I had a lot of momentum coming out of the holidays. But, like everything in life, you need to keep that momentum going because you know that once you slow down life can throw you a curveball. This really seems to apply to flying!
After my busy holiday season (and by busy I mean I was working at flying and social media non-stop), I decided it was time to take a day or two off. Slow down, sleep in and relax. I should have known not to break the forward progress, but hey, I’m 25, nothing bad can happen right?
After resting for a couple of days I was ready to get back to it. I headed to the airport, pre-flighted Lil Red (My Piper Cherokee 180), shot some videos, jumped on a Live broadcast and then went to do a few touch and goes. Everything went off without a hitch! Smooth landings, light traffic, calm winds, and my bird ran fantastic!
I live in Houston and on this day a cold front had moved in, one of the first of the year. The temperature had dropped below freezing overnight and was still in the forties as I did my practice. Heater worked great and as I taxied back, I decided I’d had enough of winter (all 2 days of it so far)! Cruising down the taxi way I formulated my plan to get Lil Red over to Florida in the next day or two. Good time building, beaches, and warm weather. I pulled up to the hanger and pushed her back in!
As I started closing the hanger door, thinking to myself how great life (and Florida) will be, I noticed a puddle under the front wheel forming. Was that there before? Did I miss something? Did I drag some water in with me? On closer inspection this red liquid was bubbling and oozing out of the top of my front landing gear strut! Nooooo! It can’t be! Not when I’m looking to get to greener pastures!
I quickly called my A & P and told him what I saw. He said that I had blown my strut seal and that it will need to be rebuilt. Devastation! I was grounded!
He wanted me to fly it over (his shop is at a field about 15 minutes from me). He said that I should just do a soft field landing and it will be okay but not to fly it anywhere else. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do it right then but tomorrow morning, first thing, I’d be there!
The next morning, I headed over to the airport and Lil Red looked the same. The red fluid had stopped flowing but I still had over three fingers of chrome strut showing. I threw some stuff on the airplane, went and sat down to look over the weather and BAM! The entire airplane lurched forward as the strut completely gave way. No more three fingers, all the chrome was gone. The top of the strut was sitting on the top of the wheel.
Immediately I questioned if I could still fly it? Would it be safe? So I went over and moved the prop straight vertical to see the clearance from the ground. Now, let me tell you, I feel that I’m a good pilot (always learning) and getting better, but definitely competent. I’ve done soft field landings and takeoffs and am comfortable doing so. But with less than half a foot clearance, one bad landing, or letting the nose drop too quickly, and Lil Red will be out of service for a month getting a new prop and having the engine opened to check the crank shaft (Not even mentioning the cost).
I made a quick decision not to fly! I called my A & P and told him that the plane was grounded and any work would have to be preformed at my hanger. Luckily, my A & P is a great guy and he told me no problem.
The next day he loaded up the needed equipment, headed over to my hanger and after about 5 hours of work, Lil Red is back to “strut”ing her stuff! I took her for a couple of fast taxi’s today, and the gear is working great! Now I can get back to planning a trip to Florida! Woohoo!
I always like to reflect on my experience, striving to be a better pilot, and here are a few things I learned:
- Stay within your comfort level – I would have had my airplane done quicker had I flown it over but trying to think through all the things the strut affects, it dawned on to me that the prop wouldn’t have much clearance. So glad I checked that. It was not within my comfort zone!
- Identify External Pressures – I have watched many accident investigations where external pressure caused risky decisions. I made up my mind when I was just getting started that I would always think about this and not let it affect my judgement. The A & P wanting to work on the airplane at his shop, saying it was okay to fly, my desire to have Lil Red fixed quickly, and really wanting to get to Florida did enter my mind! I identified these as external pressures and put them aside which is why I chose not to fly.
So now, I’m back in the air, Lil Red is happy, and we’ll be headed to Florida shortly. Thanks for following along and happy flying! Until next time,
Kay Hall is a commercially rated pilot, instructor, and social media influencer. She owns a 1968 Piper Cherokee 180D that she named, “Lil Red.” Kay inspires people of all ages to learn more about aviation and has had a big impact on young folks that thought aviation was out of reach. You can learn more about Kay on her website at www.flywithkay.com