ILAFFT

Pilot - - CONTENTS - By Michael Cor­bett

South Amer­i­can fly­ing throws up some more un­usual un­ex­pected events, in­clud­ing sur­prise ‘pas­sen­gers’

Ilearned to fly in a 65hp Piper J3 Cub in the late 1950s at one of the fly­ing schools in Buenos Aires, so I felt con­fi­dent about han­dling air­port ap­proaches and ATC regs etc when I re­lo­cated to one of the fam­ily es­tancias, about 700km in­land and due west of the cap­i­tal. I was able to buy an Auster Au­to­crat three-seater from a friend and pro­gressed over time, via a tail-drag­ging Cessna 170B, to a 1961 model Cessna 182, LV-HEG. This had been owned from new by a fel­low farmer and con­se­quently was in good or­der, with a half-life to go on both its Con­ti­nen­tal en­gine and the pro­pel­ler.

‘Echo Golf’ was a dream to fly and a pretty air­craft on the ground, as it had the new swept tail but re­tained the nar­row fuse­lage with no rear win­dow. As a re­sult it was no­tice­ably faster than the later models, which were wider. There were two models: high and low un­der­car­riage. Mine was the low model and made up for the re­duced prop clear­ance by more grace­ful lines.

By this stage in my life I was manag­ing one of the com­pany’s es­tancias and su­per­vis­ing two or three oth­ers, so I man­aged to put in quite a few hours per year, cov­er­ing con­sid­er­able dis­tances. There were strips on all the prop­er­ties but no hangars ex­cept on my home ground.

On one of these flights I was near­ing the end of a long day, with the sun low on the hori­zon when I re­duced power and started to ‘clear up’ the cock­pit prior to our ar­rival. With every­thing safely stowed we were at cir­cuit height and it was time to pre­pare for base leg. A cou­ple of notches of flap with the lever be­tween the seats and on to a slightly long fi­nal for the short dirt strip, so I had time to reach up and open the air vent in the wing root for my ha­bit­ual blast of fresh air to sharpen my­self up and clear any cob­webs.

As I moved the carb heat to full cold, in case of a go-around, and added an­other stage of flap the blast of air cer­tainly re­freshed me — but it came ac­com­pa­nied by a very large, brown­ish, hairy spi­der that bounced off my cheek, landed in my lap and scarpered. It was a tarantula! These are not poi­sonous but their bite can be very nasty and usu­ally turns sep­tic.

It was a truly heart-stop­ping mo­ment with the thresh­old com­ing up to meet us at speed. For­tu­nately, ’EG was for­giv­ing and our land­ing was not a dis­as­ter — but I went to sleep that night won­der­ing where the hairy beast had gone. Next morn­ing we searched for the tarantula ev­ery­where in­side the plane, to no avail. We con­cluded that it must have dropped from the roof­ing rafters onto the wing and taken up res­i­dence in the air in­take but evac­u­ated from the aero­plane dur­ing the night.

A short time later the same thing hap­pened again, this time with three slightly smaller spi­ders flop­ping onto me. As the plane was due for a ser­vice I asked the me­chan­ics to do some­thing about it and they solved the prob­lem by stuff­ing the air in­let with a bronze mesh pad, more usu­ally used for scour­ing the pots in the kitchen.

Echo Golf and I had an­other un­usual land­ing some time later. I was on my way to Buenos Aires and had ar­ranged to drop my el­dest daugh­ter on the way to spend some time with school friends. She as­sured me that the es­tancia where they lived also had a strip that was used by the crop sprayer. The ru­ral tele­phones in those days were rare and of­ten out of or­der so it was not pos­si­ble to ad­vise them that we were on our way.

As we ap­proached the nearby town, she was able to spot the prop­erty and soon we were cir­cling the home­stead to ad­vise of our ar­rival, and I was tak­ing a good look at the strip, which was clearly vis­i­ble down the mid­dle of a small field with a wind­mill and tank on the side fence. I then fol­lowed my usual prac­tice: over­fly­ing the strip so as to make sure that there were no ar­madillo holes or ant-hills to be­ware of. It all looked fine to me so we con­tin­ued the cir­cuit and pre­pared for land­ing.

Onto fi­nal and all looked good, but I de­cided to use full flap just in case we met any bumps or cat­tle paths cross­ing the strip to­wards the wind­mill. With the flaps down and glide speed as low as pos­si­ble, I was nicely lined up and com­ing over the barbed wire fence when sud­denly the strip dis­ap­peared, meld­ing into a sea of green! It was too late for a go-around and al­ready the prop was chew­ing up what later turned out to be a sparse crop of this­tles, throw­ing green juice over every­thing — espe­cially the wind­screen and the fully de­ployed flaps.

Once again ‘EG was for­giv­ing and we touched down safely, if bumpily, but my trou­bles were not over be­cause, for some rea­son, as we slowed down, the wind­mill was steadily moving across the now green wind­screen from left to right. I could not un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing and it was only when I had shut down and climbed out that I found the left-hand tyre was flat and we had left the strip and were sit­ting in the mid­dle of the pas­ture.

My daugh­ter’s friends and their fa­ther, an old pal, pulled up be­side us, torn be­tween dis­may at the pos­si­ble ac­ci­dent and laugh­ter at the sight of a very dirty, green­ish and lop­sided aero­plane. Need­less to say I then had to learn how to change a tyre, which, un­like cars, meant tak­ing the whole wheel off and send­ing it to be fixed in the town.

I took the evening bus on to Buenos Aires and re­turned a few days later by the same method to find ’EG had en­joyed an all over wash and pol­ish and the strip was newly mown, ready for us to go home the next day.

Per­haps the les­son to be learned from both these in­ci­dents is that, how­ever well pre­pared one may be, the un­ex­pected can al­ways hap­pen.

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