Some things to keep in mind while we watch the Hurricanes sweep through the Gulf for destinations unknown and any day the wind blows. A few years ago, I had the chance to fly into Cheyenne, Wyoming, after escaping from Jackson Hole. I say “escape” because Jackson’s mountains tend to herd in clouds like a shepherd, and as a non-IFR pilot, I was trapped for several days, looking for a break from which I could “escape.”
With my escape behind me, I flew east towards my home in Illinois. However, a spate of bad weather, which included an overcast layer that I could see as I headed toward Cheyenne, that according to the weather guys, stretched all the way back to my home airport shut down those plans.
As we made our approach into Cheyenne, I noticed something odd. Even though I was carrying around 100 knots on the approach leg, my forward progress seemed to be pretty slow. So far, the trip hadn’t been easy. The hectic climb through the hole that had appeared at Jackson, followed by the sudden plunge east had taken a toll on me. Combine that with the tailwinds and turbulence and I was pretty well rattled, so I blessed off my perception of slow progress to nerves and pressed on.
In any event, we (finally) made it down to the ground in Cheyenne. As I taxied in towards the FBO, I saw the airspeed indicator blip up off the peg. I immediately slammed on the brakes, and noticed a barely perceptible change in my motion. The majority of the “airspeed” I had just read while sitting nearly stopped on the ground was the wind coming over the mountains, and it had its teeth on!
We made it to the FBO, and I installed my gust lock, being careful to aim the plane into the wind. From there, it was time to settle down at the FBO and try to figure out how to make it back to Illinois. After a while, it was clear that the route home was paved with clouds that I didn’t then have the rating to fly through, so we started to look for a hotel. While I had my wife looking, I found time for idle observation.
Looking across the tarmac, I could see that — even with the gust lock in — my bird getting buffeted by the 55 knot plus winds that were sweeping the airport clean. I watched airplanes on the ground tug at their tiedowns, straining to again take to the air without a pilot or a care.
A NICE CESSNA 170 PROBABLY DID THE BEST JOB OF GETTING MY ATTENTION. I saw that the pilot had probably neglected to restrain his controls. The plane was facing with its wings into the wind, and the ailerons were beating out a frantic message as the winds of hell tore at the airplane.
AFTER LISTENING FOR A FEW MOMENTS, I WAS ABLE TO MAKE OUT THE MESSAGE — GET ME IN A (*$^)((@#^#( HANGAR!!!!!!!! The ailerons were being slammed against their stops with reports as loud as gunshots. I was literally wincing as I saw the plane having its control stops beat to pieces by the winds.
A check with the airport found a hangar rate that was insanely reasonable, so I took them up on it. My bird was carefully tucked away in the large hangar, while that poor Cessna continued to take a beating into the next day.
FROM THE IMPACTS, DAMAGE WAS LIKELY TO RESULT to the plane, as it was parked out on the flight line. The stops were likely beat back into their mountings, or bent into submission by the repeated, jackhammer like blows. If they weren’t, chances are good that the part of the aileron that was striking the stops was damaged, and may have even started to fail!
All that damage could have been avoided, had the pilot only restrained the controls properly. These restraints range from the simple use of a seatbelt, to pull the yoke back and secure the ailerons, to more complex models that immobilize the rudder and yoke with one device or more. There are even the cheaper models, which include two blocks of stout wood, secured through a gap with a bolt or threaded rod.
While some pilots consider it a pain in the behind, your gust locks are an important part of the system that keeps your plane’s flying surfaces in flyable condition while you are out and about.
BOTTOM LINE: Even if you are only leaving your plane for a few moments, take the time to install your gust lock. The repair bills and headaches that you save yourself from will provide you with more time and money to fly your plane, instead of crying at the expense and downtime that could result from a few hours without a gust lock.