CAA ACCIDENT REPORT SUMMARY: Piper PA28-180
Date of accident: May 3 1999
Time of accident: 0445z
Aircraft registration: ZS-EIV
Type of aircraft: Piper PA28-180
Pilot age: 34
Pilot-in-command flying experience: Total flying hours: 253:25
Hours on type: 160:20
Last point of departure: Grand Central Airport (just north of Johannesburg)
Next point of intended landing: Sasolburg
Location of the accident site: On the apron at Grand Central Airport
Meteorological information: Weather was fine
Number of people on board: 1+0
No. of people injured: 0
No. of people killed: 0
The pilot prepared to fly, but when he attempted to start the engine, the starter motor was unserviceable. He reverted to starting the engine by hand swinging the propeller. The aircraft park brake was not applied and no chocks were used. When the engine started the aircraft started to roll. The pilot attempted to board the aircraft but slipped and fell. The aircraft ran for about 100m and collided with a parked aircraft.
The pilot neither used chocks nor did he apply the parking brake when he hand started
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. There’s nothing to analyse – the guy is an idiot.
What can we learn?
There is a lot to learn. First, let’s see what he did wrong, then we’ll look at the right way of doing it. He was hurrying. Being in a hurry around aeroplanes is always dangerous. It was 6:45 in the morning so there would be no one to help him for an hour or more. He couldn’t wait.
No one at the controls. The South African reg’s call for a ‘competent person’ to be at the controls if there are no chocks or park brake. Not sure what that means. There have been many cases of alleged ‘competent’ people opening the throttle instead of closing it. So it seems better to have no one at the controls, rather than an idiot. Not sure what Australian reg’s say.
No chocks. Careful. I have seen folks put a chock under the nosewheel before swinging. Not clever – how are you going to take it out? Also, if it’s a good chock with a lump of rope attached, then the whole damn thing is likely to get pulled into the prop and thrashed around.
No park brake. This guy is not an idiot – he is certifiably mad.
Throttle setting. A Cherokee idling at 1000rpm or less will not go anywhere on level grass. And it will not out-run a 34-year-old on a hard level surface. However if the pilot was swinging the prop with the aircraft facing down hill, and with no brakes and no chocks, then he is not to be trusted with a wheelbarrow. He set the throttle too far open.
Doing it right. Here’s a short version of how to swing a prop safely. Don’t try it - get an instructor who knows what he is doing to teach you.
There are two golden rules:
1. If you turn a prop expect it to bite you. This rule always applies even if the mags are off and the key is in your pocket.
2. Never turn a prop backwards, you are likely to either break the vacuum pump or damage it so it breaks later.
The person swinging the prop is in charge, and they call out what they want done. Here’s some more rules (also golden, I guess).
1. Don’t stand so far from the prop that you have to lean on it to support your weight. And don’t stand too close, obviously.
2. Take your jacket off and roll up your sleeves so they don’t get tangled in the prop.
3. Don’t wear a tie. When the engine starts the slipstream could pull it in – not good.
4. Take rings off your fingers. If the engine backfires the ring can pull your finger off.
5. Take your watch off – we don’t want you diving to get it if the strap breaks.
6. Don’t hook your fingers round the trailing edge. It’s sharp and can amputate the unwary digit during a backfire. Turn the prop by pushing on the face of the blade with the flat of your hand. This takes practice.
7. Beware six-cylinder engines - they have compressions in awkward positions.
8. Stand on a firm, dry surface so you don’t to lose your footing.
9. Listen for the clonk of the impulse magneto (normally the left one). At the top of the compression stroke a spring flicks the magneto round smartly to give a good strong spark. So don’t waste energy trying to swing the prop quickly. If there is no clonk you won’t start the engine.
10. If the starter-motor is still engaged you will hear a terrible grinding sound as you turn the prop. Don’t worry – you can still swing-start the engine, although it will be more difficult to turn. Once the engine starts and reaches 300rpm the starter gear will automatically disengage.
11. If the prop is in an awkward position call “mags off” before repositioning it.
So go and get some dual – being able to swing a prop safely is a very useful skill.
Jim Davis has 15,000 hours of immensely varied flying experience, including 10,000 hours civil and military flying instruction. He is an established author, his current projects being an instructors’ manual and a collection of Air Accident analyses, called Choose Not To Crash. Visit Jim's website by clicking here.
Subscribe to Australian Flying to read more.