This is an excerpt from a report made to the Aviation Safety Reporting System. The narrative is written by the pilot, rather than FAA or NTSB officials. To maintain anonymity, many details, such as aircraft model or airport, are often scrubbed from the reports.
I departed the airport with a 4-foot fiberglass ladder used at the fueling station accidentally hanging from my right main landing gear.
The takeoff was notable at a less-than-ideal climb performance of 95 knots, but more than adequate.
Then, while cruising at approximately 3,500 feet, I noticed cruise speed to be below ideal, approximately 109 knots where 135 knots was expected and the autopilot trim more forward than usual.
I figured the right wheel pant might have come loose and was hanging at an angle, making it less aerodynamic, resulting in the diminished cruise performance. I was able to directly visualize the elevator, both left and right sides, and did not notice any abnormalities.
To get a better view from the pilot’s seat without removing my seat belt, I used my cell phone to take a picture out of the right copilot’s window of the right main landing gear and noted the dented wheel pant and a small ladder hanging from the right main landing gear. I did not attempt to slow nor speed up nor any maneuvers to attempt to shake the ladder free. The plane was in stable flight and in no imminent danger.
I was concerned the ladder might come loose and fall, causing injury on the ground.
I was in radio contact with ZZZ2 Approach, notified them of the situation, squawked 7700, and headed directly to ZZZ, my home airport, which was approximately 14 minutes away.
The descent and approach pattern and landing to ZZZ Runway XY were uneventful. I taxied directly to the ramp to park and tie down.
Aside from cosmetic damage to the right wheel pant and the landing strut cover, no other damage was noted.
The ladder was easily removed using only my hands, as it had only hooked onto the landing gear strut.
Recalling filling up with fuel at ZZZ1, I took note of the short green ladder used to fuel my aircraft. It was awkward to stand on top of the ladder and fuel. I had taxied to the fuel pump on the left side. Filled left tank first, then right tank.
After retrieving the fuel hose and grounding wire back to the pump area, I was walking back to the plane to retrieve the ladder in front of the right wing, but was distracted by a small piece of paper – a fuel receipt from a prior pilot – which I picked up and walked over to the trash can, which was behind and to the left of the aircraft at an approximately 8 o’clock position.
As I walked back to the plane, my view of the ladder was blocked by the fuselage and I forgot about the ladder.
Though I was conscientious enough to remove a small piece of litter from the taxiway, that piece of paper had disrupted my usual flow and preflight walk-around.
Startup was normal and as I started to taxi, I may have noted a very brief soft clang of plastic or light metal, which I believed sounded like a loose wheel pant bracket on the right side, which has happened many times before for both right and left wheel pants and usually required only a small adjustment or a replacement bracket. The noise was louder with throttle up vibration but extinguished with low idle and rolling smoothly; there was no vibration from the right landing gear. But with the loud engine noises of taxi and noise-canceling headphones, the audible signals were very faint and overall unremarkable to me.
The plane rolled and taxied normally so I did not shut down the plane to get out and inspect the gear as I had just done so at the fueling station a few minutes earlier.
The short 4-foot green fiberglass ladder made it easier to miss as viewing it was blocked by the plane’s fuselage when approaching from the left/pilot’s side, and was not visible from the pilot’s seat. It was green in color and not a bright red or yellow color – which are also popular colors – which made it less visually notable against a green grassy background of the taxiways.
Perhaps a recommendation of a bright colored ladder could help avoid this in the future.
Pre-flight walk-around distraction of a small piece of litter disrupted my usual preflight walk-around routine and the essential item of removing the ladder was overlooked.
I appreciate how preflight distractions should be consciously minimized so a normal routine and flow are maintained and essential checklist items not overlooked. I’ve dedicated myself to avoid distractions during procedures like preflight walk-around in the future.
I did not attempt any abrupt maneuvers nor unusual attitudes to shake the ladder free as it might fall back, damaging the right elevator, or fall from the sky, causing injury on the ground. I did not attempt anything outside my usual scope of piloting, which might have made a situation worse.
Though questionably an in-flight emergency, I maximized the utilization of all resources available to me, including immediately advising ATC of my concerns and diverting immediately to an airport where fire and rescue services would be readily available.
I had considered the right landing gear might have been damaged or the tire was flat, and had planned to land softly on the right gear first and perform an immediate go-around if I felt an abnormality during touchdown, which I did not. I performed a normal landing without incident.
Discussion with Operations Manager: He recommended and I agree, it may have been prudent to have circled the airport or go to a hold, pending fire/rescue to get into position for the landing, as they did not arrive at the airport until after I had already landed and taxied to the ramp. Though the time from advising ATC to touchdown was approximately 20 minutes, ZZZ Operations claimed they had only about 10 minutes notice before I landed. Perhaps earlier notification of rescue resources could be facilitated to allow ample time for these resources to be in place at landing, rather than having an aircraft pilot have to circle or hold pending their getting into their positions.
After landing, I was taxied immediately from Runway XY and back to the ramp. It may have been prudent to have parked and shut down there on the taxiway to avoid dragging the ladder or damaging landing gear along the long taxiways, which then required Operations to have to inspect the runway and taxiways for FOD on a more expansive runway environment, adding to the risk of FOD hazarding subsequent flights on those taxiways.
Primary Problem: Human Factors
charles Erdahl says
November, 1996 at SNA in OC, CA. A Morane Sauliner 760 twin engine jet took off from John Wayne Airport with the boarding ladder still attached to the side and the distraction from this with the pilot having a passenger trying to retrieve the ladder in flight while trying to return to the airport played a role in the tragic fatal crash that followed.
My first passenger briefing is to not disturb my preflight. I have a set process and don’t like interruptions. After I am done we can talk. I also have my Wife do a few things like when I am inside and power on, check my inside stuff, she pulls the pitot cover and checks the stall warning operation. Helps me and gives her responsibility.
mike pilot says
Well, John’s recommendation might have merit in single engine Cessnas or other high wing singles, but for the various low wing airplanes with only one entrance door the 82 year old instructor might have to tweak his plan a little.
Still the best plan is to do a thorough walkaround (and climb-around- high wing fuel caps)) one more time before you get in, and if you get interrupted or distracted, do another one. And take your time, be deliberate and purposeful, and don’t be on your smart phone, talking to a passenger or other crewmember, or looking at other airplanes or hot chicks in the process. And if you value your phone, tablet, or other gear, don’t set it on a wing, stabilizer, or step.
Tom Curran says
Never thought of a 4-foot ladder as being “short”.
But, my favorite line:
“Perhaps a recommendation of a bright colored ladder could help avoid this in the future.”
I guess the best defense is a good offense.
Tom Curran says
Although…I did watch once, from a distance…as an ATP candidate & the DPE…started up the nose-wheel conversion Beech 18…began to taxi & immediately went into a hard left turn. Like one of those old Cox .049-powered planes you spun around in a circle on a string. “Someone” had forgotten to undo the left wing tie down. Maybe a brightly colored CHAIN would have prevented it. Not sure how the rest of the check ride went.
You have got to be kidding me !! I hate to be critical of ANY pilot but this is totally ridiculous. This pilot knows all the right words to say to make this sound like a safety thing to help other pilots BUT,,,, really,,, we all know this was an idiotic MISTAKE. But, but,,,to hear odd noises while taxing out and casually rationalize it’s no big deal – then continue with take-off and climb to cruise ???? Maybe this pilot should think about other ground-based activities ??? Here’s a tip – keep one ear out of the noise cancelling headset while taxing and run-up to hear things that might save your life,,,, and oh,,, maybe not so much autopilot so you “feel” the aircraft ??? I just can’t believe some of the pilot actions in these reports. Instructors take note, your job is more than collecting a paycheck !
mike pilot says
I’m guessing more than ten minutes around this guy in a cockpit or otherwise, and you’d suddenly remember you had a root canal or colonoscopy scheduled in half an hour.
Bob B says
Even after I do my complete preflight, the last thing I do before I get in the airplane to depart is a full 360 degree walkaround. Its the last chance to check for cowl plugs, tow bar, pitot cover, gas caps, and any possible obstructions or debris that could cause an issue on start up or taxi.
Mike Pilot says
mike pilot says
To John: “… always check pass fuel first”. Huh? Did i miss something ehre?
Warren Webb Jr says
I think generally he’s saying check the passenger side of the airplane first, then the pilot side of the airplane meaning you’re not allowed to do the second until you’ve done the first and theoretically then, the passenger side check will never be forgotten.
Ken T says
I’m glad it all resulted in only a minor incident but blaming it on the color of the ladder is a bit off base. It could have had strobe lights on it but if you didn’t do a proper walk around, you still would not have seen it.
mike pilot says
Good one Dan.
As to the narrative: Wow! Just Wow!
And you might want to further explore the meaning of ‘walkaround inspection’.
I hope you never get distracted while taking a leak you might walk around all day with your putz hanging out.
John Galuski says
As a 82 year old CFII my first intro to students preflight always check pass fuel first Pilots last,if distracted when you get in you’ll see latter big or small