Is this “The Wheels Coming Off” or the “Doors Off?”

Is this “The Wheels Coming Off” or the “Doors Off?”

In learning of the acquisition of a new aeroplane my friend wrote to me the following: “Carelessness, incompetence or neglect. You are incapable of one of these mistakes, don’t let the other two bite you”
So I wrote back:
OK Jay, I know which ones will bite me and I’m such I smug bastard that I recently went out and tested the “incompetence” one – and I now know that’s not the one that’ll bite me.

I was alone and on the climb out of Ballito airfield (Kwa Zulu-Natal), after a beaut morning’s ‘Tour de Coast’, when without a shred of warning (other than flying in some severe turbulence caused by a 40kph NE) the right hand door just blew off! It didn’t do the classic ‘pop’, retreat, open, etc., it just blew right off! What made the morning quite interesting is that despite it’s explosive departure, it suffered immediate separation anxiety from it’s parent (my wee aeroplane) and didn’t part company entirely. It jammed itself between the wheel spat and the wing strut, presenting the fullest possible resistance to the airflow. Speaking of anxiety, my own anxiety precipitated an instant poephol flutter where the nought was red lining at a higher rpm that even what I’ve seen done by a Rotax 582.

Anyway, there came an overwhelming desire to deal with this “competence” thing you mentioned, because the rudder of the little aerie (nicknamed Chiquita) is about a quarter the size of the door, and at this point the door was the supreme commander of directional control. With left rudder pedal hard enough that it was indenting the mat and full power (I’d already briefly and fruitlessly tried a reduction of power) she settled into an almost straight trajectory, to where I was no doubt going to crash. Sorry to interject with a minor observation here, but at this stage the poephol’s wild rpm must have caused it to seize, because it just clamped rigidly closed. Nevertheless, when taken to full thrust at take off, this little aerie needs quite a bootfull of right rudder to make her go straight i.e. she inclines left and the full power at this point almost made for equilibrium between the lodged door and the full deflection of left rudder.

Moving on, remember that I was on the climb after take off, so the initial ‘swirl’ to the right had me pointed roughly in the direction of the runway I’d just come from, but with insufficient directional control to be assured of not making a miserable mess of things in the sugar cane immediately adjacent the runway. Good fortune then shone upon me when I tried a slide slip, because, by inputting some cross control the misshapen door was now very much in the lee of the fuselage, and Voila, by the use of varying degrees of aileron input, I recaptured directional control. As if this was not enough to provide some morning entertainment, there was a Trike microlight stationary on the threshold, with the Instructor briefing the student before their take off. Despite my increasingly desperate radio calls he made no move. So having saved the day, it seemed I was heading for one of those ‘no win’ scenarios. I even had time to imagine them saying “you prick, you crashed the Trike and that’s why your door broke off”. Anyway, the eventual quavering bleat in my voice must have got through and Dave (the Instructor) looked over his shoulder, followed by his instant blast out of the way. He told me afterwards that he knew something wasn’t altogether good when “this very strange shaped aircraft was approaching him sideways and looking to apparently land on him”. Phew! But just when you think its all over; as the landing roll runs out of speed, the energy of the airflow holding the door against the strut now starts to peter out right? Fortunately with only the need for foot control on the pedals to hold direction, I lean out and grab the door, just as it starts to slide down and threatening to go under the wheel. Having come to rest, sans door, but in one piece, I lit and sucked on my pipe with such vigour that I thought my head may implode. I don’t know if this suction or the abatement of the frantic activity did it, but at this moment my poephol thankfully started to unsieze itself. After some careful inspection for latent damage to the aircraft and the removal of the good door, I had a serious word or two with Chiquita and amidst threats of renaming her Doris, I took off and flew quite uneventfully back to base at Camperdown, some 40kms away. Door and ego repairs are currently well underway.

I have specifically omitted to mention my aircraft type because, as all armchair critics will do, they will unjustifiably bad mouth the aircraft, and if the truth be known, it was not the aircraft’s fault at all. I’m OK, the aerie is good and the competence levels just chalked up one more exercise on the experience list. Bob Hoover, renown aviator once said “if you’re gonna crash, then the best thing you can do is to fly your aircraft as far into the crash as possible”. I want to find his email address and thank him, because I never forgot reading that and figuring how sensible it sounded. Now I come to learn that it is absolutely true, for had I not maintained the disciplined approach of ‘working’ the aeroplane, then this incident would surely have been very ugly. So; Rule No.1 – When under adversity, just fly the plane!

Cheers for now,
Steve