Fuel. Again.

This appeared in the USPA Professional in June 2013.  It bears repeating.

A search of jump-plane-related accidents on the National Transportation Safety Board’s website at reveals 10 accidents related to fuel problems over the past five years (May 2008-May2013), with eight of those accidents occurring in the past three years. Nine of the accidents were due to fuel exhaustion, which means the pilot completely failed to plan for the amount of fuel needed to perform the flight, account for unusable fuel and adhere to Federal Aviation Regulation 91.151, which sets fuel requirements for flight in visual conditions.

Eight of the fuel exhaustion accidents involved Cessna 182s; all were 1956-1959 models. There is no definitive data on how many 182s of each model are flying skydivers, but it is interesting to note the concentration of model years.

So what is unique about these model years? They have a higher unusable fuel amount compared to later model years. From the 182’s introduction in 1956 to 1960, the model includes a 10-gallon unusable fuel total. That is five gallons each side! Contributing to confusion is that those models’ old Pilot Operating Handbooks give a vague statement that usable fuel is greater in straight-and-level flight. Some pilots may consider this permission to plan flights with less fuel. If the unusable fuel is 10 gallons and it takes eight gallons to fly to 10,000 feet, you must also add in 30 minutes worth of reserve fuel at normal cruise power. New jump pilots must be trained to deal with older aircraft designs.

Submitted by Chris Schindler.

Blog Relaunched


After a brief hiatus, is back! The website, created in December 2000 by former jump pilot Chris Schindler, has been a leader in bringing the latest safety information to pilots worldwide who fly skydivers.  The website has helped lower the overall accident rate of jump planes year over year by featuring detailed guidelines for flying several aircraft types as jump aircraft, a compilation of jump plane accidents worldwide, jump pilot training syllabus, formation flying guidelines, and much more.

“Having a collected experience of SOP’s for jump operations and different aircraft was priceless for me when I started,” says Twin Otter pilot Jeff Gladish. “Every time I’d fly a new aircraft, in addition to studying the AFM, this site could help me to fit that info into a jump operation. ”

“I was directed to the site as soon as I was hired,” adds Caravan pilot Shaun Lee. “The site helped me more than the person who was training me. The site is a go-to source for new jump pilots everywhere.”

Now remodeled and relaunched, continues to provide best practices and training for pilots who fly skydivers at hundreds of drop zones around the world. Among the updates are revisions to the accident section to provide more commentary, listings of accidents by aircraft type and cause as well as by year, a freefall drift simulator, and a blog for first-person accounts of jump pilot “life lessons” and Q&A.

“ is my personal choice for information where it concerns skydiving pilots,” says Rabbitt Staib, beta tester and chief pilot at Skydive Spaceland. “Chris has taken his experience and the experience of seasoned jump pilots and has presented it in an excellent format for newer and other seasoned jump pilots to use.”

Blue skies and soft landings from the team.


Superior, WI Formation Flight Crash Commentary

SUPERIOR, Wis. – Two planes carrying skydivers collided in midair Saturday evening in far northwest Wisconsin, but no major injuries were reported.

Formation flying skydivers adds a whole new level of complexity to your job.  Do you have formal training in flying formations?  Are you going by a few “suggestions” by the local folks?  This can be the difference between a nice change of pace in your Diver Driving and complete disaster as seen in this accident.  You must have a plan.  You must then fly that plan or abort the drop/formation.  You must have positive two way communication.  YOU MUST NEVER RUN INTO ANOTHER PLANE IN THE FORMATION!

From watching the video provided several times I am struck by how fast the loss of separation happens as the climbout begins.  The first jumper goes out and inexplicably gets in FRONT of the right wing strut of the Cessna 185.  His back is now facing the prop which creates a great hazard for the load and himself.  The pilot is seen looking at the skydivers climbing out rather than having eyes glued on the lead plane.  Whether the lead turned and ballooned or the trail lost direction and just over ran the lead plane it is hard to say without interviewing the pilots directly.

Things to consider and are NOT in any way saying this was the cause of this accident:

  • Flying close enough that you might be confused with the Blue Angels is NOT a good plan with skydivers.  CG shift, experience levels, variability of what the jumpers might do unexpected can all play into losing separation.  And it happens in a flash.  Hopefully not a flash of Avgas as seen here.
  • If you are flying lead you MUST maintain heading and airspeed.  If you plan a “cut” on climbout you must communicate that with your trail preferably in a preflight briefing and then again announced on the radio as a reminder.  This allows the formation to know exactly what you are doing and when.
  • If you are flying trail never lose sight of the lead plane or the plane you are to follow.  This is a cardinal rule.  I must never be broken or the formation must be abandoned.

Skydive St. Louis Crashes

Keep in mind as you browse through these photos that there was never a fatality, never a serious injury, and every skydiver landed safely under their own parachutes. These photos are all from Bowling Green, Missouri the location of Skydive St. Louis (1990-1999); an operation that could boast the best skydiving safety record in the region ( zero fatalities and zero serious/permanent injuries in over 75,000 skydives). But the negative financial impact of every aircraft situation was incredible. The following stories describe the handful of incidents from over 25,000 aircraft flights that severely slowed the growth of Skydive St. Louis throughout the years.

1990_C2051990; Cessna 205 Crash

Lew Welzel and Rick Eddy had just purchased Skydive St. Louis from Bill Hayes and Tom Gettemeyer, which had only been a one-airplane dropzone for years. We flew in the Cessna 205 from Colorado in early May to be the second airplane, which would more than double our capacity (5 jumpers in the 205). Our pilot, George, got to fly the 205 for the first time that day, and certainly enjoyed flying the 205 for about 6 hours that day, and there were many people who came to the operation that day to enjoy the extra jumping opportunity with the 205. By the way this was actually in Jonesburg Missouri; about 45 miles south of BG, when we were first located there in May of 1990.

On the last flight of the day we flew both airplanes in formation together in an attempt to fly a 9 person skydiving formation in freefall. We made the skydive, and the skydivers land. The Cessna 182 lands and then George flies the 205 low over the airport. At first we think he is just having fun, but we soon realize that the sun has set and he can not easily see the unlit gravel runway. George is also worried about running out of fuel. We rush out to the runway with several cars to try and illuminate the short strip. George misses the runway by 5 feet and slowly lands the 205 in the mud next to the runway. The 205 slows down and almost comes to a stop; but then the nose gear sinks into the mud and the airplane slowly flips up about 95 degrees, and then falls forward onto its back.

George is upside down in the seat, buckled in. He releases the seatbelt, drops to the ceiling, and climbs out of the airplane without a scratch. The 205 is a ‘total’, and the insurance money ($19,000) went to the parent operation, Skydive Colorado, which desperately needed the funding for Cessna 206 engine problems at the time in Colorado.

Damage Estimate – $19,000 direct loss to the operation; Skydive St. Louis was limited to one airplane for the next 2 years. Estimated value unknown.

Story behind the story. The FAA investigated the accident and decided that the pilot did not need to be suspended, but that it was a good idea for him to go through some refresher training in night flight procedures. George ignored them (the FAA), and tried to hide from them. A year later George flies our Cessna 182 to the St. Louis area for a demo jump/flight, and while he is there he encounters an FAA official who is doing general airplane/pilot inspections.

The FAA official tells George he remembered something about a pilot out our way that he had been trying to find. The FAA man asks George if he knows anything about a 206 accident near Jonesburg? And George looks him straight in the face and says, “No sir, I don’t know anything about a 206 accident.” And walks away.

1992; 182 Tail Strike

Fortunately, we had a very experienced pilot who remained calm. Steve Hult, flight engineer for TWA and one of our frequent pilots, was flying our Cessna 182 (N5015D) and had four skydivers including a recent graduate from our training program who was using some rental equipment.

While the novice skydiver/recent graduate (Bob) was climbing out of the airplane and standing on the step over the wheel, a pin came loose on the parachute equipment that holds the reserve parachute in place. The parachute inflates in less than a second and yanks Bob off the step. Gravity pulls Bob well below the tail of the airplane, but the parachute briefly snags part of the tail – bending the tail and twisting it until the parachute drops off.

Bob lands hard, but safely under a round emergency parachute in some trees about two miles away from the airport. But up in the sky, Steve Hult is the only one left in the damaged airplane. Everyone else has safely jumped. Steve never looked back to see the damage, but he sampled the control range of the airplane while he flew it straight and level.

Steve radioed down to the ground to tell us about his situation, and that he was going to fly around to try to burn up most of his fuel. He didn’t nose the plane down, but instead reduced the power so that the airplane slowly descended while flying level. We called the emergency squad of BG and they had all kinds of rescue equipment lined up next to the runway by the time Steve came in to land. We were ready for a crash!

Instead Steve Hult was at 200 feet about two miles away and slowly brought the airplane in for a slow and soft landing. No one had a scratch.

Damage Costs – $5000 to repair, 3 weeks down time in October.

1994_1821994: N6090B crash

Too bad we didn’t have a more experienced pilot flying our Cessna 182. Mark was flying while a recent graduate, Steve, climbed out onto the step of the airplane. The pin on his reserve came loose, due ultimately to a manufacturing error by the equipment manufacturer. The square reserve parachute deploys and yanks Steve off of the airplane, and gravity pulls him below the tail. The parachute catches somewhat on the tail of the airplane until it pulls back and twists the tail until the chute comes loose with minor damage. All the skydivers safely jump and land under their parachutes, and Steve lands his reserve in a nearby field.

Mark, the pilot, has some difficulty keeping the nose of the airplane down, so he assumes that will not be a problem on landing. He fights the airplane and gets control to put it into a normal fast descent. Before the jumpers have landed and can communicate the problem to the people on the ground Mark is bringing the airplane in for a landing. He turns the airplane at 1000 feet and then finds that the nose doesn’t want to come up for him. Mark turns the airplane and crash lands it nose first in a nearby field. Mark gets out of the airplane and walks back to the hangar.

Story behind the story. This Cessna 182 we had just bought from a place in Oregon a few months before, and we had invested quite a bit of labor and parts to get it into acceptable condition. And it was not insured. So it was a total loss, and cut our airfleet of two airplanes in half once again. Several months later Ken Callahan strapped together the pieces of the airplane and drove them on the back of a truck all the way to Loveland Colorado (900 miles one way) just to help the dropzone. The operation in Colorado spent about a year reworking the airplane with other parts and later it returned to our operation in BG as N4090D.

Another Story behind the Story. Three years later we learned that this incident was covered by USPA membership insurance because Steve was a member when the chute hit the airplane. An insurance investigator agreed that it should be covered and we received a payment of $18000 three years after the fact. This helped us survive the winter of 1997 when there were no funds remaining to get through the winter months of St. Louis Missouri.

1995_1821995; N5015D crash

Mark had crash landed and totaled one of our two Cessna 182’s on the last day of our operations in 1994. In March of 1995 the weather was unusually warm and we decided to open the operation early that year to try to get more income to help our airplane situation.

On the seventh flight of the first day of operations, our pilot Russ was descending our Cessna 182 (N5015D) for a normal landing with an observer riding in the airplane. The observer was the wife of one of our skydivers, and she was learning how to fly herself at the time. At 1000 feet as Russ was flying parallel to the runway to come in for the landing, he ran out of fuel (the FAA’s ruling later) or for some other reason the engine stopped.

Pilots in this situation are trained to immediately turn and land the airplane ASAP since it has no power. Russ was surprised by the situation, and instead tried to restart the engine several times. When Russ realized he could not restart the engine, he turned the airplane to land – but found that he was now 1 mile from the runway. Russ crash landed the airplane ¾ of a mile from the runway he had been right next too at a safe 1000 feet. The airplane hit a small tree and fence post. Russ hit his head on the instrument panel, and the woman had stuck her arms straight out to brace for a crash and thus broke a bone in her arm/shoulder, and bruised several muscles.

Russ was taken to the hospital for observation, where the junior weekend staff at the local hospital administered the wrong medication which put Russ into a coma for 3 days and took him several months from which to recover.

This incident crashed our last airplane, and it appeared as though we would be out of business. Then 2 months later a group of 8 skydivers got together and loaned Skydive St. Louis enough money to purchase yet another Cessna 182 (N4916D), and we spent the remainder of 1995 operating with just one airplane – again!

Story behind the Story. This airplane was not insured, and so it seemed a total loss at the time. However our new airplane needed many of those parts, as did the airplane that was being rebuilt back in Colorado. We also rebuilt the engine and resold it, so we eventually recovered about $20,000 worth of parts etc. Of course there was no way to recover the loss of business, the greater debt incurred by buying another airplane on loan, or the effect on the operation’s reputation.

1998_C4111998; Cessna 411 Tail Strike

In 1997 we had two good 182’s flying, and we needed a larger airplane. We sold one of our Cessna 182’s (N4090D) and purchased a Cessna 411 twin engine airplane that could carry as many as 10 skydivers and go to 14000 feet above ground. The airplane was a fine plane, but it had a dubious reputation among pilots and mechanics who did not have personal experience with the airplane.

By July of 1997 the plane was rebuilt and ready for flight. On the very first flight, Rick Eddy decided to have only six jumpers on board, and that he would be the only diver to stand outside the airplane while the others would dive down to him on the exit. The pilot, Mike, had been told by other 411 pilots to fly the airplane at a somewhat fast speed (106 mph) and with the flaps up. Actually this information was incorrect, but Mike had remembered it wrong. In addition, there was a pinhole air leak in one of the instrument air lines so that when the door of the 411 was opened the air pressure changed So that the speedometer read 10 mph slow.

Mike noticed that the airplane was slow when Rick opened the door, so he speeded up to what turned out to be 116 mph. When Rick released from the airplane the wind and the speed and the angle of flight allowed him to drift backwards and he hit the tail of the airplane with his helmet, which put the large dent in the tail that the picture shows.

Rick was knocked unconscious, and was a limp body falling through the sky. Only Mike, the next diver in the door, had seen what had happened. As all the divers exited Mike dove down to try to catch or somehow help Rick. After about 20 seconds Rick recovers by himself, turns over and begins the skydive with the others as planned. The 6 person star formation is completed just before breakoff time, and Mike notices during the dive that Rick is not smiling, as he normally does.

Rick turns as the correct time and safely opens the parachute and comes down for a landing, completely recovered, and completely unaware that anything has occurred. Mike lands and runs up to Rick, asking if he is OK. Rick says, yeah, why? Mike takes Rick to the airplane and they see the dent. If not for the hard plastic helmet that Rick wears all the time, the incident could have been fatal. Instead there wasn’t even a scratch.

Story behind the story. After calling several hospitals within the hour, Rick decides that there is no concussion, and no reason to go to the hospital. A few minutes later Rick suits up and puts on a heavy camera helmet on his head and rides up on the next flight to film a tandem skydive! No problem.

Cost to repair – $750

1999_C4111999; Cessna 411 crash

When we entered 1999 we had finished all the work on our Cessna 411, and our Cessna 182 was in great shape. We were ready for a great season.

Our only problem was personnel: our main pilot for several years had been hired by TWE, and we needed another chief pilot. In May we hired a pilot who had twice as much experience as our former pilot, but an immature personality and little common sense. Eric, the new pilot struggled to learn to fly the airplane correctly, and on his 3rd week after he had dropped a group of divers, he forgot to put the landing gear down when landing the airplane. A simple mistake that screwed us quite a bit because it was our primary airplane, and it was at the beginning of the season.

Although the airplane repairs were covered by insurance, it took 3 months from the heart of our season to repair the airplane and by then all of the event plans for the operation had gone away.

Story behind the story. Eric, the idiot pilot, was told by the FAA that he didn’t have to come out and meet them at the airport for an inspection as long as he submitted a written report to them about the incident. Eric decided to blow them off and not do it. Several weeks later the FAA suspended him for a few months to teach him a lesson. From reports of his flying since then the lesson did not stick.


Well, these are the primary airplane incidents that happened at Skydive St. Louis. It is incredible that we were able to stay in business all those years. This does not include the four airplane engines that we had to prematurely replace between 1992 and 1995 that each cost about $15,000 (total about $60,000), and months and months of downtime waiting for repairs awhile only using one airplane. Of the four engines two were badly damaged by pilot abuse, one by a poor rebuild, and one by a simple honest mistake of replacing a cowling screw with a long one that vibrated into the engine and emptied all the oil in flight.

Looking back at all this it is amazing that we remained in business. How I’m not sure. Why I’m not sure, but we did it. In the end the operation closed because of the nationwide problem of attracting skydiving staff to work at the operations. The staff shortage led to the formation of Skydive Zion in St. George Utah in 2000 – a much smaller operation to focus more on the training aspects of skydiving rather than a full service high volume operation. To date, the only airplane problem in Utah has been replacing two radio transistors – cost, $80.


DC-3 Crash Z-Hills, FL: Things That Make You Go Mmm…

During the Phoenix Z-Hills Easter Boogie (April 1993), Tracey & I were on the DC3 Phoenix Air with our group, taking off for our final jump of the day. We had had a good days skydiving, in fact we had had a great few weeks skydiving with friends old and new, many of who were making their final jump of the Boogie prior to leaving for home the next day. As we left the ground our spirits were high. Who but those other skydivers seated around us could understand the range of emotions we felt as we were lifted away from the ground to enter our playground, a playground that only a very few, very lucky souls ever get to experience and explore as fully as we have done so many times!

A few seconds later, at an altitude of only 350 feet we lost an engine! We glanced at each other and our eyes spoke to all ‘it’s no big deal, a DC3 can maintain, even climb on one engine’. Then a moment later, contrary to what we all believed even knew from previous experiences to be true, this time things were different. We realized almost instantly that this time we were in the midst of a potentially catastrophic situation! A moments hush descended upon us and then, as if time itself had slowed to a point where seconds had become minutes, as the aircraft sank towards the earth we each prepared for the inevitable impact in our own way. Strangely there was no screaming or panic. Maybe though this is not so strange, as most of us are conditioned to reaction in life threatening situations to that which we have seen portrayed at the movies or on TV. Few people will ever really find themselves in a life threatening situation and have the time to take it all in. If and when if ever they do, they may be as astounded as many of us were that day to find it really isn’t that scary, there is no time to be scared, not for those that wish to survive! As those around me braced themselves, I was brought to the sudden and heart grabbing realization that I, amongst all on board was not strapped in! Even though, almost a year to the day before this day the sport had lost many good friends in the Perris Valley Otter crash, we hadn’t yet all learned the lessons of that terrible day.  Quickly I hunkered down on the floor, braced myself tightly and mentally chastised myself for being such a fool!

Before I had finished berating myself we hit! Now you could feel the tension in the air, though I cannot say for sure whether I was aware of screams or any utterances at all, other than the noise of the aircraft breaking up as we crossed the ground. We had descended in a long glide rather than at a steep angle, even so the impact was considerable. We had gone through high tension powerlines during our descent and now, after going across a slight rise in the ground and rising up from it for another brief moment, we bumped down again and were then sliding across the earth! As we bumped and grinded our way across the ground for what seemed like an eternity, I tightened my grip and prepared for the inevitable sudden stop. Suddenly we spun off to the right and impacted something, though we were not stopping! Then another impact and those on the benches fell down on top of those of us on the floor, still strapped in their seats! We bumped and grinded some more and I’m sure that all as well as I, felt that our life clocks had overrun their time and the curtains were now closing in on our lives! And then, the motion stopped. As we looked around us reality hit, we realized that up until this point we all seemed to be alive and seemingly in relatively good shape!

But we were still in the aircraft and though there was no evidence of fire or smoke at that moment, we knew we had to get out and away before the aircraft caught alight! We vacated the area as quickly as we could, being sure to leave no one behind. As the last person came through the jump door I quickly glanced inside, in the cockpit area I could see a pair of dangling legs hanging down through the pilots escape hatch. Quickly I jumped up inside and ran to the cockpit, pushing Herman our pilot up and out of the hatch as fast as I could I turned and ran down the cabin, through the door and kept on running to where the others were gathered, all the time expecting the aircraft to explode or erupt into flames at any moment, which thankfully it never did!

The end result of this incident was one wrecked DC3 and a pilot with bruised ribs. The rest of us were virtually unhurt, the collective injuries between the forty of us were a sprained ankle and a few small abrasions. In my opinion the deciding factor to the relatively happy end result of this incident was the expertise and calm control of the pilot Herman Reinhold. I believe we owe our lives to him and the skill and presence of mind he used that day!

Nevertheless, the end result may have turned out differently for many if they had been as lax as I and had not buckled up!

Seatbelts in jump planes are provided for your safety and the safety of others around you, use them! You may not be as lucky as I was in this incident, if you fail to buckle up!


From Martin Evans


The Thunderstorm

During the hot summer months it’s not unusual to start the day crystal clear, have a few puffys float around, and then by mid afternoon you have a rain shower move through. One such summer in the midwest I had been keeping an eye on a building cumulus cloud. It pretty much stayed stationary the whole day. I wondered if we would be effected by it. I continued to drop loads as it was stationary about 10 miles west of the airport. Climbing for altitude was not hindered at all. However, after watching this cell build for about two hours it did seem to start to move towards the dropzone. I loaded up another load in the Twin Otter and began climbing for 14K msl.

The jumprun was to the south and the cell was visible out my right front window. The Twin Otter has lots of windows for skydivers to see out themselves. I pointed out the cell to the tandem masters on board. I even called down to manifest to see if the wind was picking up. The report was all looked good. I made my call to center and on local frequency of the impending drop. All looked good still from 14k for a clear drop to the ground. I gave the red light for door open and green light to begin the drop. All the jumpers left and I began descending to the south and making a big box around back to the base leg for runway 23. As I entered the base I saw all the canopies open facing west and holding. They were not driving into the wind at all. I looked to the west and the sky was very dark with a rain shaft coming down still west of the field. I thought “Ok we’ll be done for awhile while this passes.” Then I saw a bolt of lightning come out of the bottom of the cloud. I began to feel very unnerved for those still under canopy and exposed to these elements. I had dropped them into bad situation. As I rolled on to final I saw canopies turning and running to the east. They had begun to back up under canopy. The dropzone was bordered by a river with a deep ravine. If you did not bail out early and head east you might not make it across the river and landing in the river ravine could be very turbulent. I saw some canopies of experienced jumpers on the ground. I saw people jumping on one tandem pair that had exited early and gotten down before this gusty outflow had hit. But others still in the air were now faced east and looked like they had lit afterburners on jet engines with the speed they were traveling over the ground. I knew they would make it across but didn’t know how their landing would go facing back into the wind.

The final approach had been stable in smooth air. And just as I was about to touch down I saw bits of crops now blowing across the runway. I had many clues that should have told me to go around and wait out the storm. But I thought I still had a clear shot. To those who have flown the Twin Otter you will know that it has a HUGE vertical fin with a big rudder. It gives excellent directional control. However, it’s a HUGE fin that likes to weather vane you and I got hit with a 30 mph wind just as I touched down. After dropping jumpers the aircraft is very light and floaty. I pull full aileron into the wind and darn near full opposite rudder but the gust was too much and weather vaned right into the wind. I exited the runway and ran over some bean crops. Fortunately a north-south grass runway kept the crops from being too long in my path. I exited the crops onto the grass strip and made a left back over the paved runway towards the ramp and hangar. The other Twin Otter was already mostly in the hangar as I came pulling up. We got it in the hangar just before the skies opened up with rain and the doors were quickly closed. I got out and saw I had dragged some green vines with me. Another jumper noted the stowaways with a raised eyebrow.

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries from the landings but one tandem master fractured and ankle during his landing on the east side of the river. I have always felt very bad about this as skydivers trusted me to only drop them in acceptable weather conditions. I was perfectly legal in my drop with cloud clearances. The wind at the time of the drop was well with in good jumping limits. But it went bad in a hurry.

I learned a bit about how to communicate better with my manifest people. I needed to ask them specific questions (Do you see any rain or lightning coming out of that cloud to the west?) My query about how the winds were fell short of getting a clear picture of the conditions on the ground. Also I needed to make better considerations when coming in to land. There were several visual cues that told me this landing would be dicey. I didn’t bend any metal but a good pilot uses his good judgment to avoid using his good skills.

Nowadays we have pretty good and free weather radar websites. If you have someone in manifest that can glance at it once in awhile for you and adequately communicate anything developing it’ll be a plus. But when in doubt shut the plane down and go inside to check it yourself. Use all the tools at your disposal.


Carburetor Heat

One of our 182s had returned from “Annual” out of state. I had not flown it back to our dropzone. The first time I took it out to fly a load I did a normal engine run-up, system check and checked for free controls. However, when the carburetor heat was applied nothing happened. Rather than go airborne without carb heat I elected to shutdown and use another one of our 182s to fly the load. Upon returning after dropping jumpers we took the cowl off the engine. Sure enough the carb heat cable had fallen out of attachment with the lever arm which opens up warming the air entering the intake. What also bothered me was the bird’s nest that was built quite extensively along the left side above the engine. I was not happy with how thorough I had done my preflight to begin with. On the right side of the engine on top of the baffling lay a wrench. This aircraft had flown back to our DZ in this condition.

While I was not happy about what I had found at least I found it before I flew it again. But what happened next was one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever had flying aircraft. Our onsite mechanic reattached the carb heat cable and we cleaned out the bird’s nest and removed the wrench. The cowl was reattached and I did another run-up on the engine. Carb heat worked fine and all other systems seemed to work normal. We loaded up four more jumpers and took off. A normal climb, drop and descent (or so I thought) were made. Soon after landing a rain shower moved through during the lazy summer day. It gave the skydivers enough time to pack and the next student time to suit up and review their dive.

Once the rain shower had moved through we loaded up and I probably made one of the biggest mistakes ever flying an aircraft: I didn’t do a full run-up and system check again. I looked at the engine oil and pressure and both were in the green. CHT was also in the green so I elected to takeoff on the 2,500’x30′ paved runway. All seemed normal. A fully loaded 182 with a pilot and four jumpers on a hot summer day is not a stellar performer as it is. But at about 400′-500′ AGL the engine just quit. It surged again then died again. Having flown out of the airport for almost two years by then I knew I had trees, houses and rising terrain ahead of me as I had just started my turn to exit on a 45 from the traffic pattern. I continued the left turn while adding in the flaps. It had the old style “parking brake” manual flap handle. After the first notch of flaps I made sure the throttle was in, mixture RICH, Ignition was ON, Fuel was on BOTH instead of OFF. I tried Ignition LEFT then RIGHT with no success and put it back to BOTH. We were now going downwind back to the runway. I had made a 180 from the departure runway but not the “impossible turn”. It was a true 180 and I lined up on the grass area where the jumpers landed. I extended the flaps to full and kept the airspeed. I gave it enough flare to keep the nose off the ground and we touched down firm. The grass area was very soggy as we had been getting periodic showers for days. Water and mud flew up as we quickly decelerated. Coming to a stop and not knowing what caused our forced landing we evacuated quickly.

After a few minutes of catching our breath and kind of staring at the plane wondering why it didn’t like us anymore we talked about what happened. It was decided that we could try to crank the engine to see if it would turn over. It did. We checked for fuel and we had plenty in the tanks. Fuel selector was still on BOTH. So, I turned the ignition on and the engine started! It ran smooth. It’s moments like this that can make you question your sanity. I knew it had failed. The jumpers knew it had failed. But now it was running smooth. So I taxied it out of the soggy grass and over to our hangar where we pulled the cowl. As soon as the bottom cowl was dropped there was the carb heat cable dangling from the lever arm. It had become disconnected again.

What we surmised was that on the load prior to this flight the carb heat cable became disconnected again. So on descent when I thought I had heat being applied in very moist conditions I did not. Ice built up and since I had not needed power for landing I didn’t detect the buildup. When the plane sat for a time the ice was loosened and melted from the radiant heat of the engine. On the final flight the water and ice chunk let loose and killed the engine. After the forced landing the radiant heat finished the melting job and the engine started fine and ran smoothly.

Lessons learned were to never assume that even though a plane was signed off for having ANY maintenance done that it was done correctly or thoroughly. Never assume that even though engine indications are in the green that a full run-up before each takeoff is a waste of time. It only takes catching something one time to know that you must be sure before going airborne that all is working correctly.


The Dipstick

During my initial experience learning how to fly skydivers the discussion of fueling the 182 came up. I was handed a wooden stick that had several notches cut into it. I was told that I would “stick” the tanks when fueling or when verifying the fuel load during preflight to assure how much fuel I had onboard. Then with a serious face, my instructor said “Those notches do not mean anything.” Um what? “Those notches do not mean anything. No one ever told me what the notches meant and I assumed they meant five gallons each. They don’t. Someone just cut notches in a stick and threw it in the plane. I didn’t know this and assumed I had 10 gallons onboard. I got to altitude, dropped the load, then promptly ran out of gas as the pitch angle down made the fuel remaining unusable. I dead sticked it to the runway and had enough momentum left to roll into the fueling area. Don’t do what I did. Never, EVER assume that something made up and handed to you has any meaning. Never, EVER accept the phrase “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” You will get burned and it could mean your life.”

It was a cold, sobering discussion on how you can be led down the wrong path when you do not verify what you are being told. Sticking tanks (dipping a stick or tube in a fuel tank to see where the fuel level makes the stick wet to determine how much fuel is on) is a very good way to make sure you have the proper amount of fuel on board before departure, as light single engine aircraft fuel gauges are notoriously inaccurate once in flight. Just make sure that anything that looks “home made” is exactly what you think it is. Question everything then verify what you’ve been told. It could mean your life. Or others’.