across the taxiway. Unpiloted and overpowered, the
aircraft accelerated and became airborne briefly before
crashing into an airport perimeter fence and terrain.
Sadly, the incident resulted in substantial damage to the
fuselage, empennage, and both wings. The pilot suffered
no injuries, except perhaps to his pride and pocketbook.
While it may have seemed expeditious to not shut
the engine down while unlocking the tail wheel,
experience shows the flaw in that thinking. The more
prudent pilot will not leave the aircraft running without
a qualified person at the controls. A thorough preflight
will also help prevent the oversights that can lead to
such a situation.
Gone With the Wind
Strong winds not only make for a challenge in the air,
but also can overcome the capability of an airplane and
pilot on the ground. Such was the case for the pilot of
a Cessna 172 who had successfully landed at Oshkosh,
Nebraska. The winds at the time were 320 at 32 gusting
42, and the pilot had safely touched down on Runway
30. The trouble started when he made a 90-degree turn
off the runway, putting that gusty wind directly on
his wingtip. The wind flipped the aircraft over on its
back, causing structural damage to both wings and the
Undoubtedly, the strong and gusty crosswind was the
issue, although it is unclear from the report whether or
not the pilot had been using the proper control inputs
for the taxi maneuver. Pilots are reminded that strong
crosswinds are not only a factor in takeoff and landing,
but also during taxi. In such conditions, a pilot might
be well-advised to ask for assistance from a fixed base
operator or other ground crew when attempting to
wrestle an aircraft to the hangar.
Under the Cover of Darkness
Ground operations can be particularly more challenging
when attempted under the cover of darkness, when
obstacles can be readily obscured. The pilot of a Beech
G35 learned that lesson the hard way when taxiing
in from a flight that ended on a December night in
Chattanooga, Tennessee. The pilot had landed on
Runway 20 and was taxiing to his T-hangar when the
situation turned sour. A helicopter dolly had been parked
on the parking ramp, and although the FAA inspector
and airport authority agreed it was adequately marked,
the pilot failed to see it. Upon striking the dolly, the
right main gear of the Beech collapsed, rupturing the
right fuel cell and causing damage to both the forward
and aft spar of the right wing.
While the details of the incident are unclear, pilots are
reminded of the possibility of unseen objects and debris
on darkened taxiways and ramps. The first precaution
is to carefully maintain position on the yellow taxiway
centerline stripe during taxi, and to always limit
taxi speed. Be sure to use landing or taxi lights while
taxiing in dark conditions, unless doing so will create
a distraction to other pilots. If necessary, have ramp
personnel or an assistant direct you to parking.
A Striking Omission
Sometimes even a minor oversight or omission can
have serious or fatal consequences. Consider the pilot of
another Cessna 172 who arrived at Frederick, Maryland,
with a passenger. Unfortunately, the pilot had failed
to provide an adequate safety briefing to the passenger
and then allowed her to exit the aircraft before shutting
down the engine. The passenger did not see the spinning
propeller and walked right into it. Amazingly, she was
not killed, but she did suffer serious injury.
The “clear” warnings shouted from the
cockpit before engine start are often
ambiguous or meaningless to non-pilots,
so pilots must always look carefully
before turning that start key.
We must always remember that passengers are not
always aware of dangers that may seem obvious to us.
Non-pilots are simply unaccustomed to the dangers
posed by turning propellers and may unwittingly
walk directly into harm’s way. The “clear” warnings
shouted from the cockpit before engine start are often
ambiguous or meaningless to non-pilots, so pilots must
always look carefully before turning that start key. While
it might seem expeditious to allow a passenger to board
or disembark with the engine running, the risk posed
can more than offset the seconds saved by not shutting
down the engine.
Indeed, ground operations can be just as hazardous
as those in flight, and pilots should redouble efforts to
avoid risk from engine start to shutdown. Failure to take
the proper precautions when operating on the ground is
an open invitation to disaster.
Robert N. Rossier has been flying for more than 30 years.
A former aerospace engineer and flight school manager
in Colorado, he spent 12 years flying for a small airline/
charter service in the Northeast, serving as chief pilot
and check airman. He has been writing for the aviation
industry for nearly 20 years and was the recipient of a
2001 Aerospace Journalist of the Year Award.