These are words I never like to hear when I’m flying, but Wednesday morning would be one of those days that didn’t go as planned. And as I’ve written about before, lessons from flying often have application in other aspects of life.
This week, my “Leadership Missouri 2014” class was taking me to St. Louis to learn about transportation. Given the drive time, I decided to fly to St. Louis so I could get a few more hours in at the office. The 90-minute flight was planned to depart Neosho at 11:30 a.m. Weather forecasts were fine. Other than St. Louis airspace being fairly crowded, I didn’t have any concerns.
I arrived at the airport just after 11 a.m. Since this was my first flight since Celebrate Neosho, I took some extra time to inspect the aircraft to ensure there were no issues. After taxing over to get fuel, I loaded some luggage and my wife and I hopped in to go. Then things started to fall apart.
Given the engine was already warm, the starting procedure changes slightly. I followed the checklist, but I didn’t realize a landing light switch had been turned to the “on” position. A combination of a flooded engine and the added amp draw from the lights led to a dead battery after about three attempts to start the airplane.
Luckily, I keep a charger in the hangar. After a trip back over and 15 minutes of charging, the plane cranked over and fired quickly. Crisis averted…so I thought. I replaced some covers and packed up the charger. We were now on our way – albeit about an hour late. (I had padded the flight to allow for things like this. It would not be a problem.)
We took off to the north and made a climbing right turn toward St. Louis. Winds aloft were light and the planned climb to 9,000 feet should be routine. While passing through 4,800 feet, I was surprised by a red “Gear Warning” light combined with an audible alarm. I cycled the gear, but there was no change. Something wasn’t right. I cued the mic and requested a change of destination to Joplin. The tone was serious and I was deliberate in following the checklists in case the problems got worse. I was asked if I was declaring an “emergency.” I confirmed I was NOT!
Luckily, the descent was uneventful. The tower controller confirmed visually my gear was down. The landing and rollout was normal. I taxied to the ramp and, after three hours of maintenance, the issue was found, addressed, and we were off to St. Louis. Luckily, it was nothing more than a switch that had been improperly aligned. The remaining flight to St. Louis was uneventful.
The lessons from this can be many, but the take away for me is this: when there is a problem that confronts you, you have options. One is to panic, one is to ignore it, and one is to work the problem. In this case, while it was a distraction and unexpected, it was best to continue flying the airplane while dealing with the problem. Training kicked in. The airplane was still flying. The worst case I saw was a bent prop and some metal scrapes on asphalt on landing. Luckily, it didn’t happen. It was fixed and we moved on.
In this end, just because the warning lights are blaring and the alarms are sounding, it doesn’t always mean there is a major problem. I suggest you plan for things in case they get worse, but knowing that proper planning can often address many issues, you can never be too prepared...just in case.
Until next time: stay the course, keep the faith, and may God bless Neosho.
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.