I bought my first Mooney, a 1974 C model, in April, 2005. I was an airline pilot, but new to the Mooney. Although I had lots of hours, had no delusions of grandeur when it came to general aviation. Now, I laugh in the face of crosswinds and other challenges, but when I had just a few hours in our Mooney, it was a different story. It took several weeks until I felt comfortable in our M20C.
My Utah friend Ken and his wife Sue came to visit in those early months of Mooney ownership. Ken owned a M20K 231 and after listening to his Mooney love stories, his unbridled enthusiasm peaked my interest in this company in Kerrville, TX. Ken and I went way back to the early seventies, having served in the Air Force together. After serving in Vietnam, I was a co-pilot, and Ken was my first Aircraft Comander on a KC-135A crew in Spokane, WA.
Ken, Sue, my wife Gerry and I wanted to fly to Sedona (SEZ) AZ for a day visit. The airport is situated on a mesa and it looks like an aircraft carrier. As we approached the USS Sedona, I could hear pilots on the CTAF complaining and cautioning others of a wicked crosswind.
My thoughts centered around my proficiency in the Mooney. Was I ready for this? It seemed that when we had a nice crosswind going in The Valley of the Sun, I was always away from home. Gee, I’ve not tried this yet. Should I try it with other lives at stake?
I wondered what Ken would say if I turned around and left Sedona behind us? Would my wife think I was less of a pilot . . . and a man . . . for wimpin’ out? Sedona sure would be fun and I didn’t want to disappoint the gang.
As I neared Sedona, I heard two or three pilots announce go-arounds. Were they student pilots or seasoned professionals? How could I know? I just knew that lots of pilots, whatever their experience, were having difficulties with crosswinds. As I approached the pattern, I said, “Guys, I just don’t feel completely comfortable with a crosswind in my airplane. I hate to disappoint you, but would you mind if we went home?”
Everyone said, “Sure; no problem.” Were they just being nice and laughing inside? I didn’t care. I just wanted everyone to be safe and enjoy another day.
Later that day, my wife said, “Do you know how proud I am of you? I know that you were worried about ‘losing face’. Yet, I know that you made the right decision.”
She’s so good about letting me know what she thinks, and my stock had just soared in her mind.
In the past 15 months, there have been seven Mooney accidents – thankfully all non-fatal – Involving landings or go-arounds . . . stick and rudder skills close to the ground. The NTSB’s words that are the most hurtful in these Probable Cause Reports are, “The pilot’s failure to maintain airplane control . . .”
- during the landing roll
- in a crosswind
- during a bounced landing
- during takeoff in the middle of a corn field
- during the go-around
- in gusting wind conditions
- because of excessive speed at touchdown
Does it need to be that way? Absolutely not. If you’re not feeling absolutely competent in the prevailing conditions, just find a safer airport. Then, don’t just forget about it. Get some more experience or training. In the past three years, not one pilot, who is actively engaged in the FAA Wings Program, has been involved in an accident. Coincidence? There is no such thing! There are, however, safe pilots who strive to be better.
“The pilot’s failure to maintain airplane control . . .” Seven accidents and seven little words that stab at my heart, and I wasn’t near the accident scene.
Evaluate each situation and if you are unsure of your skill level . . . just say, “Guys, I hate to disappoint you, but would you mind if we went home or to a safer place?”
-by Jim Price