My Mistake

After 54 years of various type flying, navy carrier pilot, corporate pilot, ag-pilot and CFII, retired I am content to sit on my porch on the edge of the Mississippi Delta have a cold adult beverage and listen to those beautiful ag-engines (especially round engines). I thank God that I am still above ground and can tell “sea stories” by the dozens to my grandchildren. There is a particular topic that I have touched on in a previous AgAir Update’s In My Opinion. I want to elaborate on it and maybe add a little emphasis. Actually, there are two subjects, but they are very closely related.

I think the first subject has to do with making a forced landing in the worse imaginable location. To quote the original “Right Stuff” pilot Mr. Bob Hoover, “Fly the airplane all the way into the crash.”  Another way to say the same thing is never trying to “stretch a glide.” If there is a more preferred landing place just a little bit ahead of the projected impact place, do not try to stretch the glide. Under these circumstances, with adrenaline pumping at 100 psi, you may become fixated on stretching the glide to the more preferred touchdown spot and in all probability you will totally disregard the stall warning that is screaming at you or the stick which is about to shake right out of your hands. The airplane will stall, and you will land in a nearly vertical, nose-down attitude. Your chances of survival are slim to none. Fly that bird all the way into the crash. If landing in a heavily wooded area, try to pick out two huge oak trees and use the rudder (it never stalls) to guide the aircraft right between the two trees.

Related to the first topic is hammerhead turns or simply trying to fly outside of the safety envelope of your ability or the airplane’s. Hammerhead turns (stalls) are for skilled aerobatic pilots, not ag-pilots. In either of the aforementioned circumstances, the airplane impacts the ground nearly vertical. In a previous In My Opinion article, I made it clear that my beef is not so much with the ag-pilot who consistently makes hammerhead turns. If he wants to bust his buns, which eventually will surely happen, that’s fine. However, the terrible example he is setting for the rookie ag-pilot who watches and admires that pilot making hammerhead turns is what makes my blood boil. In My Opinion, when that rookie pilot augers one in while attempting to emulate the other more seasoned ag pilot, that senior ag pilot is partially responsible for the rookie’s death.  

I know what I’m talking about because when I was practicing making ag turns in the early spring of 1971, before I ever even carried my first load of chemicals, I stalled the PA-25-235 Pawnee in a steep turn. The nose dipped about 45 degrees. I barely managed to level the airplane before it slammed into the ground, busting both landing gear bungees. Thank you Lord that I learned the lesson and lived to tell about it. Maybe another rookie will learn from my mistake.

Robert McCurdy

Chief pilot and ag flight instructor, retired.





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