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Student Pilot Illegal Operation


Before I went on Army active duty, I logged about 30 hours of flying.  That included 8 hours of solo cross-country time, always to places where I did not have to talk on the radio.


I did one illegal operation in that 30 hours.  I took Stan Wright-Hay for a ride.  I came up with a plan.  I went to the flight school at San Fernando Airport, which was about 1.5 miles from Whiteman Airport.  The traffic patterns of these two airports overlapped.  So the Whiteman pattern was flown at 1600 feet, the San Fernando pattern at 2000 feet.


The weekend before I called  San Fernando and made an appointment for a checkout.  I told them I had been flying over at Whiteman.  So I went around the pattern with a flight instructor 3 times.  He signed me off in their books as Ok for solo.  One problem was that their Aeronca had no starter.  When you rented it, the office person came out to the airplane and “ hand propped” it for you.  This was a new experience for me.  The engine horsepower was only 65 instead of the 90 I was used to.  This meant the takeoff distance was longer and the climb rate less.


So the next weekend, I rented the San Fernando plane for 2 hours.  I flew it over to Whiteman and picked up Stan.  Couldn’t let the engine stop, because I didn’t know how to hand prop it.  With Stan sitting in the passenger seat (rear), we take off and head for the Saugus-Newhall area.  We slowly climb.  I demonstrated flying it to Stan.  We discuss changing seats so he can fly from the front, but we can not figure a way to switch seats.  So I decide to land at the Sky 6 Airstrip in Saugus.  I had never landed there.  My instructor had told me about it when flying in the area.  It had small hills on each end.  Bill had said to approach at a 45 degree angle to the final, then turn final close in.


On the approach to this dirt airstrip, I blow the approach.  I am too high.  I put the plane into a severe forward slip to rapidly lose altitude, while not gaining speed, but I am too late entering that maneuver.  Next to the ground I come out of the slip and aligned the craft for the touchdown.  I touched down at about mid-field on this 2000 foot strip.  I am panicky about stopping before the end of runway.  I jam both heals down on the independent brakes but my foot slips off the left one.  The plane ground loops.  My life flashes before my eyes as I pray for forgiveness.  We are pivoting to the right on the right wheel.  I havethe stick full right trying to keep the left wing from hitting the ground.  God please be good to me this day!.  The pivoting stops and we careen off heading perpendicular to the runway, out into the brush, and come to a stop.  After taking a few deep breaths, I taxi back to the runway, and on to the runway to the approach end.  We look all around.  We do not see a single person.  Somehow with the engine running, Stan and I change seats.  Now I have a new challenge.  I have never piloted from the rear seat.  Being a taildragger, I can not see but out the side windows.  Oh well, my instructor does it.  So I jam the throttle full in.  With my eyes moving left and right, I kept us going straight.  Then I force the stick forward lifting the tail off the ground.  Now dancing along on the two front tires, me pumping the rudder pedals, to keep the longitudinal axis pointed down the runway, I can sight along Stan’s left ear and see down the runway and also see the airspeed indicator on the left side of the panel.  At 60 I lowered the tail a little and we are airborne.  After awhile with Stan working the controls, I head back to Whiteman.


God is my co-pilot.  Experience is my teacher.  I learn flying one incident at a time.


I take Stan back to Whiteman, drop him off, and then return to the plane to San Fernando.  I cringe as I walk in the office.  I’m certain someone has seen me and reported me.  No one says anything.  I pay and leave quickly.  Stan is outside sitting in his car.  I run for my car and we are off.  Miles away, we stop to talk.  Stan says, “Did you see the weeds all over that airplane!?”  “No, what weeds?”  “The landing gear and tailwheel were jammed with weeds and brush!?  Didn’t you notice, when you parked the plane?”  “No, I was in too much of a hurry to get out of there!”  I never went back to San Fernando Airport.