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Old 01-04-21, 01:05 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default The Sky is a vast place by Capt Gihan A Fernando


The Sky is a vast place

by Capt Gihan A Fernando


It was a lovely day to fly. Clear skies and light winds. What more could a private pilot flying purely for fun ask for- The pre-flight checks of the Engine and Air Frame of the Cessna 172 were uneventful. Since I had not completed my bi-annual check flight with a CAASL Examiner I had to fly alone with no passengers. Every two years it is a requirement for pilots like me who fly for pleasure to be checked for their flying proficiency by a designated Examiner from the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL). Until I demonstrate that I can handle engine failures on Take-off, Climbing and Descending, medium and steep turns, Glide Approaches to land, and Forced Landings without power at an outside field or the beach and landings in different configurations of flap, I am not allowed to carry passengers.

Things can happen suddenly and fast on take-off. Because of the torque of the engine and the slipstream effect of the propeller the old Cessna's tend to turn left. Therefore, to track straight along the runway centre line, a steady amount of right rudder must be applied by the pilot, using the feet. As the aircraft accelerates and reaches flying speed, the pilot has to gently ease back on the control column at about 60 knots (69 mph) airspeed, to allow the aircraft to climb upwards at an angle, causing the pilot's seat to move backwards against a mechanical stop. If not locked properly the seat could move all the way back. This is exactly what happened to me that day.

My seat suddenly slid back to its rearwards limit, leaving my feet and hands out of reach of brakes and rudder pedals and elevator controls. The aircraft was flying uncontrolled and promptly swung to the left of the runway. Then there was the 'startle factor', with me struggling to regain control. Fortunately, I could reach the elevator trim wheel which I turned till the nose was almost level (at about 200 feet) and thus reducing the angle of climb then I hauled myself forward using a strap handle on the door post.

The whole scenario may have taken a few seconds but long enough for the Air Traffic Control Tower to notice the crazy flying I was doing. At flying training, we were taught to Aviate, Navigate and Communicate in that order of priority. After I got my seat into a reasonable position, I was able to regain control. Then came a call from the Air Traffic Control Tower saying that I was indulging in 'hazardous flying'.

Browsing the Internet, I gather that it is quite a common occurrence the world over and pilots have ended up 'pranging' perfectly good aircraft. Had I inadvertently pulled back the controls, when sliding back with my seat, it could have been a different story. Pushing the control column forward with my fingers kept the nose from getting into an unusual nose up attitude, saved the day.

I promptly apologised and explained to the Air Traffic Controller what happened. He required me to land as soon as possible and file an 'Occurrence Report' I couldn't help but recall that old Rosemary Clooney's children's song about the 'Hobbling Goblin with a broken broom'

The words if I remember right were - his radio would say 'Hello Mr Goblin your broomstick is wobbling, you better make a landing right away'

The pilots flying this aircraft before me were very much lighter than my 85 kg weight. Therefore, they had no problem with the seat. After that day, I make it doubly sure that my seat is properly locked, before Take-off.

As we aviators say 'The Sky is a vast Place, but there is no room for neglect and error.'

The Cockpit

The Cessna 172

Last edited by sriyanj; 01-04-21 at 01:10 PM.
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