The gift of flight – Part 1 - My great escape

The gift of flight – Part 1 – My Great escape - by P.K.Odendaal – 1 July 2012.
I went underground yesterday, and became a mole - and I carried the 'big pack' on my body. No, I did not join Al Qaeda, nor carried a car bomb, and I did not become a counterfeit spy. I carried a Life Pack whilst visiting a Coal Mine in the course of my work, at Arnot, a town I do not wish to live in, neither die in - a town now buried somewhere in my memory for making me infamous.
Whilst I looked at the coal, and the blackness, and the danger underground, I suddenly remembered the day I nearly lost my life on the surface very nearby - and in broad daylight - more precisely at its airfield.
The occasion was after my yearly flight test, when I returned the borrowed aircraft, a Cessna 182 RG, to its owner. On that day I had to do three serious flight tests, and I did, at that stage, not have a suitable  aircraft of my own, with which I could do the tests. So I asked a good friend of mine, Flip, a farmer just outside this town, whether I could borrow his aircraft for these tests.

And so, the day before this day of anguish, I took it to my hangar at our airfield in Witbank, to be ready to depart early the next morning to Lanseria for my skirmish with the Designed Examiner (DE).
That night I had this nightmare : I was flying a Cessna aircraft and came in for a landing. Just as I touched down, all the wheels collapsed and I landed on the belly of the aircraft. I woke up in anguish and sweat and fear and apprehension.
I argued by myself that the tests were working on my nerves, and that this was just a psychological manifestation of that fear and tribulation. However, when God warns me of impending danger, I normally go to war with the evil force which seeks to destroy my life - and so I joined battle with it in the Spirit and destroyed this evil force who wanted to end my life with an unwelcome intervention in God's plan for my life. What normally happens then, is that I only see the shadow of this.

Now I want you to understand conventional wisdom quite well. It says :
1.     God does not exist or he exists but does not care about us and is not interested in talking to us. He is too holy and we are too sinful, or He might be too busy … or … or
2.     God cannot show us anything or talk to us, and cannot warn us of impending danger.
3      God cannot save us from impending danger – we have to face it ourselves.

Now I want you to understand wisdom.
1.     An accident is not triggered where it is manifested. It is triggered when the conditions for that accident has been created, and then it only waits for a suitable time and place to be manifested.
2.     God knows these conditions, and sees when it will happen before it happens, as he is omniscient.
3.     When these conditions are right for the manifestation of the accident, God warns us of impending danger, giving us a chance to prevent it by whatever means are available to us, or by calling on Him to prevent it from endangering us.

I want you to know that there is no relationship between conventional wisdom and wisdom. The first is from man and the latter from God – and the wisdom of man is contrary to the wisdom of God.

I give you this example.
In aviation we all know that a small twin engined aircraft cannot keep its altitude when one engine fails. When that happens, the aircraft loses altitude and will eventually do an unsolicited landing when that altitude runs out - most likely in a place where there are enough obstructions to break it apart. During that time we will be so busy trying to control the aircraft, that we will not notice that there are suitable terrain below us where we may make a fairly safe precautionary landing, if we still have control, over it. We will hope the second engine comes on again or that the remaining engine will pull us through to a suitable airfield nearby. We will crash the aircraft on unsuitable terrain not of our own choice. Therefore we have the saying : The second engine takes us to the scene of the accident. Where the accident happens is not where it was caused. It was caused when the one engine failed – or more importantly, some months ago when an aircraft mechanic did not notice a broken part or system or where he made a mistake in assembling the parts.
I learned this from an accident of one of my friends some years ago.
He was flying to the Okavango Delta in Botswana with a single engined aircraft. Before he started his journey, two unwelcome acquaintances or distant relatives asked him whether they could go along. The journey started quietly, but soon thereafter became loud when the quarrels started, and it all ended up in absolute silence when he crash landed his aircraft on some unsuitable air strip in the Okavango, after being distracted seriously, and irritated by these two passengers. He told me some time later, that this accident in fact happened when he told them that they could fly with him.
If we know this principle, we will be more on our guard as to what decisions we take. You can read my blog on Cause and Effect elsewhere. Every accident has a cause and is looking for a place to be manifested.
In my case the accident happened when they assembled the aircraft in the factory with an incorrect front wheel bearing assembly, and it was waiting to occur, with me as the victim.
I was not sure whether the night mare was due to my nerves or God speaking to me. I was to find out soon.
My friend, Flip, asked me to take the aircraft to a Lanseria workshop to check a small oil leak on the front wheel assembly in the front wheel well (where the wheel retracts into) as soon as I finish my tests. And this I did. So, while the mechanics were standing around the aircraft and one looking into the wheel well and assuring me all was well, God spoke to me, saying that I must kneel down and look into the wheel well - there was a problem there. I answered Him that I would look, but even if I did, I would not be able to see the fault, as I was not an expert in these things. I looked into the wheel well and saw no problem.
I got into the aircraft and started to put on my safety belts, when God spoke again. He said that I must tighten my seatbelts well. I tightened my waist belt, but found that there was no shoulder harness to really tighten me properly, so I was only half way fastened, but that had to do. And off I was to deliver Flip's aircraft to him.
His farm was only two kilometres from the Arnot airfield, so I made a shoot up over his farmhouse, to let him know to pick me up at the airfield. After the shoot up, I pulled the aircraft up to bleed the speed down quickly in order to lower the landing gear (wheels). After a few seconds I notice that I only have two green lights, meaning that the front wheel is not down and locked. Trouble!
My brain is in top gear sifting through all the possible causes, remedies, emergency drills, risks involved, solutions and so on. I speak to him on the ground and tell him of my calamity. He tells me that I must overfly the airfield at a very low altitude, so that he can see whether the front wheel is down. I do this a few times and he says the front wheel is down. I also recycled the gear a few times to see whether it will not lock, but it does not show three greens even after about five cycles. Flip tells me that he has had the problem a week before, but that nothing was wrong, as he landed safely – it might be an electric circuit or bulb that does not function properly. I also omitted to turn the landing gear down mechanically, a recommendation in such circumstances. So I did in fact fear, and the fear clouded my brain. I only later learned that it would also not have helped.
It is time to decide on a landing, and I consider the possibilities.
After I land on the two main back wheels, the front of the aircraft lower itself and will strike the asphalt runway just after the propeller hits it and is bent backwards, while it disturbs or bends the  engine mountings. The propeller and aluminium cowling will spout out sparks as the metal screeches on the tar. The fuel lines may be severed from the shock on the engine and airframe, and will spout out fuel in the vicinity of the sparks. The fuel will ignite and feed the fire back into the fuel tanks. The aircraft will burn out or explode viciously and spectacularly.
What can I do? I can go back to Lanseria and ask the Fire Brigade to flush the runway with foam, to inhibit the sparks. I foolishly leave the final decision to him – whether to land at the Arnot airfield with a possibility of a crash landing, or to return to Lanseria. He decides that I must land at Arnot – the wheels will be fine. I should have returned to Lanseria to minimise the risk, and the aircraft would also then be at a place where it can be fixed. That is fault number one, but it only becomes clear after the event, as hindsight is perfect vision.
Am I scared and do I fear? Nothing at all. I have to stay calm and I have to think and I have to fly the aircraft with all the skills I have. I know from experience that I can. One of my instructors once gave me this advice: I was doing a conversion onto a Cessna Caravan Jet Prop aircraft. This aircraft has a wire running through the engine compartment, and when a fire breaks out there, the fire alarm in the cockpit goes off. He asked me what I would do in such an emergency. I told him that I did not know. He told me that first I have to dirty my pants and get that part over and done with, as this was usual for pilots in such circumstances, so that I could then attend to the emergency 'unhindered'.
I make a very slow approach at minimum speed and realise that this better be a perfect landing. I land the aircraft on both back wheels simultaneously, as one should, and I do not even notice the exceptionally smooth landing. I only hear the wheels spinning up and feel them solidly underneath me. I keep the nose wheel up for as long as I can whilst there is still some lift left on the wings, but it dwindles quickly and the front wheel settles softly on the tar. It runs for a few seconds, and I relax – it was only a faulty electrical circuit after all.
And then all hell breaks loose. All of a sudden the front wheel folds into the front wheel well, and the propeller and lower engine cowling hit the tar. Sparks fly everywhere and I hang on my seat belt like in a dive bomber pointing steeply downwards. The screeching sound is like thunder in my ears. I wait for the fire, and it seems like ages going by before the aircrafts stops. The aircraft stops in only twelve metres – unbelievable. I loosen my seat belt, unlatch the door, jump and run for safety before the explosion.
Nothing happens. I just stand there about a hundred metres from the aircraft, not a hair on my head has been touched. I have only seen the shadow of this accident.
I want you to remember Conventional Wisdom. God could not have warned me in a dream. God could not have told me to look into the wheel well. God could not have told me to tighten my safety belts properly. God could not have stopped a fuel explosion. I could not have got out of the aircraft unscathed. I could not have lived.
But these unbelievable things happened to me.
I will never believe Conventional Wisdom. Conventional Wisdom is a science for fools. It tells you exactly what is going to happen, and if that does not happen, it tells you exactly why it did not. Much like weather forecasts. They may be right, but that would be purely by accident.

1 comment:

  1. PK,
    I'm busy making my lifelong dream come true and will hopefully do my solo flight this week. I enjoy your blogs related to flying or the comparisons made to flying. What a wonderful insight!
    Best regards,