The blue and white Suzuki GSX1100 motorcycle looked positively tiny as it burbled to a stop outside the flight hangar at the aerodrome. The rider and pillion passenger stepped off the bike and you could see the bike pop up as the rear springs surged back to their full position. People in the club room, stopped and looked out the window as the couple took off their riding jackets to reveal a huge girth on each of them. Both were grinning as they made their way into the office.
The aerodrome was having an open day to attract new potential aviators. The rider and pillion had come out to look, and have a test flight.
‘Morning’ said the Chief Flying Instructor, as he eyed the duo making their way toward him.
‘Morning’, replied the rider. ‘I’m Jim and this is Lisa. We’re wondering if we could go for a test flight today, as we both love planes?”
The CFI was a little taken aback with this request, but looked at the flight operations schedule for the open day and saw that Pete was due to go for a flight in about 10 minutes. He sidled up to Pete and asked, “Pete, are you taking any other passengers with you?”
“No”, said Pete, wondering why.
“I’ve got Jim and Lisa over here wanting to go for a flight, and wondering if you would take them up with you?”
Pete looked over and saw the two standing there, looking expectant and excited.
“Cripes!” he whispered to the CFI. “They’re huge, and I’m only going in D.O.T. the Cherokee 140. It’s seriously underpowered at the best of times and I may even be overweight with these two.”
“You’ll be fine” said the CFI. “Just do a long taxi, to use all the available runway for take-off.”
Pete was reticent about the flight, and the weight issue, but did not want to look silly in front of the CFI and his friends by refusing to go flying. Boldness and ego got the better of him, as opposed to doing what he was trained to do, which was an all up-weight check prior to flying.
Jim and Lisa walked out to the little 4 seat Cherokee 140, ZK-DOT sitting quietly on the flight line. As they clambered onto the wing and squeezed into the backseat of the aircraft, the little Cherokee 140 visibly sank down on her main landing gear.
Obtaining Air Traffic Control clearance, Pete was vectored to runway 27 – the grass runway. He taxied right to the end, turned into wind, and powered up. The little Cherokee shuddered under full power at 2800rpm, and slowly built speed. At 65 knots, she should have come unstuck from the grip of mother earth. Pete pulled the nose up, but the main undercarriage refused to leave the ground. Pete looked to his left and saw all the people at the club house watching intensely as he rushed past them – still on the ground. At 70 knots, DOT began porpoising on her nose-wheel, bouncing along the runway, still with the main gear rolling firmly along the runway.
There was about 300 m of runway left and Pete was nearly at the stage of aborting the take-off, when finally, the main wheels unglued themselves and DOT staggered into the air. The next issue Pete had, was clearing the boundary fence. Over the fence was a main road. If an articulated truck was coming along the road at that instant, Pete would have ‘parked’ himself and his passengers on the top of the truck. But he whizzed over the boundary fence with inches to spare, and across the road, slowly building up airspeed. Luckily there was no truck and they kept climbing away. Relief washed over Pete in waves as the airstrip receded behind him. What normally takes 3-5 minutes to get to 1500 ft, today took close on 10 minutes. DOT strained all the way up to this altitude.
Jim and Lisa in the back were captivated by the view out the side of the aeroplane, and kept moving sideways to look out each side of the plane. This caused DOT to yaw from side to side, with the shift in weight. Pete had to say to them, “Guy’s, I know you’re enjoying the view, but just wondering if you could just sit still in the back please?”
At 1500 ft, Pete powered back to 2250 rpm – the normal cruise power setting. Poor little DOT couldn’t maintain her altitude and started to sink back toward the earth at this power setting so Pete increased to 2400rpm to maintain level flight.
After 30 minutes, Pete called Air Traffic Control, to let them know he was re-joining the pattern for runway 27. Having been given clearance, Pete joined downwind and as is normal practice, reduced power to 1500rpm to set up the glide approach. With that, DOT dropped her left wing and just fell out of the sky. Kicking in full right rudder and pulling more power, Pete arrested the descent and brought DOT back to level flight. He then pushed his heart that was in his mouth back down to where it belonged!
Turning onto base leg and then lining up with the runway, Pete was still at a power setting of 2250rpm, – a cruise setting, to maintain a powered approach to the runway. By this stage, Pete felt the sweat running down the back of his shirt, as he maintained his approach setting, wondering what else could go wrong today. DOT settled into a powered glide as the runway rushed up to meet her. Pete eased the stick back and felt DOT caress the earth with her main landing gear. The nosewheel touched down and Pete pulled the power all the way back and lightly stepped on the brakes. DOT responded willingly and settled into a crawl back to the club house.
In the back Lisa and Jim were jabbering away excitedly at their first flight and reminiscing on what they had seen, and how much fun it had been.
At the club house, Pete pulled the power off, and shut down the engine. As Jim and Lisa extricated themselves from the back seat and jumped off the wing to the ground, DOT visibly rose up again on her main landing struts.
Grabbing Pete’s hand, and pumping it up and down with the vigour of a pump, Jim thanked Pete for a wonderful flight. “We will return and do this again,” he said. Pete’s knees wobbled slightly at the thought, as he watched Jim and Lisa go out to the GSX1100 and ride away. Again, the big like looked tiny as the two sat over it.
Turning to the CFI, Pete said, “don’t ever do that to me again.” With that, all the members in the club excitedly gathered round and told Pete how they were taking bets as to whether he would abort or become airborne as he rushed along the runway trying to unstick from the earth. They were grinning and laughing, not realising just how worried Pete was at the time, as he saw the end of the runway approaching.
Pete decided that sitting in a chair in the club house on terra-firma was a good look for the next 30 minutes as he thought about the flight that he had just completed, and what could have transpired. The fatigue of the flight and what had happened was etched on his face? He sat holding his hands to stop them from shaking.
He realised his stupidity, and ego could have cost three people their lives. He understood very clearly now the flying maxim……,
There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old bold pilots.