They say that in your first hundred hours you’ll do something that will scare the wits out of you when flying. I’ve actually done quite well – I’ve lasted over 200 hours without scaring myself. But I’ve been flying nosewheel aircraft all this time!
Tailwheel aircraft have a way of reminding you that you are so green you need mowing. Sunday 28th February, 1999 was a day the 170 decided to give me that gentle reminder.
The day started bright. The winds were pretty calm despite the recent passage of a frontal system, so I thought it was time to go flying. I booked the 170 out for the day, and decided to fly to Livingston, where they used to serve some really good barbecue. However, after landing in Livingston I discovered that the BBQ shack was closed due to illness. So I flew to Weiser to see my friends, Tina and Michael who are restoring a 1955 Tri-Pacer. I was also getting hungry – it was past mid-day. I flew from Livingston to Weiser via Lake Conroe to avoid Houston’s class B for as long as possible. Everything was going perfectly – I was flying the fun way – using only a map, compass and Mk I eyeball to navigate. I was really appreciating the 170’s excellent forward view. It really helps pilotage. I was fat, dumb and happy with a grin that rivalled the Cheshire Cat. I was really looking forward to that fully loaded baked potato at Carl’s BBQ.
I entered the pattern at Weiser. The unicom guy had said winds were light, favoring Runway 27. The windsock dangled limply in the general direction of 27 – so the conditions were not too challenging for this newbie tailwheel pilot. I was pleased, I would do a nice 3-point landing, taxi in amongst the admiring public looking in wonder at Sky King the Taildragger Pilot. Do you notice a pattern building up? I was getting a little too comfortable here…and I was letting my guard drop.
I came in a little high, so I decided to slip. I made a beautiful slip, straightened out, and flared for landing. What I hadn’t noticed is that I was a little hot – only about 5 knots or so, but enough to make me float seemingly forever. About midfield I was still floating in ground effect. I think I must have subconciously ‘helped’ the plane down. I should have been doing a go around instead. This is where all hell broke loose! All of a sudden, the nice, gentle Cessna 170 had turned into a bucking bronco. I felt like a Rodeo rider as I bounced down the runway. I initiated a bounce recovery, but botched it sligtly allowing the plane to yaw to the left a little. I was now bouncing AND swerving all over the place. The people who were watching planes come and go by the hangars scrambled for cover as I came hurtling down the runway, apparently with the plane in control of me instead of the other way around. It’s quite disconcerting watching people scatter in all directions like in some old WWII movie where the rookie pilot augers in the big old biplane. I’m sure they thought I was going to prang it!
Fortunately for me though, my primary instructor drummed it into me never give up! Using full control deflections I managed to keep the plane on the runway and stopped the bouncing. The plane finally settled down, and I turned off the runway. I parked as far away as I could from that end of the hangars, and shamefully crept off into Carl’s BBQ and hid my extreme embarrasment. Fortunately nothing was damaged except my ego. I learned a very valuable lesson that day about taildraggers, and how experience is all about getting the test first, then the lesson afterwards.