Friday July 16, 1999 - Two flights, Saratoga I, and Saratoga II.
Both airplanes are high performance, the Saratoga II - about 50
One owned, one rented from a friend.
Both pilots made mistakes
One pilot, 32 years of experience, the other a little more than
a year of flying. One rated to fly without being able to see outside
of the airplane, the other licensed to fly only when the ground
could be seen and visibility was at least 3 miles.
In one case, three people died, in the other, the flight continued
on, and a second and third flight was made over the weekend.
I loaded up the airplane Friday afternoon about 1:00. It was hot,
and I was in a hurry, partially because I was so hot. In hot air,
airplanes don't fly so well.
Having done a lot of flying with the family, I guess my biggest
mistake was thinking that my kids were, well, little kids. But they
are teenagers now, and both weigh about 135 pounds each.
The Saratoga has two doors. The pilot and front seat passenger
get in on the right side of the airplane, and the rear seat passengers
enter through a door on the left, at the rear of the airplane. The
4 rear seats face each other.
The kids sat in the rear 2 seats, facing forward, and the baggage
compartment behind them held about 100 lbs of various bags.
The airplane was not overloaded, just loaded improperly.
With the tail heavy, the airplane pitched up on takeoff - and immediately
lost airspeed and settled back down onto the runway. I realized
the problem and figured I could fly out of it. Keeping the airplane
back on the ground until additional speed built up, I let it rise
back off the runway, but only ever so slightly. Basically we flew
down the runway only 50 feet off the ground until enough airspeed
was built up to begin to climb.
The combination of a heavy airplane, a hot day, and improper loading,
made for a dangerous departure. The lift warning buzzer kept going
off, (meaning the airplane was not happy, and the wings might quit
flying, unless something was fixed) so I turned and asked my son
to change seats and move to the center of the airplane.
Son says, What?
A mother, with panic in her voice, QUICK, MOVE TO THE CENTER OF
THE AIRPLANE. Evidently she was quite unhappy about the noisy warning
I turned, and said calmly, "No panic, just sit on either of
the two seats for a couple of minutes till I get higher up.
Mom was frightened, but hearing the calmness in my voice, she seemed
I had made a mistake.
However, 32 years of flying experience and thousands of takeoffs
and landings, gave me the perspective to instantly know what the
problem was, and decide on the best course of action. A novice pilot
would have probably made the instinctive reaction to pull up, not
push the nose down. That takeoff could have become an ugly accident.
Next time, the calculator comes out, and I will balance the airplane
by formula, not in my head.
Later Friday evening, I took off again, with 3 Norwegian teenagers
in the airplane, off to do some sight seeing. The flight was like
many others, uneventful and without mistakes.
The other guy, as we now know, was not so lucky. He had 4 months
flying experience in the high performance airplane, compared to
my 6 years in the same airplane. I got my instrument license in
the Saratoga, and still only use it rarely. Many pilots will not
fly a single engine airplane after dark no matter what the weather.
The Kennedy situation added two more risky variables, almost instrument
weather conditions and a flight over water.
I don't know that I would have attempted such a flight, unless
I had done it many times before. I certainly would not have attempted
it at night.
We both exercised poor judgment. I was careless and hasty, he flew
into weather conditions for which he had no training. Imagine sitting
in your car with the windows painted black and trying to navigate
the interstate at 200 miles per hour.
I got to learn from my mistake, it won't happen again.
Tomorrow I am off to the Rockies for a speaking engagement and
the Friday night my middle child flies out to join me, and hopefully
next week I will be able to tell you that she made the summit of
a 14,000 ft mountain. (not to worry, we are just walking up).
This next week, the rider will be doing a lot of walking, and hopefully
some mountain biking with a blue eyed blond haired angel. She has
been waiting for this climb for many years.
I'm thinking that we will share it with you.