I HAD A FRIEND WHO WAS A PILOT, AND WHO OWNED A BEECH SUNDOWNER. The Sundowner had a reputation as a well-built plane, and was one of Beech’s first of a less expensive breed of airplane. The truth be told, while rugged, the Sundowner was a little on the slow side, but was still a lot of fun to fly. It was basically an upgraded Musketeer, but in this new incarnation, shared many components with the Sierra, which was a retractable model, and the Duchess twin model.
MY FRIEND WAS A PRETTY GOOD PILOT. He flew his Sundowner on a regular basis, and while he probably got a little closer to the weight and balance limits of the airframe than I would have liked to see, by and large he kept the plane in decent shape, and stuck to the regs…
…or so I thought. On a trip through the local FBO, I happened to see my friend’s Sundowner, with the nose gear off for repairs. It turns out that the nose gear casting was a bit worn, so the mechanic correctly took it out of service and ordered a (expensive) replacement. While we talked, the mechanic showed me something on the flaps.
“Run your hand here, along the trailing edge of the flaps,” the mechanic said. I did as he asked, and when I did you can imagine my surprise at the sound of the loose rivets rattling as my hand coasted along the underside of the trailing edge of the flaps!
Yep, it seems that my friend got into a little trouble, and decided to get out of it by lowering his flaps. Whether it was due to not watching the numbers, or getting into trouble with speed and using his flaps as dive brakes — whatever the reason — he had done some significant damage to his flaps. The rivets were all stretched out, and every single one of those fasteners had to be drilled out and replaced before the airplane could be legally returned to service. The only question I had was how long they had been like that!
FLAP SPEED LIMITS ARE PUT THERE FOR A REASON — AND IT’S NOT BECAUSE THE AIRCRAFT MANUFACTURER THOUGHT IT WOULD MAKE IT MORE INTERESTING TO FLY.
Those same limits apply to opening windows in flight, as well as extending landing gear and in some cases, even cowl flaps. All planes have limits of one sort or another. Do you know yours? YOU’D BETTER!
HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR FLAPS LATELY? If you haven’t, perhaps you should run your hand along the trailing edge, to see if you have anything “rattling around” back there. Even if you have just brushed the fringes of the maximum airspeed, by keeping an eye on your flaps, you will be able to find those problems before they turn into something far more difficult and impressive to manage, such as a control surface that is trying to come apart in flight!