• The accident aircraft in happier times. (Gary Shepherd)
    The accident aircraft in happier times. (Gary Shepherd)

Date of Accident: 10 October 2002

Time of Accident: 12.30Z

Aircraft Registration: ZS-FPK

Type of Aircraft: Cessna 177A


Licence type: Private

Licence Valid: Yes

Age: 20

Total Flying Hours: 160.7

Hours on Type: 1.4

Last point of departure: Lanseria, near Johannesburg

Next point of intended landing: Warmbaths, 50 nm North of Pretoria

Location of the accident site: On Runway 03 at Warmbaths

Meteorological Information: Fine, wind direction 350, wind speed 6-8 knots, temperature 28°C

No. of people on board: 1+1

No. of people injured: 0

No. of people killed: 0


The pilot, accompanied by a passenger, departed Lanseria Aerodrome to Warmbaths Aerodrome on a VFR day flight.

On approach for Runway 03 at about 5600 feet ASL altitude and 20° flaps and airspeed of approximately 90 MPH, the pilot turned the aircraft to the right for descent to the eastern side of the field to 4600 feet. Seeing that he was still too high he reduced the power slightly, with 30° flaps selected and airspeed of approximately 85-90 MPH. The aircraft touched down at approximately 70 MPH and bounced five times.

The pilot stated that he pushed the nose down to see the runway and used the rudders to keep the aircraft straight with the runway heading and wings level. The pilot lost control of the aircraft just after the aircraft slowed down on the runway. The pilot stopped and backtracked to Runway 03. He taxied off to the right of the runway, parked and shut off. The pilot did a walk around and found that the propeller blades were damaged at the tips.

Due to a slightly high approach, high landing speed and limited experience on aircraft type, the pilot applied the wrong landing technique by pushing the nose down instead of doing a go-around. This resulted in several bounces and subsequently the propeller struck the runway.

Probable Cause

Due to a slightly high approach, high landing speed and limited experience on aircraft type, the pilot applied the wrong landing technique by pushing the nose down, resulting in several bounces and subsequent propeller contact with the runway.

Jim’s Analysis

This is interesting because if you applied my test of asking at what stage could you see this coming, it would be difficult to answer with any accuracy. You see, the pilot didn’t really do anything drastically wrong or break any regulations. He was a little too high and a little too fast – we have all done it.

With experience some of us would be saying, probably somewhere on base leg, “This is not looking great. How about taking her round the circuit again? Make it a bit wider, and lose more airspeed and height on base so we can do a nice approach.”

The less experience you have the longer you are inclined to leave the go-around decision. But surely somewhere on final approach, a guy with 160 hours would have started to doubt that all was well. In fact we know this to be true, because he stuffed the nose down and allowed the airspeed to increase to 90 mph, with full flap. At that stage he must have known that all was not rosy in the garden.

But he continued. Bad dog, Spot.

The real turd in the water pipe came when he “… pushed the nose down …”

What puzzles me hugely is this. Is this the first time he had ever pushed the nose down on landing? I would say that is extremely unlikely. You simply don’t do that many hours of beautiful landings with the nose high and the stall-warning bleating, and then suddenly decide to push the nose down.

You may think I am taking this too far, but I have seen it 100 times; unless you jump hard on any pupil who does this in his first few hours, you are letting him know that it is acceptable. What I am saying is that one or more of his very first instructors let him get away with it. After that the habit is almost impossible to break. The only way you can sort out the problem is convert him to a taildragger and let the aircraft teach him how to land.

How this guy hadn’t broken any other aircraft I simply don’t know. Or perhaps he did, and we are not privy to this information.

What should he have done? Well obviously at the point on finals when he saw he was too high and too fast he should have simply put the carbie-heat off, smoothly applied full power and when the nose was level he should have started milking off the flaps until he had climb speed and then climbed away for another, wider circuit.

During the go-around he should have expected the nose to rise and been prepared to use considerable force on the elevator to prevent this.

Having failed to do that, what is the next step? Well, when the aeroplane did its first bounce (by the way, aeroplanes don’t bounce – pilots push them on to the runway, get a fright, and then pull them off again. They get another fright and push the aircraft down and perpetuate the idiocy).

Anyhow, as the aircraft started its first bounce the pilot should have levelled the nose (notice I don’t say what he should do with the stick – only what he should do with the aeroplane). Then smoothly applied full power and gone round again – as discussed above.

Finally let’s look at why he got into this situation in the first place. We are all inclined to do it when we join the circuit at our destination. We are so happy to have found the airfield, we don’t want to get too far from it in case we lose it. The result is that we stay too close to it, don’t give ourselves sufficient distance to lose height on base. And this puts us too high and too fast on final approach.

It is a very common error. You have been warned!

If you know this is going to happen, you can be ready for it and force yourself to make a wider circuit.

What Can We Learn

If you are too high and too fast on final approach, don’t wait to see if the situation is somehow going to magically improve – it won’t. Just do the right thing and be proud of yourself for making a professional decision. Even the big jets do it occasionally, so don’t think you are immune from misjudging your approach.

Expect to make your circuit too tight at a new destination. Then plan not to.

If you even occasionally “push an aircraft down” during the landing, then don’t even think of flying again until you have done a taildragger conversion. It will cure you for ever.

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