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Most Recent

Adventures in Vertigo

October 29, 2015


Being unsure of your aircraft's attitude is one of the most stressful situations that one can encounter in an airplane. Whether the occasion is due to failure of the aircraft's instruments to accurately give situational information or due to your own false sensations, it gets one's immediate attention.

I have been lucky in my flying with only two occasions when I wasn't sure exactly what the aircraft was doing. The first time was during a night approach to a mountain airport, done very early in my instrument flying career. At a critical moment on that flight, every nerve and sensation in my body screamed that the Grumman I was flying had decided to finish the approach while lying on it's right side. Only the stern words of my instrument instructor echoing in my head saved me. "This will happen and when it does, ignore everything else and believe your instruments!". I did that and soon the airplane returned to flying with the right side up.

The second time was in a Cessna 421 in CAVU conditions, believe it or not. I was at fifteen thousand feet and had caught a tremendous mountain wave that pegged the rate of climb indicator while the nose was pointed down. It was brief and not a safety concern, but I thought the momentary disorientation was interesting.

My last experience and the subject of this story, was recently while operating a Massy Fergerson 340. To save you reaching for your copy of 'Jane's All The World Aircraft', let me point out that this is a farm tractor, not an airplane. Let me explain.

My daughter, the one who argues like a Connecticut lawyer because that's what she is, called me this spring just before I left California for West Virginia, to tell me that she had received a quote of 'about twenty grand' to remove the dead and dying diseased spruce on her property in Northwest Connecticut. She asked, "did I have any ideas?". Well I did of course, given the fact that thirty odd years ago I had, with the help of a friend, logged the timber from my land hat I needed to build a house. And she was my little girl after all, and this was something I could do to help her.

So, within about a week of arriving with the fifth wheel at my West Virginia place, I hooked the flat bed trailer to the Ford, loaded my trusty farm tractor and all my long unused logging tools and drove the 550 miles to Stephanie's house.

In my opinion the Blue Spruce is one of the prettiest evergreens you will see when healthy, but their disease and death at my daughter's formally bucolic home had left it looking like the back side of the moon. Surveying the property I found there were about twenty of the distressed trees, measuring from forty to sixty feet in height.

So for the next three months my days consisted of working at the aircraft business via the computer and the phone during the mornings and spending afternoons in the trees with the chain saw and the tractor. I felled the trees, then reduced them to pieces small enough to move with the tractor and bucket to an area that I had cleared deep in the property's woods.

At last the trees were down, the ground cleaned up, and down in the woods the 'Creature Condo' built of tree parts had grown to the size of a small house. It was time to load up and head back to West Virginia.

Early next morning I once again hitched the trailer to the Ford and began backing the tractor up the ramps and onto the flat bed. The morning's dew on the ramps combined with the uphill incline where the trailer was parked caused he tractor wheels to spin and it refused to back onto the trailer. My solution was to turn the truck and trailer around and move it to over to a graveled road which ran steeply down a grade, thereby easily backing the tractor onto the trailer while the truck and trailer faced down the hill.

My excellent idea worked well, and with the help of the grade the tractor backed easily up the ramps and onto the very end of the 24 foot trailer. Just as I was congratulating myself for my solution to the loading problem, something began to feel vaguely wrong. I struggled for a moment to put my finger on exactly what it was, but now in the periphery of my vision I noticed that the trees along the road beside me seemed to be - well, moving. My mind rejected that idea as impossible and quickly cast about for another reason for this. When nothing was forthcoming quickly, I turned my head enough to see that it wasn't the trees, that were moving, but instead it was me on the tractor that rested on the trailer which was hooked to the truck, and we were all moving hell for leather down the hill, me facing backwards.

After coming to terms with this sad fact, my next thought was that I had forgotten to put the truck in park. As confusion reigned and my synapses fired like Gatling Guns in a vain attempt to catch up with what was occurring, the little recorder in my head that notes such things without conscience effort was running. When I later replayed the incident I found that during our wild ride down the gravel road I had been peering over my right shoulder at the runaway truck while stomping with all my strength on the immobile tractor's brakes and twisting it's steering wheel in a vain attempt to steer the truck located some 25 feet to my rear.

The whole affair ended as the road leveled out and the truck left the road and nosed into the woods just as it was about to stop. The trailer had jackknifed into the rear fender of the truck and there was a small dent, but no other damage to the equipment. Other than my pride, I was unscathed.

The NTSB (Neighborhood Transgression Scrutinizing Board) concluded the cause of the incident was operator error. Due to the gravel and the grade, the transfer of weight caused by the tractor pushing down on the rear of the trailer subsequently caused the front of the trailer to take the weight from the rear truck wheels via the trailer hitch, to the point where they slid on the gravel. The duly chastened operator completed the trip to West Virginia without further incident.


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Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales - Route 3 Box 696 - Phillipi, West Virginia - Phone 304-457-4523 - Fax 304-457-4799 A picturesque bed and breakfast located on the Tygart River in the scenic hills of West Virginia.

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