Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Invitation to a Party

If you don't like the weather in florida, wait 5 minutes and it will change. I have found it is like this in many parts of the country as well. I should have been told this advice early on in my flying career. So for all you newbie pilots out there, YOU HAVE BEEN TOLD!

This is what I mean. When I had about 80 hours or so flying, my father and I decided to purchase an airplane so that we could further our flying experiences and we could share the cost of doing so. It was a Beech Sundowner, aka Beech SLOOOOW-downer. This turned out to be a really good idea because the annuals were cheap, the airplane was really robust, and when it was time to sell the plane, it had gone up in value, and we got all our money back. Pretty sweet!

Well, one day I had decided to take it up for a spin and do some touch and go's. I lived at an airpark in south florida, so it was easy for me to just jump in the plane and go. I flew for about 2 and 1/2 hours at a nearby airport, then got a courtesy car to go to a local BBQ joint that I really liked, then decided to head back home.

The weather looked like it was going to turn sour (Noooo, not during the summer at 4pm in Florida!!) so I made my way back as quickly as I could...remember...I am flying a SLOW-downer...... it may be ugly, but it sure is slow!

When I got to Tailwinds Airpark (where I lived), the storm was very close, and was like a wall of black thunderstorm going from the ground to as high as I could see. It was very close, but Tailwinds was in the clear. The winds, as you all know, just before a very large storm, change directions rapidly, sometimes as much as 180 degrees. I zoomed in for a downwind on runway 27 and made a very short approach. But while I was on final to land, the wind sock turned 180 degrees the other way, now favoring 9. The sock was standing straight out and the storm was getting frightfully close. I gave it full power, went straight into a downwind for 9. Turned final, and watched the sock turn straight out back to favoring 27.

At 100 hours flying, the cheeks are beginning to pinch seat foam right about now. The easy thing to do...go to another airport further away from the storm, mistake #1. But noooooo, I gave it full power to enter another downwind for 27, this time determined to land, mistake #2. I came in on final and as I was approaching the numbers, the sock swung to the other direction again. I made the choice to land anyway, mistake #3.

The plane stayed in ground effect for almost 3/4 of the 2700 ft runway. Then finally it touched down. I slammed on the breaks as fast as I could. I hit the end of the runway at almost 50 kts and went skidding off into the grass runway overrun area. By the way, runway 9 did not have a runway overrun area like 27 did....very lucky!! I used up all 300 feet of the overrun area and came to a stop just before I was to dive into a drainage ditch. Houses were located on both sides of the runway overrun area.

With my heart pumping 100 miles an hour, I turned the plane around and started to taxi back to my hangar at my house. I looked at the house to my right, hoping not to see anyone, and noticed about 40 people standing at the windows, doorways, and some outside..... staring. Embarrassed beyond words, I quickly went home, parked it, and went into the house and to my room where I just laid there motionless, hoping nobody would come over or call. No sooner than those ideas crossed my mind, the phone rang! It was the neighbor with the 40 people at his house! I got ready for the riot act, and answered the phone. "That's a Hell of a way to get invited to a party!!" he laughed. "Come on over, everybody's here". Oh great! That's just what I wanted, everyone to laugh at my stupid mistakes.

I went to the party anyway, and Mark, the owner of the home, said as I came into the house, "Don't be embarrassed, it isn't anything we all haven't done before. Why do you think I built my house at the end of the overrun area?", then he laughed again. "John over there landed gear-up last year, Tony flipped his taildragger the year before that, and Ed landing his gear-up a few weeks ago, for the second time!" he said. All of a sudden, I felt better to be surrounded by a bunch of guys who at one point in there flying career where as stupid as I had been.

I never did that one again. I am really glad that I lived...to write about it.

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