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I Learned About Flying From That: It Couldn’t Happen to Me
I knew that what I did next was a mistake as I was doing it. The Buhl doesn’t have nice, natural toe brakes, but rather heel brakes — small round pads, aft and inboard of the rudder pedals, that are anything but easy to use. There’s only one rule about using them during landing: Don’t. On top of being difficult to use, they are also quite grabby.
With the edge of the runway coming ever so close, and full right rudder and aileron just not being enough, I hit the right brake. It kept me from going off the left side of the runway — but now here comes the right side! Then left, then right, left, right — for what seemed an eternity. Somehow, miraculously, the little Buhl stopped listening to me and decided to slow down to taxi speed before I could do any more damage.
I taxied in with many people waving and cheering to me — the ones who had not seen or did not understand the abomination I had just performed. I felt sick inside, embarrassed and ashamed. And they were waving and cheering — the last thing I wanted or deserved!
I’ve spent much time in thought and discussion about this event since it happened. Like every incident, accident and near-disaster, there are circumstances that helped predestine the eventual outcome.
I had just finished a week of helicopter review training, in which I practiced autorotations. When you lose power in a helicopter, one of the responses required is immediate right pedal input to compensate for the sudden torque change. It so happens that the anti-torque (foot) pedals in the Robinson R22 are similar in size, feel and “throw” to a Buhl’s rudder pedals. I had been developing the muscle memory required for autorotation. As it turns out, this is a completely disastrous muscle memory to carry over to a Buhl.
But the largest contribution to my near-disaster began Thursday afternoon, before my flight from Torrance to FlaBob. I’d been busy. (Hey, everyone is, right?) Even though I was legally current, I had only flown the Buhl once this year. I believed I could put on this little airplane like a suit and wear it whenever and wherever I wanted. Ha!
Even with nothing else going on — let alone taking the Buhl to a relatively tiny airport with a huge event taking place — I should’ve given myself the gift of time. Time to get reacquainted with my old friend. Time to go out and do some airwork — stalls, steep turns, chandelles, lazy eights. Time to come back to Torrance’s big runway and shoot a half-dozen full-stop landings, then another half-dozen touch-and-goes. Then, when arriving at FlaBob, time to do another half-dozen, and get used to the tighter pattern and smaller runway.
Many times the aviation gods warned me. Small tingles on the back of my neck? Ignored. The lack of recent Buhl entries in my logbook? Ignored again. The loudest shout-out to me (which I also successfully ignored) was my bad landing at FlaBob on Thursday, after my flight from Torrance.
What was I thinking? At first, I believed that I wasn’t thinking at all. But that’s just not true.
I was thinking of my years of experience. I was thinking of my licenses and ratings. I was thinking about how many years and how many hours I have in the Buhl. I was thinking it couldn’t happen to me.