Dumb things pilots have done, Part II

In Part I of this blog, Chip Wright shared some  of his favorite random, dumb, and often funny things that pilots have done. Here’s the second installment from Chip, gleaned over more than 20 years of flying.–Ed.

The FAA has eyes everywhere. There isn’t a pilot in the Chesapeake Bay region who has not dreamed of flying under the Bay Bridge. I know of two instances when it happened. The first one was a very elaborately planned event on a calm Sunday morning. It was, even in the pilot’s words, “really, really dumb.” But he pulled it off and lived to tell about it.

The second one was beyond really dumb. He did it during the normal course of a weekday, and as he did so a local FAA employee was—you guessed it—driving across the bridge. The airplane was distinctively colored and had 12-inch N-numbers.

I would have paid to see the ramp check after the landing.

The FAA has eyes everywhere, Part II: Here’s a hint: If you fly to an airport that has been clamoring for an instrument approach for years, don’t go blowing minimums when you first get to do it. The pilot in this case was known for being a hot dog. Bay Bridge Airport in Stevensville, Maryland, had just gotten a VOR approach to Runway 29, and it was at a fairly stiff angle to make the turn from the radial to the runway. On the day in question, an FAA inspector was at the airport, waiting to see if anyone would fly the approach. A pilot in a twin Cessna announced his arrival and proceeded to fly the approach and land, even though the ceiling and the visibility were both below minimums. The pilot’s enthusiasm had overcome his common sense, in part because he knew the terrain so well that he knew if he established ground contact he’d be OK.

The inspector was not amused.

Cleared to land…but didn’t. The controller in Cincinnati who told me this story swears it’s true. A Boeing 767 was arriving during a major non-push, and was at 3,000 feet on the final, obviously locked on to the localizer, and cleared to land…but he didn’t descend. The controllers tried to call the crew, but got no answer. As the airplane began to fly over the runway, the controller hit his mic and said, “So…you guys want a left or a right downwind? And this time, for our planning, are you actually going to land?”

The captain was very terse on the radio for the rest of flight.

Oops. I read this in a publication somewhere. A pilot in a Bonanza (I believe) flew into Smallville, USA, for business, and left the airport for a while. When he came back, his airplane was gone…as in, up-in-smoke gone. It had caught fire. The investigation finally revealed that he used a magnifying glass to read the charts in the cockpit, and he had left the magnifying glass on top of the charts. As the sun came overhead and began shining through the window, the magnifying glass heated the paper, and the rest is history. So is the airplane.

Who’da thunk? A friend had just bought a Piper Warrior, a real pretty blue one. After one of his first flights, he was taxiing to his tiedown and decided to come in from the tail end, as the spots on either side were empty. He had the nosewheel lined up perfectly with the bottom of the ‘T’ where the tail tie is. And that, my friends, is as far as he got. The prop sucked the rope up and wrapped it around the shaft. The nose was pulled down, and the prop hit the ground and stopped.

The insurance adjuster had never seen that one before.

None of these take into account pilots who have landed at the wrong airport—even ones with a tower—or pilots who have taxied into a ditch or a building (I have one of those stories), or flipped up the gear lever too early on a touch and go, only to settle onto the runway (I have one of those stories too), or have done myriad other dumb things. If you have a story to match or beat these, I’d love to hear it.—Chip Wright

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3 Responses to “Dumb things pilots have done, Part II”

  1. Aaron says:

    Great Stories but i have heard of a few better.
    Here is on…

    While on an approach to the destination airport in the USA (wish i could remember what the airport name) the Captain reported to the tower that they had the runway. Tower replied “are you sure? you are still 25 miles out and you’re following a DC-10 5 mile on final”

    The Captain confirmed he had the runway in site and was cleared to land. Upon touching down nothing about airport seemed right and that is when the captain gave a full throttle for a touch n go realizing he he just landed at a preceding airport that lined up exactly like the his destination airport. the Captain and SIC never mentioned it to anyone (until much later of course) and no one was the wiser. the irony of it is that the Captain was just talking to the SIC about how this airport can fool you into thinking you have the correct airport.

  2. Cary Alburn says:

    Several years ago, I was attending an Angel Flight get together at Denver International. First time there, cleared to follow a Bonanza to land on 17R, while looking for the Bo and not at any markings, when I came to Taxiway M (goes from the numbers of 8 aligned with 17R for a mile before arriving at the numbers of 17R, then parallels 17R the full length of 17R), I landed. My only excuse was that that taxiway was larger than the airport I usually flew out of, both in length and width, so I mistook the taxiway for the runway. That was dumb enough.

    But when I met with the FAA, which ultimately required me to have a proficiency ride with my instructor emphasizing large airport operations, I was told about a Bonanza pilot who was cleared to land at Front Range, which is 7 miles southeast of Denver International and has a similar layout but without the parallel runways, but instead landed at Denver International. When he realized what he’d done, he took off again immediately without any clearance and attempted to fly “under the radar” to an outlying airport. While tying down his airplane there, he was met by an FAA Inspector–apparently he didn’t fly quite low enough. The epilogue of his event wasn’t as pleasant as mine, though. Adding up all of his transgressions, the FAA suspended his certificate for a year–and worse for him, he had been a captain for a major airline!

  3. Jami Higdon says:

    At a certain flight school I know they are very particular on how the 172RG is treated. First you are not allowed to do touch and goes (people tend to hit gear instead of flaps) and second you aren’t allowed to show students how the nose gear operates on the ground. Apparently a few years an instructor sat on the tail and had the student hit the gear up lever to show how it retracts. The instructor then slipped off of the tail and the nose subsequently hit the ramp. Stuff like this is why mattresses warn you that they aren’t edible.

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