Who’s landing this airplane?
A late February cold front arrived just in time to clear the crud that had been threatening my two-day multi-engine training/checkride combo. The front’s blustery winds were projected to hang around for a few days as I faced the choice of driving 2.5 hours or flying my Centurion 35 minutes to the home base of the Baron we would be using. Late the night before departing, I opted for the drive. It occurred to me I would have to deal those winds in my training and during the checkride, but I chose to limit the exposure to those flights and not the commute each day.
When I met the instructor (let’s call him Roger) in the FBO, he began with a story of the King Air flight he concluded a mere six hours ago. A flight so choppy, everyone behind him succumbed to airsickness. Five for five among the passengers, I believe was the tally. Undeterred, we plowed through pre-flight planning and headed out to the airplane.
Backing up a step—I had arrived at the airport early and the Baron had already been pulled onto the ramp, and I had given it what I felt was a very thorough pre-flight. Knowing this, Roger only gave the plane a quick walk-around before he climbed in behind me. It was 30 degrees Fahrenheit before the wind bite and we were both ready to find shelter in the plane.
Despite the gusting winds, we got into the air uneventfully, my first real appreciation for two engines and double the horsepower. We were in the Appalachian foothills, so there was nowhere to hide from the gusting and rolling. As pre-planned, we worked in the direction of our lunch destination—I had offered to buy Roger lunch at a nearby airport with an on-field restaurant and, not coincidentally, surface winds more in line with their runway.
After we got through a couple hours of maneuvers, where I was given some appreciable leeway on altitudes thanks to the chop, we positioned ourselves for my first twin landing. The Baron is much heavier than I was used to, and definitely glides (read “floats”) less, which helps for landings in such conditions. I had been coached plenty by my multi-engine friends and by Roger prior to the flight and was very pleased with myself after touchdown and roll out.
Roger was first out after shutdown. Collecting my things, I heard an alarmed expletive from the front of the plane. I looked out to see a combination of fear and disgust in Roger’s eyes and my heart sank. I quickly hopped out, walked around front and immediately saw the issue. The right main had a huge bald spot, void of any rubber, that was at least two layers into the threads. My first thought was to blurt out a defense of my landing, but I knew that it had been a good one.
Having absolved myself of the balding, I then realized that I had missed the blemish on my pre-flight of the plane—more unforgiveable than had I caused the balding. So the first thing that left my mouth was an apology. I had checked the tires thoroughly but I did not roll the heavy bird to allow a check of the treads touching the ramp. Roger quickly pardoned me and shared that he half expected to find such a condition upon his arrival that morning. He had looked at the tread on his walk-around but didn’t roll the bird either, and I saw that he was clearly feeling the same disappointment in self. There was a fairly new instructor teaching in the plane prior to our use, and this hadn’t been the first time a tire had been scalped on his/her watch.
Over lunch, we discussed the airworthiness of the tire/plane and the continuation of my training. Roger had seen one landing from me and felt I was a low risk for blowing the tire out on the remaining landings we needed for the day. In agreement on the matter, we continued. The afternoon landings were made at the Baron’s home, where the winds were consistently 70-90 degrees across the runway and in the ballpark of 15 gusting to 20. We were treated like the cup in that beer game “flip-cup” during all short finals. Added to that stress was the nagging in my head about the tire tread and the need to plant it smoothly. Alas, considering the conditions, they were all good landings and we finished the day by pushing the plane into the maintenance hangar to await the tire delivery. I decided to grab a hotel room and brush up for the oral portion of the checkride, a choice that also removed five hours of driving before the next day’s flights, which were forecast to be in similar winds.
I arrived the next morning to find the tire had been installed and the winds still at 70-90 degrees to the runway and about the same 15+G20+. We had logged a couple hours in those conditions and headed back for a couple approaches. For the last, on short final and somewhere lower than 500 ft. AGL, a gust from the left gave us its best “flip” effort yet. I’m pretty sure we were rolled 45 degrees clockwise before extreme left aileron and rudder brought us back to, generally, an upright condition.
Roger said nothing but had put both hands on the yoke—after he had added a bit of power. I waited a second for him to say something, but he kept silent, so I removed the power he had added and lowered the nose some more. He didn’t object to my power reduction and remained silent, but still had both hands on his yoke. If we had a GoPro rolling, the video would have made those old movies proud—you know, where the guy driving is working the steering wheel continuously from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock, but the car is still going dead-straight. Well, we weren’t as straight, nor as level as those cars, but I was working that yoke in the exact same fashion.
While I felt no resistance to my aileron or rudder measures, Roger’s hands remained on his yoke. We were about to cross the threshold and I calmly asked, “Roger, who is landing this plane?”
Roger replied, “I don’t know, I’ll let you know when it’s over.”
After some antics in ground effect, I finally got her on the runway and then off at the middle exit ramp. Having cleared the runway fully and stopped, I sat there for a moment collecting myself. Roger hadn’t said a word yet either when I grabbed the checklist to go through the post-landing items.
As I was about to read aloud the first item, Roger popped alive with the double-thigh slap and exclaimed, “That was really nice! It must have been my landing”! After a good laugh, we both agreed I was ready and there was no need for any more approaches or landings—or drama.
Later that day, with new ticket in hand and facing a journey home in the same elements that had completely drained me for eight flight hours over the prior 30 hours, I was most satisfied with my work two nights before—when I had made the choice that resulted in a walk toward my truck in the parking lot and not toward my Centurion on the ramp!