LESSONS MY COMANCHE TAUGHT ME
LANDING: TOO FAST … TOO LONG … TOO WINDY
by George R. Jones
Below is a copy of a letter I sent to the FAA FSDO office in Greensboro, NC, following an incident at Raleigh/Durham International (RDU) where I inadvertently ran my Twin Comanche off the end of runway 32, damaging two taxiway lights.
Several people have said that I should not volunteer so much information; however I decided early in flying that I would try to learn from the mistakes of others, and that includes my own. I could have said that I just wanted to turn around somewhere, but I know better. In hindsight, I had more than ample opportunity to assess the situation and take the necessary actions to prevent this, but I didn't. By miracle alone, nothing but my pride was damaged. I've been told the FAA will not pursue this any further; however, I was "asked" to take a Title 49, USC Section 44709 Checkride, Re-examination of my airman competency. I think this is more than fair, but due to unforeseen maintenance issues with my aircraft, I haven't taken this ride yet. I look forward to passing it and getting on with my life.
My new catch-phrase: Complacency Kills! Something an old instructor keeps reminding me …..
After reading this, please feel free to contact me with your questions and comments. George.firstname.lastname@example.org or (256) 212-4250
January 6, 2003
c/o Mr. Corey Summerell
Per our telephone conversation this concerning the incident a Piper Twin Comanche PA-30, Tail # N8692Y in Raleigh, North Carolina yesterday, Sunday, January 5, 2003.
I'm George Jones, Owner and President of Phoenix 2000 Incorporated, a computer consulting company based in Clayton NC. Phoenix 2000 Inc. is the registered owner of this aircraft and I am the only person currently flying it.
At approximately 3:15p EST Sunday, January 5, 2003, I left Johnson County Airport (JNX) direct to RDU. I was not on a flight plan however I was speaking with Raleigh Approach on 125.3. I flew at 3000 feet MSL and my groundspeed was approximately 150 knots. After spotting the field, and being handed off to the tower, I was cleared to land on runway 32. I'm not positive, but I believe ATIS reported winds at 230 at 8 knots, but I can't be 100% certain. Based on my enroute throttle setting and groundspeed, I was aware that I was landing with a crosswind/tailwind, but wasn't concerned too much about it. Flight conditions were a little bumpy so I had the plane trimmed to approx. 110 MPH indicated… slightly faster than I would in calm conditions. I believe I touched down approximately one-third down the runway, but again, I can't be certain. At this point, I still did not sense any danger. While on the brakes, I retracted my flaps and turned off my auxiliary fuel pumps. All of a sudden, I saw the end of the runway so I stood on the brakes hard. They began to lock up so I tried to pump them a little so prevent locking, and did my best to maintain directional control of the aircraft. Unfortunately, I don't remember my airspeed or groundspeed at this point. For just a second, I thought about attempting a hard right turn at the end of the runway, but decided that it might do more damage to the aircraft. Consequently, I traveled off the end of the runway into the grass. I'm not sure how far into the grass I went, but I quickly increased the throttle on the left engine, turned around and exited the grass. Within a minute, the tower asked me if I had damaged any runway lights and I responded "no". I hadn't felt any bumps and honestly didn't think I had hit anything. I proceeded to the FBO at Piedmont-Hawthorne and went inside to pickup a passenger.
Maybe 45 minutes to an hour after the incident, I went back out to the plane to depart. The airport police drove up and informed me that I had damaged two (2) runway or taxiway lights. I checked the plane over as thorough as possible. Other than dirt on the airplane, I didn't notice any damage to the aircraft other than one minor ding on the end of the left prop. I wasn't sure if it had been there before so I walked back into the FBO building and inquired about a mechanic to take a quick look. The "on-call" mechanic at Piedmont wasn't readily available so I called my mechanic from Smithfield (Johnston County Airport, JNX) and he agreed to meet me back in Smithfield. He did ask me to run it up to cruise RPM and check for any noticeable vibration which I did, and none was noted. A few minutes later, I flew back to JNX with no noticeable differences. My mechanic took a look and thought that the dings were fairly insignificant, however he spent a couple of minutes and filed out any imperfections anyway. If you haven't already, you should receive a copy of the logbook entry that he made for the repair. I later departed JNX enroute to Alexander City, AL (ALX) which took approximately 3 hours, 10 minutes (bad headwind). The flight went well and again, I didn't notice any vibrations.
After having thought about this all night, I can say that I wish I would have foreseen the outcome earlier, and taken the appropriate actions (better approach, go-around, etc.). I'm very glad that it didn't result in damage or harm to myself or my plane. Like I've always thought about flying, every flight is different and there's always a chance to learn something… this event will force me to plan and execute every approach and landing more precisely.
Please don't hesitate to call or email me if you have any additional questions or comments.
George R. Jones
Born in 1966, George Jones lives in Clayton, NC. He is president and owner of Phoenix 2000 Incorporated, a computer consulting and placement company, and holds a private pilot certificate with ASMEL and instrument ratings. George flies a 1969 turbo twin Comanche, N8692Y, for both business and pleasure
[Editor: The results of George's checkride and what he learned from the FAA will benefit all of us. You won't want to miss the conclusion, which we hope George will be able to report on soon.]