2020 To Date:
As you know, our safety record for 2019 was the best it has been in the 10 years I have been tracking it.
So far, as of the last week of February, as I write this, our safety record stands at perfect as per the NTSB reporting system. We are off to a good start, and the hope is we can match, or beat, last year’s record.
Because of the (Best Year Ever) minimal number of accidents last year, there will NOT be an individual GAARMS safety program this year. The 2019 accident review will just be included in any safety program I do this year in conjunction with a review of any 2020 fatal accident that occur during the year.
So, what did I do in place of the lack of research time into fatal accidents? Well, for 2020, I turned my attention to my airplane. I decided it needed some TLC. I located a paint and graphics expert about removing some of the old well-worn graphics from the nose cowling and repainting the cowling, and off it went to his shop. He determined the graphics could be removed without hurting the paint using his magic “stuff,” and a week later he called me to say the cowling was finished and looked like new – and it did!! And his price was more than reasonable for his labor. I also used his magic “stuff” to remove some other well-worn graphics from other locations on the airplane.
While the cowling was off, I had the mufflers and exhaust stacks removed and inspected by the mechanics here at Wiseman Aviation and then coordinated with the chrome shop down in Deer Valley to have the exhaust stacks re-chromed. We agreed on the price ($350.00,) and I hand delivered the stacks shortly thereafter. On inspection, the chrome shop determined they were stainless steel, not chromed, and thus only needed polishing. They only charged me $120.00 to polish them, saving me over $230.00 vs. chroming, and they were done within a week. FYI, they are a very reputable shop, and if you are interested in their work, just contact me. While the cowling was off, I checked over, and cleaned, as many things as possible. I like my engine to look as nice under the hood as the outside. The mechanics re-installed my exhaust pipes with all new hardware, re-installed the nose cowling, checked everything out, and returned my airplane to service
Since my airplane sits out under a shade, I begged and borrowed the Tundra cowling cover from a friend’s Piper Cherokee. His full wrap Alaska-style cowl cover, a great big down-filled blanket, completely enveloped the entire nose of my airplane snugly protecting my engine from the elements. I am very grateful to him for swapping cowl covers.
Then, to top off the list of upgrades, I pulled the seats and sent them off to the upholstery shop for repair/restyling. The seats were last done back in 1995 when I took my airplane back to the Bellanca factory in Alexandria, Minnesota for a complete airframe/fabric overhaul and update to 95 specs. The seats were silver leather sides with a ribbed medium grey cloth center piece, were showing signs of wear, and by now looked really out of date. I had the upholstery shop remove the cloth sections and replace them with new very classy perforated black faux leather. They also stitched in the Bellanca logo, in red, for a touch of color to match the red paint on the airplane. They came out looking terrific! They really upgrade the interior, and the price was very reasonable.
I also pulled the floor rugs, vacuumed the whole interior, taped over any holes I found, checked the heating vents and hoses, and put it all back together like new. Then, not trying to be too anal about it, I got out my small cans of flat and gloss black paint and went to work on all the black surfaces on the yokes and instrument panel. I also removed, re-worked, painted and re-installed my iPad mount and re-routed the wiring from the cigarette lighter dual-port charger for the USB multi-port to under my instrument panel to support the iPad for my ADS-B “In” display.
As you can see in the pictures, a little TLC can go a long way towards keeping your airplane in pristine shape. Now, if I could just chrome or highly polish my mag wheels…..
There I was… engine failure…
It was a perfect day for flight training, but I need to digress. It was a perfect day for flight training, the actual date lost to memory, but somewhere between 1988 and 1992, back in Pennsylvania, at the airport where I had my Aviation Explorer post. The Explorer Post was sponsored by the airport owner, supported by the mechanics who worked there, the local aviation community, and the parents of the young boys and girls who belonged to the post, who were learning to fly in our own Explorer Post airplane. Now, this airplane, a 1950’s Piper PA-12, has been donated to the Explorer Post. It was retrieved, in pieces, from the barn it sat in for over 20 years. It took us 2 years (1982 – 1984) under the tutelage of the mechanics to re-build the airplane, with everyone pitching in to learn all about the airplane, how it went together, the fabric work, installing a new engine, rigging, care and required maintenance. It truly was a labor of love, and it was a pristine PA-12 with the original paint scheme from when it rolled off the factory floor, except for the aviation exploring logo on the tail.
When completed, it became the training aircraft for the Explorer Post members at $20.00/Hr. My instruction time was free during the next 8 years that we flew that airplane. As a side note, to instill a sense of responsibility, every member had hangar cleaning duties one month a year, and the stars on the tail were added for each young man or woman who went on to earn his or her private pilot’s license. And, yes, that is me in the blue sweater in my younger years; no kidding!!!
OK, so, there we were, out in the wild blue yonder, on this perfect day for flight training, with a student on his 3rd lesson doing basic air work. After a short hop out to the practice area and a couple of medium bank turns trying to figure out how to keep the turns coordinated, he promptly told me he felt a little airsick – again! A repeat of the first two flights! Well, we were out over the farm fields, and the PA-12 has a sliding side window that opens pretty wide. We opened that big window to get the cool fresh air blowing on him and just flew straight and level for a couple of minutes. Now, most of us know throwing up in the airplane is NOT cool; it makes a real mess and can sometimes make the other occupants queasy, or worse, join in on the experience!! And, well, the smell tends to linger and can make the airplane unusable for a day or two! To avoid that, we decided it was best to “barf” out the window. We slowed down and put the airplane in a slip while he proceeded to ”barf” out the window, and he was really sick. I turned for home. That should have been the end of the story, but…
In a PA-12, the fuel selector valve is located on the side wall of the pilot’s side of the airplane, within reach of your left hand, and close to your feet if you are not careful. WELL, HE WASN’T CAREFUL! When he turned to his left to face the open window, he kicked the fuel valve out of position, and the engine promptly quit. His sickness progressed to panic, he was semi-catatonic, moaning, and dry heaving, but I could not see that he had, in fact, kicked the fuel selector to an intermediate position, effectively shutting off the fuel to the engine. Now, a PA-12 is NOT side-by-side seating, but front and back instead, and from the back seat one cannot reach, or see, the fuel selector valve. So, there we were, in a real engine out situation, with a sick student who would not/could not follow instructions, and not really knowing why the engine had quit.
The only decision was to land. Fortunately, there were a lot of fields below us, and a very nice one was presenting itself to me, nice and green, not too far from a road should we need rescuing. I circled down over the field, set it up, and just made a nice soft field landing in that field just like we land on the grass at our home airport. It went off without a hitch. When we stopped, I climbed out of the back seat, secured the airplane and reached into the front to turn off the mags and master. The student just sat in the front seat, quite green! I walked around the airplane inspecting for any damage, found none, and then I went in search of why the engine had quit. Everything outside the cockpit looked A-OK: still had lots of fuel in the tanks and nothing leaking out of the engine compartment. So, I went back inside the airplane, ran through the check list, discovered the fuel valve was not in the “ON” position, ascertained what happened, and corrected the problem. After a while the student was slowly recovering, so I climbed back into the back seat, reached over the student and started the engine. I checked it out, taxied back to the end of the field, turned around and off we went, back home. A totally successful off field landing and takeoff had been accomplished, a sick student returned home, and all in all, it had been a great learning experience from several perspectives. And, oh yeah, the student decided flying was not for him. But he still loved airplanes, and he went on later in life to become an A&P mechanic!
As a follow up to that story, none of my students in the Aviation Explorer Post ever damaged the airplane, although some came close. Taildraggers can be very unforgiving! But ironically, one of the post member’s father, a licensed pilot, demolished it on a bungled landing!!!