“Fly your pattern close” he said.

From a reader:

2012 was my first season as a jump pilot. Previously I had never flown a 182. So I did the proper thing and read the POH. Unfortunately, the publishing of these books in early models didn’t have reliable or much information at all really. The person training me had flown numerous jumps and has prior military experience. So I was helping him AND learning from him. Finally we had a few loads that had just one tandem on board. So it was decided I would fly after the next fueling. So the person training me started fueling and telling me what jump run was. When he finished filling the plane he said something along the lines of the plane was just sipping gas it’s performing unusually well today. This seems suspicious to me but it was cold and I trusted him. I foolishly justified him putting in so little gas thinking hey it’s cold so it’s performing well and he will be in the plane with me and has flown many jumpers so why would he risk himself. So putting my suspicions aside I flew the first load. It went great.  His only complaint was that I flew a standard pattern and jump planes need to fly a tighter pattern. So we loaded the next single tandem and took off. Now I’m flying my second jump run ever. I’m thinking this is the coolest job ever!! So the next load gets out but the lock mechanism is jammed in open position on the door. So now I’m taking my time coming down since speed is limited by an open door. As we flew the pattern I slowed down to pattern speed and flew a tighter pattern. But this time I noticed I suddenly needed some power and it wasn’t there. End result plane wouldn’t make the runway and I made a ditching in a lake. Both I and my teacher were uninsured.   A jump door definitely made it easier to get out when underwater.  A rather unexpected swim to shore and the plane went into the water so smoothly the only thing damaged was the bottom of the front cowling and electronics. Following the FAA investigation they sumped only 8 gallons of fuel out of the tanks. Only thing that went on my record was a retest of my commercial license.

So what did I learn the hard way? First, every landing gets done at flight idle and gets treated like it’s engine out. Second, if you’re suspicious about something investigate it.  Don’t justify something that seems wrong. Third, no matter how much you trust someone else remember you’re the one responsible. Part of my job as PIC is assuring a proper amount of fuel and I neglected that job because I placed trust in someone training me. It’s safe to say that I am a better pilot now not in flying skill but in judgment. comments:

ALWAYS remember that we must have 30 minutes of normal cruise fuel in addition to unusable fuel and fuel intended to fly the load(s).  These old Cessna 182s can have as much as 10 gallons (5 gallons per side) of UNUSABLE fuel.  The FAA drained 8 gallons of fuel out of the plane.

Something that strikes me about jump operations is the pervasive “fly your pattern close, always fly it like it is an engine out” teaching.  You should not expect an engine failure more than any other aspect of flying.  A friend of mine flew jumpers two days and quit because of this “teaching”.  She did not feel it was a safe attitude to have towards the operation.  It is as though the people teaching this know they are cutting it extremely close.  Skydiving operations do not defy the laws of good airmanship.

I want to thank the writer for their candid account of this incident.  I hope everyone can learn something from it.

Blue skies and safe loads.

2 replies on ““Fly your pattern close” he said.”

I always flew my patterns power off, close enough to fly to the numbers in the event of a failure. Still do it in the King Air. Habit I guess.

I do not at all feel that flying close is dangerous or ill advised. Quite the opposite. I feel that the VAST majority of flight schools are teaching to fly TOO FAR away from the runway. Trying to stretch the glide leads to the dreaded stall spin base to final turn scenario.

Just in my humble opinion, having learned to fly in gliders, then transitioned to powered aircraft, flying close is the safer option, and not at all an unsafe attitude to have.

Enter the pattern, fly it close enough that when you are abeam your touchdown point, close the throttle to idle, maintain best glide, turn base when the runway is down 45 degrees, and 45 degrees behind. Add drag (flaps) only as needed. Slips are acceptable forms of drag.

Fly it like it is going to quit. Because it just might.

What’s wrong with using the mindset of planning for the emergency/engine out in ALL forms of aviation? I was taught this way from my first flight lesson, and it doesn’t mean I expect an emergency, but rather I’m always looking for options so that when one occurs inverter prepared.

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