Monday, January 26, 2009

A Costly $100 Hamburger

A friend of mine built a beautiful RV6 and installed a 200 hp engine in it to get some serious speedies. This plane was really exciting to see as well as fly; it was really fast!

But sometimes, having a really fast plane has a way of making a pilot feel complacent. This is what I mean.

This particular pilot was on a hundred dollar hamburger trip with his wife. They had a really nice flight to the restaurant, enjoyed an afternoon with his wife along with some good food, and then prepared for his return flight home. The weather between him and his destination airport had started to turn sour, but he left anyway, thinking that he could scud run if needed. As matters have it, he did not have to scud run because the bases of the clouds were about 2500 feet.

An extremely large storm had developed in front of him, and instead of going around the storm, he decided to go under it. So he descended to just under 2500 feet, and proceded to fly under the storm towards his destination airport. But this was not any ordinary storm. This was a huge storm, with towering cumulous to FL500, and severe updrafts in the middle of the storm.

As he flew under the storm, the plane was suddenly pulled by the updrafts of the storm, and he flew into the storm, out of control of his aircraft. In a matter of seconds, his altitude increased from 2500 feet to 9000 feet, as he was spitted out the side of the storm. With a frantic wife on board, he tried to assess the situation, but was flustered too much, and flew directly to his destination and landed.

His heart beating a million miles an hour, he shut down the plane at his hanger while a neighbor pulled up beside him. He explained what had happened to the neighbor. Then the neighbor glanced at his airplane, and noticed all the wrinkles on the top wing skins of his plane. His G-meter read 9 G's. The Van's RV6 is only stressed to 6 G's positive.

This is a real lesson for all of us. The updrafts under large storms can be severe. Instead of bending, his wings could have snapped and departed the plane, a disastrous outcome. On top of that, he was very lucky that he even popped out at 9000 feet. It could have been worse. He could have popped out at 25,000 feet.

I was always trained to stay at least 20 miles away from storms, and never to go under them! At 20 miles, you minimize the chance of lightning strikes, updrafts, and hail.

He was very lucky that day. It could have been a very costly $100 hamburger.


  1. Nice story, if I may say so. Your friend was not only lucky not to pop-out at 25'000 feet but also not to encounter hail within his personal CB...

  2. In "Fate Is The Hunter", Ernst Gann tells a compelling story of his encounter with a thunderstorm flying right seat in a DC-2 (GREAT book BTW). Sounds like this guy was pretty lucky. 9 G's!