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Advancing an Aviation Education … The Hard Way

Cessna 150

Cessna 150

Last month I pointed the finger at a couple of unique instructors, both of whom were key to my life of flying airplanes. A few e-mails rightly took me to task wondering about my own role in years of education experience, so this month, I decided to share an early experience from not long after I earned my private certificate. It proves, yet again, that many of us live to be old pilots certainly because of our experience, but sometimes too thanks to plain dumb luck.

I was returning home on a warm July afternoon in a Cessna 150 with maybe 125 hours penned in my logbook. Sky Harbor airport, my base back then in Chicago’s north suburbs, is long gone, but was remembered as a single north-south, hard-surfaced runway about 3,000 feet long. The approach from the north was clear, except for the Walgreen’s HQ a mile or so away, but there were trees near the approach from the south, something the local town refused to trim because they were considered a necessary element to the graveyard they shaded near the runway 36 numbers.

My FAA examiner told me a few months earlier my private was a lesson to learn, but sometimes we simply don’t know what we don’t know.

On final approach that afternoon I saw another aircraft on the runway and knew I needed to keep an eye on him in case he didn’t clear. But of course they always did so I added flaps 40 and of course a bunch of power to make up for all the drag. For those of you who fly the 152 these days, you have no feeling for just how much drag “flaps 40” on a Cessna 150 added to an approach. Let’s just say it’s a bunch and was one reason the later 152s were limited to flaps 30. In the July humidity I could feel there wasn’t much elevator room to play with as the nose pitched up and down, but it was flying.

Then the other airplane stopped dead on the runway and I knew a go-around was needed, one that meant full power and a climb to the side of the runway to keep the airplane on the runway in site.

With all that drag and full power, the 150 kept trying to pitch up and I kept pushing back to avoid a stall. So there I was pushing the nose down for safety and not climbing and now scared to death to let the nose pitch up because it might stall. I did the next best thing … I just kept flying straight ahead creeping up a few feet at a time watching the hangars pass below with people obviously staring up wondering what I was doing.

Readers are probably wondering why I didn’t raise some of the flaps to dump some of that drag. Great question. I guess I didn’t remember much from training about go-arounds or a good way to milk the flaps up while close to the ground right then. I’m sure I must have seen a go-around at least once or twice in flight training but right then and there I kept thinking I was about to fall out of the sky.

At this point, I’m maybe half a mile north of the airport still no more than about 200 feet agl. when it came to me … the flaps were still down. So if the flaps hanging down was the problem, getting rid of them was the solution I thought. I remembered about then not to bring them all up at once, but honestly I was pretty scared watching the roof of he Walgreens HQ coming up beneath me and the Interstate just beyond.

I hit the flap switch to bled off the drag and instantly felt the old burgundy colored airplane leap ahead … that is, just before it started to fall. The early Cessna 150s had a flap switch that had gotten more than their fair share of novice pilots into trouble because it used three positions … down, neutral and up. In order to milk the flaps up, I should have brought the switch to up long enough to return to flaps 30 before returning the switch to neutral.

Of course, that’s not what I did. In my haste to climb, I just flicked the switch and in about 15 seconds went from flaps 40 to 0. The part about flaps adding lift seemed to have completely escaped me too I guess.

I only avoided parking the 150 in the Walgreens’ employee lot that afternoon by yanking back on the control wheel more out of fear than anything else. With all the drag gone and me being the only passenger, the little airplane climbed just fine back to pattern altitude and around the patch for a safe landing a few minutes later.

Forgetting that flap switch was one mistake I never made again. I also made sure I reminded students about it when I became a teacher myself years later. And yes, we practiced plenty of go-arounds before I even sent them out solo.

8 Comments

  1. Oh the number of times we had to tell student pilots to milk up their flaps when I was a controller at RVS in the 1970s. Also had to occasionally tell them how to swap fuses when the flap fuse would blow. That was just part of being an air traffic controller at an airport with a lot of training going on in 150s.

  2. I had to do a go-around in a piper archer. As a new pilot i was taught power up pitch up clean up. I started with clean up. The flap handle has a button on the end to release a locking mechanism. As soon as i pushed the button, BAM! The handle hit the floor and i started to sink. I feathered that plane to within feet of the ground til i started climbing. Never do that again!

  3. Another hazard of the C-150 Flap switch. Once, while doing touch and goes, I accidentally flipped it down when retracting the flaps for take off and didn’t visually check for retracted flaps. The nose up pitching moment with the addition of full power will surprise the cr*p out of you and results in a similar dilemma.

  4. My flap story is not an oversite like this 150 pilot, but intentional. When I was taking flight instruction, the instructor reached down and took the flaps off (this was in a 56-172) about 50 AGL, just above stall speed, on landing, no warning the flaps were going to be lifted. The plane dropped like a brick, and a panic to throttle up did not help alot. The 172 took a hit. I had about 4-5 hours at the time. Was this a flap failure test? No explaination given. I gave up on that CFI.

    • Robert Paul Mark

      June 6, 2015 at 2:31 am

      I think moving on from this instructor was probably a brilliant move Jack. So you learned in spite of the guy I hope.

      • Hi Robert. Yes, I got away from that jerk. The bad thing is I did not get with another CFI and continue flight training. Now I am geekin like a junkie to get back into it. Looking back it makes me believe this guy was nothing but a time builder. However, I want to get some loose ends tied up and get back to it this fall or winter. With the Airmans Bill of Rights coming up for vote, flying will only get better! I’m doing some online study for the written, so as to be better prepared, before I take the plunge again.
        And ya know, something I would like to see is AOPA publish all the facts a first hour trainee should know before that first take off. My old CFI seemed to think I should know alot of terms in flight, as if I been flying for years. Thanks Robert, Happy flights, stay safe!!

  5. That flap switch really was a nasty design. I was flying a T-41 (military C-172) out of the Ft. Benning Flying Club. The T-41 had that same flap switch design as the C-150. It was the first time I had taken my mother flying with me. I was advancing that vernier mixture control clockwise (that’s the knob with the red button in the middle in the photo above) when my big hands allowed my knuckles to tap that flap switch downward without me even noticing that I had done it. The airplane suddenly felt like someone deployed a parachute out the back, as the aircraft ballooned upward and slowed way down. I thought I was falling out of the sky right then and there until I realized what I had unintentionally done. It only took about 3 seconds to figure it out, but my heart was pumping like crazy in that short time interval.

  6. I remember the Down position as being spring loaded so you had to HOLD it down to lower the flaps. I couple of times I didn’t milk to flaps up on a go-around but the retraction was slow enough that I didn’t get into trouble. On the other hand, I LOVE the new servo system on the 172 where I just have to position the flap handle to 20–30 degrees and the airplane takes care of itself.

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