Monday, January 30, 2012

When to Say When

I mentioned in my previous post I did two flights last weekend. Sunday's flight I was passenger. Sunday's flight was much more of an adventure. It shouldn't have been, it should have been a routine trip for the proverbial $200 hamburger. But that's not how it turned out.

Jeff and I wanted to fly together because he would be busy and unable to fly for a month or so. I was still tired from the prior day's flight and getting up early to run Sunday morning. We didn't head down to the airport until 3PM. We knew we would be flying back at night, which we both enjoyed. Since I was going to be passenger I decided not to bring my flight bag. I just brought my headset. Jeff had his flight bag but it didn't have any charts in it. Those were in my flight bag. We realized that about half way down the mountain and decided that was OK. We would get all of the info we needed for Harris Ranch online before we took off. We had a good GPS in the plane we would fly and Jeff had flown that route a dozen times before. No problem.

We got to the plane and spent some time chatting with some other pilots that were there either preparing to take off or just getting back from a trip. I got the info we needed for Harris Ranch saved in my phone and made sure it had plenty of battery. By the time we were ready to start up the plane the sun was about to set.  We made sure all of the lights were working on the plane. They were. Then I realized I didn't have my flashlight (it was in my flight bag) and Jeff didn't carry one. All of the lights in the plane worked and we had our phones that could double as flashlights in case of emergency. So we decided to go ahead. (I made up my mind to buy a flashlight from the gas station at Harris Ranch before we headed back).

We were in a bit of a hurry then and I felt naked without a kneeboard so I put Jeff's on my knee, then I thought I had sat on the seat belt in the plane. We were flying a Beech Bonanza (not my usual 172) so I didn't know the plane quite as well. Jeff went through the checklists to start up the plane and I knew I needed to have my seat belt on before taxi. So I did. The plane started up strong and we were off.

When Jeff took off he noticed how much more quickly this plane wanted to take off than the Bonanza he took for a test flight the day before. He commented about that as we climbed out. Then the tower notified us the transponder wasn't reporting altitude as we turned downwind. So we reset the transponder and that fixed that problem. I noticed ever time I turned my head to the right my brand new headset was making a loud noise. I couldn't pinpoint the source of the problem though.

I remembered Jeff talking about how the landing gear light in the Bonanza he flew the day before failed on the last leg of the flight and I looked at the landing gear light on this Bonanza. That was strange, it indicated gear down.. we'd been climbing for over a minute after resetting the transponder. I asked him if he retracted the gear - the light was still on. What a coincidence if the gear light failed on this plane too. Nope, he had forgotten to retract the gear in the distraction over the differences between this Bonanza and the one he just flew and then the distraction from the tower. No problem, he retracted the gear and we continued on the climb. Gaining airspeed now that the gear was up.

That annoying noise was getting louder. I kept turning my head to identify the source. Finally I saw it. The source was an 1/8" gap where the door was sucking out a bit. I had closed but didn't latch the door when I got into the plane. I was distracted by the kneeboard and the seatbelt. "The door is open," I said. My blood ran a little cold at that. I've read and even heard ATC tower recordings of people that have crashed their planes over open doors. Not because the door caused issues, no. Because the pilots panicked or did abnormal things to try to get the doors closed.  In spite of what people might think, in an unpressurized plane at 3500 feet open/unlatched doors are not an emergency, just something you have to deal with or decide to live with. In a Bonanza like the one we were flying it is impossible to close/latch the door as you fly, the airflow prevents it. So the options are to continue flying with the door open and live with the noise or land and close the door.

Jeff decided to land at South County for my sake. Being the person by the unlatched door I appreciated his decision. I had the weather and CTAF frequencies for South County memorized.  Jeff had a little brochure on South County procedures in his kneeboard too. He slowed down the plane, we got weather, did the appropriate radio calls and checklists and landed uneventfully at South County... except...Jeff decided he wanted to see how short he could land the plane, so he did a short field landing. The plane landed with a thunk (as it should) and when he taxied off the runway it felt like it was handling strange.

He taxied the plane to transient and shut it down. We got out of the plane and checked the gear, and control surfaces, everything seemed fine. At this point I was starting to feel like maybe we should just call it a night and go back to RHV. Too many little things were forgotten or happening. The "little voice" was saying we could get food somewhere in town. We didn't need to go to Harris Ranch. We talked about it and decided to take off and fly towards Hollister for a bit and think. We had some trouble restarting the engine but eventually it did restart.

The plane took off like a dream and this time the gear was retracted at the end of the runway. We headed towards Hollister and thought a bit. With the door closed the plane was quiet and hummed through the air smoothly. It was so much nicer than the 172 trainer I spent almost 6 hours in the day before. Part of me really wanted to keep on flying, but another part said we didn't need to push it that day. Jeff left the decision up to me, as any smart husband knows, an unhappy or nervous wife makes for a very bad dinner. I finally said we should just go home.

We taxied back to the plane's shelter just 0.9 hours after engine start. The pilot we talked with earlier was still there. He commented we must have put a turbo on the plane to get to Harris Ranch and back that fast. We laughed and told him the whole silly story. We hung out and chatted for another half hour or so and then headed back towards home. We had some excellent BBQ pretty close to our house and laughed a bit about our mistakes and our adventure. On this trip we learned when to say when...

Sometimes flying is like that... easy trips become hard, hard trips are easy. You never know what you're going to get when you fly.

1 comment:

  1. I like this story Nissa. I like the fact that you both agree to work together to make good decisions when flying instead of just trudging on because you just feel you have to after going to all the trouble to get to the airport, rent the plane and get into the air. Sometimes it's just wise to go home, get your head together and do it again another day. Alan