Pitts Pilot Lands Propless Plane at Congested Airport

Spencer Suderman stands next to the PItts S-1C, which lost its propeller in flight near Whiteman Airport. Courtesy Spencer Suderman

Aerobatic performer Spencer Suderman got a nasty surprise this weekend as he was flying over the San Fernando Valley, one of the most congested parts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Suderman was cruising at 7,500 feet on his way to Yuma, Arizona, when his propeller suddenly departed the Pitts S-1C biplane he was flying.

In a post on Facebook, Suderman said he was about two miles southwest of Whiteman Airport (WHP) when the prop fell off. Suderman declared an emergency and, when queried by ATC if he needed any assistance, he asked for the wind direction and a clear path for his approach to the airport. The approach controller cleared the Pitts to land on either runway 12 or 30 at Whiteman. The runway at WHP is 4,120 feet long and 75 feet wide.

The airport elevation is at right about 1,000 feet, giving Suderman 6,500 feet to play with. However, pilots often describe the glide ratio of a Pitts with a catastrophic power failure approximately equal to that of a brick, so the altimeter was likely winding down rather quickly.

Fortunately, Suderman was able to pull out some impressive piloting skills, maneuvering the airplane to a safe landing at Whiteman. He is likely not a stranger to handling power failures as he pushes his airplanes to the limit, flying aerobatic shows and having broken the Guinness World Record for the most inverted spins, 98 of them, in 2016, in Yuma. He was on his way back there to attempt to one-up himself by spinning inverted more than 120 times.

Suderman said in his Facebook post: “If anyone finds my prop somewhere in the North end of the valley let me know.” The selfie picture the pilot took with his propless Pitts is a clear indication of how happy he was to be down safely.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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