Plane Truth from an ex-pilot

Mann Overboard

Bill Mann
Posted 1/23/19

You may have seen the story last week about the man who crashed a plane in Irondale and walked away with minor injuries.

Been there, done that. Twice.

I’m truly glad the pilot was unhurt, …

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Plane Truth from an ex-pilot

Mann Overboard


You may have seen the story last week about the man who crashed a plane in Irondale and walked away with minor injuries.

Been there, done that. Twice.

I’m truly glad the pilot was unhurt, unlike his plane.

I don’t fly any more. I now leave any pilotage to sober people with gold piping on their sleeves. Not being feline, I doubt I could walk away from plane crash No. 3.

I still have a pilot’s license, but it’s been grounded. It’s locked in a desk drawer, and I do not have the key. Considering all the work, time and money I spent in getting my FAA “ticket” (pilot jargon there), it’s too bad my hard-earned license is gathering dust. But it’s all to the good. Buckle in:

Crash No. 1: I’d just gotten my license and was flying a four-passenger Cessna 172 back from a lunch in Napa with a San Francisco radio personality as my passenger.

I was not experienced at crosswind landings, when the wind blows from the side instead of head-on. And as soon as I hit the runway, the plane started pinwheeling. It finally landed, so to speak, in a ditch. My passenger and I expelled a loud “Oh s---!” as we headed into the gutter, knocking over taxiway lights like bowling pins.

Soon, a cortege of pilots gathered around our wreckage, one shaking his head and saying, “Never saw THAT before.”

Humiliation No. 1.

Humiliation, Part Deux: Having to ride sheepishly back to the airport where I’d rented the plane with the owner of the wrecked plane. It was not unlike being driven home by Dad after smashing the family car.

I was grounded, all right — by the FAA, temporarily.

Humiliation No. 3: Even though my unfortunate passenger, the radio personality, and I were both belted in, post-crash it felt like I had been worked over with a baseball bat (my loan-shark experience is nil). The soreness persisted for a couple of weeks, a reminder of my screwup.

But for the next year, I had to hear the yukmeister morning DJ repeatedly joke on air that “newspaper columnist Bill Mann tried to kill me.” Har de har har.

Act (OK, Crash) II:  A year later, a fellow pilot of my acquaintance in Oregon had just gotten his instrument rating, an advanced license that lets you fly in clouds and bad weather. He asked if I wanted to go for a spin. Sure, as long as he’d do the flying.

He’d logged scores of hours to get instrument-rated. But after showing off for me by doing a few instrument landings, he forgot one minor thing the next time: to put the landing gear down. Oops.

Loud crashing sound, then the awful, high-pitched metallic screech of Cessna on concrete.

We finally ground to a stop, and he started swearing at himself, pounding the wheel.

I yelled, “Let me out of here. This bleeping plane could catch fire!”

Fortunately, I did not become a human torch.

That was it for me and small planes.

A friend who’s a TV exec in San Francisco and a lapsed pilot came to the same conclusion.

“I wasn’t meant to be a pilot,” he explained. “What you need to be is a straight arrow who doesn’t daydream or sightsee.”

And that’s what I want to see when I board a flight now: a straight arrow. I am rarely disappointed.

The part about daydreaming reminded me that I’d accidentally clipped a runway fence when landing as a student pilot. That could have ended badly, too.

The old saying goes that sooner or later, gravity gets us all.

But why rush things?

Bill Mann of Port Townsend has written humor columns for USA Today an was a TV critic for  three major dailies.


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