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.