Flying Hurt

OK, so it's been a rough year for me. In May, I broke a small bone in my left hand that put me in a cast for a month. And on Nov. 5, I cracked a rib on the back side - halfway between my spine and my side. I broke the hand playing ice hockey; and the back injury happened at a skateboard park with my twin 8-year-old sons. Maybe if we ever meet in person, I'll tell you how that happened.

So, both times, my first thought was, "Will I be able to fly?"

With the cast on my left hand, I was pretty well set with operating most of the buttons, knobs and switches in my old Bonanza. But the fuel selector is down by my left ankle, and I usually twist it into place with my left hand. Couldn't do it. I could reach over with my right hand okay, but it would have been a challenge if I had to get to the fuel selector in a hurry while I was otherwise maneuvering -- as in an engine failure on takeoff.

I asked my FAA-certified medical examiner what he thought. He said it was basically up to me to determine if I felt competent to fly. Recognizing that the risk was elevated, I chose to do so -- but on a limited basis. And I certainly adjusted my preflight routine (extra time ensuring the fuel selector was correctly placed, etc.). I gave additional thought to what to do should the engine fail on takeoff. I would commit more readily to a forced landing, rather than risk compromising my control of the airplane trying to change tanks close to the ground. One small unknown: I found myself surprisingly less comfortable than expected handling the control wheel with my left thumb and first two fingers. It gave me a fuller appreciation of how much I rely on total "feel."

This month, I waited a couple of extra weeks to fly with my back injury. And I left the airplane unsaddled a couple of days when I would have gone flying otherwise, because A. it wasn't as much fun to fly that way, and B. I acknowledged an ever-so-slight increase in risk, given that it hurt to twist and reach -- say, into the back seat to reach the fire extinguisher or the emergency gear extension handle.

Summary: I decided I could fly with my dexterity and physical flexibility lightly compromised. But I adjusted my 'go/no-go' strategy accordingly. And finally, I resolved to act more my age when it comes to skateboard parks.

Call to action: If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, or have any questions about flying technique you'd like answered, send me a note at We'd love to hear from you.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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