In recent months, there have been numerous cases of the control wheels breaking off of the control column, causing an in-flight emergency for the pilot of the plane — so, no, this is not a culinary article. The problem has not been restricted to a particular model, though both Beech and Cessna have been turning up with some problems. While such problems are rare, they usually occur in situations where the yoke is under higher than cruise flight stresses — such as during a landing flare, takeoff, or in the approach to landing. They also tend to happen in older aircraft … kind of like the ones you rent, or the one you just bought (no offense intended.)
Regardless of the situation, your response as a pilot is critical to your immediate survival. If the aircraft is not properly trimmed, breaking off the control wheel can result in a sudden change in pitch, which if not recovered, can result in a loss of control and impact with the ground.
WHAT TO DO NOW
First and foremost – immediately inspect your control wheels for cracks. The most prominent location for cracks is where the wheel attaches to the control column, while other deep cracks can indicate that your yoke is on the verge of a failure.
Check for improperly done modifications. A push-to-Talk switch installation on some older Cessna control wheels has reduced their strength to the point where they are prone to failure. If you or your A&P did a little “do it yourself” avionics work, or you aren’t certain of the pedigree of the work, have the control wheel inspected for problems by a reputable shop.
IF YOUR WHEEL BREAKS OFF IN FLIGHT
- Grab the remaining control column with your hands, and re-establish pitch control.
- Transition to the second control wheel to maintain full control of pitch and bank.
- Trim the aircraft for a shallow *climb* to a safe altitude and — carefully
- Swap seats with the right seat pilot and terminate the flight (uneventfully) from the right seat and at your earliest convenience.
CAUTION: If you do not have experience flying from the right seat, remember that your perspective has changed, as have the normal use of your hands on the controls for the majority of planes flying today. It may take more than one approach to landing to get it right and you may want to take a practice run at a safe altitude. Always be ready to go around if you have problems and, when in doubt, call for help — you will *not* be punished.
BOTTOM LINE: Clearly, inspecting your control wheel assembly is the key to avoiding this type of problem in flight. Inspect your control wheel today, and if you find anything questionable, have it inspected before your next flight. By taking this action, you can help to assure that your control wheel will be there when you need it most!