Alyssa Miller

Tiedowns foil the best, worst of intentions

April 26, 2012 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

During a lesson this week, one of my students and I discussed the recent news about a California man whose attempt to steal a Cessna 152 was foiled by a tiedown. The man was a former student of the flight school, according to news reports, and reportedly threatened employees with a gun in order to get the keys to the aircraft. Police apprehended the man after he shut down the aircraft because he was unable to taxi out of the tiedown spot–the tail was still tied down.

First, I told my student I was glad I would never have to worry about her pulling a gun on me or trying to steal our Cessna 172 trainer. Then, we turned to tiedowns and preflight inspections. Early in our training, I would walk around the airplane with my student during the preflight to mention any missed items and the importance of checking them; however, I wouldn’t point out if she forgot to untie the tail or wings or remove the chocks. I recommended a big-picture walkaround after the preflight to catch any obvious oversights, such as tiedowns or chocks, so she would always pick up on it then.

To help stress the importance of untying the aircraft, I also shared an embarrassing story of my own. During my initial flight training, I had untied my wing and my instructor untied his side, but neither of us got the tail and I didn’t do a big-picture walkaround. When I tried to taxi out of the tiedown spot, we didn’t budge. We added more power–nothing. I have never seen anyone shut down an aircraft as fast as my instructor did when he realized what had happened. We had pulled the rope so tight that he actually had to cut it. Making the matter even more embarrassing was the fact that we were tied down in front of a flight school with floor-to-ceiling windows so that everyone had a clear view of the ramp. That story has stuck with my student, and she’s never forgotten to untie the aircraft.

Unfortunately, now she has another reminder of the importance of a thorough preflight, but this one with illegal intentions. In the case of this California man, the tiedowns turned out to be the last line of defense preventing him from stealing the aircraft. For the rest of us trying to get in the air legally and safely, they can be an unforgiving (and embarrassing) reminder of the importance of a proper preflight.

6 Responses to “Tiedowns foil the best, worst of intentions”

  1. Rich Dugger Says:

    While waiting to depart Eagle Creek airport in Indianapolis I heard a plane start up and idle then rev the engine up to a much higher than normal RPM.
    This went on for about a minute or so.

    Thinking it was a maintenance run I gave it no further thought until a few minutes later I watched a high wing aircraft doing touch and goes with a long bright yellow rope streaming from the tail tie down.

    Then it all made sense.

  2. Alan D. Resnicke Says:

    The ‘big picture’ walk-around is critical. I use it to ensure I don’t miss the obvious and to take a few moments to breathe and focus on the upcoming flight. With over 2400 hours of rotary wing flight and 300+ fixed wing, I still get excited!

    I am reminded of a military experience when I was stationed as a USAF test support pilot at Edwards AFB in California’s Mojave Desert. For some reason I was dispatched to the Army’s test center on our base to assist in a Huey flight. I reported for the briefing and found myself scurrying after the PIC, who was busy doing admin work instead of preparing to fly. Fifteen minutes before launch, we walked to the chopper and, sans preflight, hoped in to start checklists. The Army pilot turned beet red when, after engine light-off, the blade failed to start its rotations. Said pilot shut down, got out, and untied the rotor blade (made easier because the hot engine exhaust during start-up had cooked the nylon tied-down rope). Maybe I should have said something about a preflight or even refused to fly, but at least I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut when the PIC returned to the cockpit to attempt flight again… successfully the second time around. I never flew with that Army unit again.

  3. Scott Sutton Says:

    In the 1960’s I was in the Purdue Pilots flying club. We flew out of Aretz Airport, in Lafayette, Indiana.

    The club had a basic J-3 Cub that fit nicely into the relatively low hangar. When they upgraded to a Piper Colt, tricycle gear, the tail was too high for the door. The answer was to take a milk bucket, shape a hook from a piece of steel bar, and cement the hook into bucket. When hooked onto the tail tiedown ring it lowered the tail enough that one person could move the plane into and out of the hangar.

    After a take off an instructor noticed the need for a large nose down trim input. After a touch and go they needed an equal amount of nose up trim. When they came around the second time, sure enough, on the runway was a familiar looking bucket and hook, although scratched and dented!

  4. Scott Roberts Says:

    Sounds like a good spoiler for unauthorized use/theft of small aircraft may simply be a very good tiedown point and a cable with a lock! I doubt most aircraft thieves carry bolt cutters… If you have to do more than pull a knot loose, might be a better deterrent- and not real hard for the owner/pilot to undo when about to fly.


  5. John Worsley Says:

    My instructor (a former airline pilot) once told me a story about his brother (also a former airline pilot) who missed something on his pre-flight. As he started to taxi his small plane he noticed someone across the ramp waving at him. He returned a friendly wave and started to taxi, and promptly stopped as the plane began to rotate around a missed tie-down on one wing.

  6. Robert Says:

    Thirty years ago my instructor hopped in the right seat and, just as I finished my pre-start checklist, announced that all we could practice that day would be right turns. In my mind I’m thinking, “cool – today will be easy”. But then I asked him why, feeling like we were well past such basic instruction. He very calmy announced, “I think that’s all we’ll be able to do with that tiedown still attached to right wing.” I am much more attentive on my pre-flights now.

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