The Seeds Of Disaster

Bent propeller blades following a propstrike

“…it must have caught the prop when it came back up. We never looked at anything other than the wing tip, and seeing no damage, decided it was fine to continue the flight.”In flying one of the most critical things pilots seem to forget is that many accidents have the seeds of disaster planted before we ever get in the airplane. One incident in my early flying career clearly demonstrates this fact.

Back in the early 70’s I was working on my instrument rating through the Winged Spartans Flying Club at Michigan State University. We had a small fleet of Cessna 172 Skyhawks available, and they were well equipped for the time.

One dark and rainy fall evening my instructor, who later went on to fly for Eastern Airlines, and then United, and I went flying after dark to work on a night checkout. When we taxied to the active runway we were number 2 for takeoff behind an United DC-7.

Had our attitudes been better we would have taxied back to a lighted area, checked the whole airplane over and discovered the damage.When the crew of the DC-7 did their engine runups our Skyhawk got caught in the propeller blast and tipped up on one wing tip. We shut down the engine and gave it a quick look over to make sure everything was O.K.

After a quick look-see at the wing tip with our flashlight we climbed back into the airplane, fired it up, took off and completed our night flight. Returning to the airport late we put the airplane away in the T-Hangar, unlighted of course, and went back to campus.

Well imagine my surprise when I received a call in the morning asking what had happened to the airplane. I was confused and asked the caller what they were talking about? The response stunned me.

Telltale bent blades after a propstrike

The tell-tale bent tips indicative of a prop strike.

It turns out that when the airplane was tipped onto its wing tip (which we examined carefully) it must have caught the prop when it came back up. We never looked at anything other than the wing tip, and seeing no damage, decided it was fine to continue the flight.

The prop tips were curled back about 3” and the prop was damaged beyond repair!

The lesson here is that, as pilots, we need to be very careful with our airplanes. We should never assume anything, check everything and be diligent in rechecking the entire aircraft when something unexpected happens.

Fortunately no one was injured, the aircraft survived the flight and the insurance company paid for the damage. But imagine if that propeller had come off of the aircraft and we had to make a forced landing at night, or worse still that the prop damaged the aircraft upon departure.

The truth is that both my instructor and I assumed that we knew the airplane, knew what had happened and had checked the aircraft properly for potential damage. Had our attitudes been better we would have taxied back to a lighted area, checked the whole airplane over and discovered the damage.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level, Hersch!

JetAviator7


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About the author
John White is the publisher of the blog All Things Aviation which is updated daily. In addition he publishes a monthly newsletter, and offers quality products for pilots like aviation headsets and aviator sunglasses.

2 Replies to The Seeds Of Disaster

  1. Mike Bennett says:

    Great story.. After one of our flying club members had a prop strike at a local soft field he flew home and tied the airplane down. He had no idea about the prop damage. The next member noticed the dirt on the tips. Upon further inspection he flicked off the dirt to find large chunks of the prop missing. It required a full engine tare-down and prop overhaul. I am especially careful during pre and POST flight inspections now. Wouldn’t want to explain how I missed it during my preflight.

  2. Tim Patrick says:

    Man, too bad they didn’t have that flying club when I was there just a few years ago (I knew I liked this blog for some reason…)

    The club flew out of Lansing I take it?

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