to abort, and try again.

During one of his previous attempts, I mentioned that it might be unwise to rely on a slip too much with gusty conditions where wind shear is a possibility. At 50 knots, a solid gust might put the plane into a stall. If we are slipped at the time, it might become an incipient spin. Not a good thing a few hundred feet up.

As he turned final at Hawkins Co, he decided to use 40 degrees of flaps. Not really a big deal, unless you get too slow. You really have to pitch the nose down to counteract the sudden extra drag. He handled that fine, so I let him continue. On the round-out to flare, he was a little high, so he did what I had trained him to do- add power. Normally not an issue, but this time, that caused the airplane to yaw a few degrees to the right. He became uncomfortable with that, and initiated a go-around.

That's when it all came crashing down. Up to this point, he had done nothing uncommon or forbidden. Nothing even really unusual. There was no reason for me to believe it would become a problem. We had just landed at 6 other airports so far that day, and all in much gustier conditions. This time the wind was calm.

When he added full power, that's when our situation got bad. The nose yawed even more, to about 15-20 degrees right of runway heading, and banked 5-10 degrees right. Still not normally a problem, I've fixed that kind of bad landing and worse, a thousand times before.

I still instinctively reached for the controls. One of the most difficult parts about instructing is that there is a fine line between giving the student too little room to make mistakes that he will learn from, versus reacting too late. After more than 1,200 hours of instructing and several thousand botched student attempts at landing, I've never encountered something I couldn't fix. Until this time.

We still had a little room before the real stall, and I reached quickly for the controls, and applied left aileron and forward elevator. Except this time, for reasons I have tried for the last 24 hours to understand, it didn't work. The inputs didn't do anything. We were perhaps 5 feet off the ground, and swerving toward the side of the runway, toward an embankment, and the controls were not responding.

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