Most of us do not spend much time thinking about the items we carry in the cargo bay. We store the extra oil, funnel and rags; the tow bar; and a few items of survival gear nice and neatly. Days, weeks or months later, we disrupt the neatness by moving a few items to get at the tow bar or we dig through the box with the oil to find a screw driver.
How secure are the items in the cargo bay now? Where would they end up if the aircraft came to a very sudden stop?
I once flew with a co-pilot who looked over his shoulder at a load that was particularly difficult to secure and who said, "You realize this is a no crash load."
A private Cessna 207 was hauling fuel in a 150 gallon tank to a strip in the Yukon. The aluminium fuel tank was strapped to a plywood base which was attached to the seat rails in the rear of the aircraft.
On final approach to land, the fuel tank slid forward pinning the pilot against the control column. The pilot did not have enough control column movement available to adequately flare the aircraft on landing. The aircraft landed hard while drifting sideways and departed the runway to the left where it struck a loader tire.
The pilot did not receive any injuries, but could not be extracted from the aircraft until after the fuel was drained from the tank and the tank slid back. The aircraft sustained damage to the nose gear, the left main gear, the left wing and the propeller.
A Cessna 172 being flown from Calgary to the interior of B.C. encountered severe turbulence as it crossed the first mountain ridge to the west of Calgary. An updraft carried the aircraft from 12,000 to 17,000 feet and then a down draft dropped the aircraft back to about 12,000 feet. During the transition from the updraft to the downdraft, a first aid kit secured by Velcro in the cargo area went through the back window.
The pilot did not want to return to Calgary for fear that he might encounter the same updrafts and downdrafts. He elected to continue to Cranbrook, B.C. through continuous light to moderate turbulence. The aircraft underwent a complete structural inspection before being returned to service.
Another Cessna 172 pilot encountered moderate turbulence during a cross country camping holiday. On his approach to land, he discovered he had reduced rudder deflection to the left. After landing, he taxied into the grass beside the runway and shut down the aircraft to determine the cause of the rudder restriction. He discovered an apple had rolled from the back seat to behind the left rudder pedal.
The pilots of a Piper Navajo PA 31 attempted to land at a British Columbia airport with gusty tailwind conditions. The aircraft departed the end of the runway at high speed and came to a sudden stop. The unsecured load shifted forward and fatally injured one of the pilots.
The reports on the C-207 did not state how the plywood was secured to the seat rails. There are approved seat rail attachment rings and only these should be used.
Velcro is a wonderful invention and holds things securely in most situations. Obviously, severe turbulence is not one of those situations. Fortunately, the first aid kit just went through the back window.
If Velcro is used to secure an item in an aircraft, it should be checked regularly to ensure the Velcro is still in good shape and to ensure the glue attaching the Velcro to the aircraft is holding.
We have all heard stories about turbulence and "stuff" flying all over the cabin. Stuff should not be flying all over the cabin at any time. As shown above, it doesn’t take much to cause a problem. An apple can do it. A dropped pen can, and has worked its way into the space where the rudder pedals come through the floor. A pen can jam the chains operating the rudders or ailerons at one of the pulleys.
We get complacent with our maps and the Canada Flight Supplement and tend to lay them on the seat beside us when we aren’t using them. They should always be stowed in seat pockets when not in use.
We have all seen aircraft with open boxes of equipment or unsecured boxes in the cargo area. Many of us have loaded small items of luggage in the cargo area without securing them with a net, or we have stowed things between the front and back seats on the floor without securing them. Anything can become a missile in turbulence or during a very sudden stop.
We don’t normally expect turbulence during flight or a problem on landing, but either can happen unexpectedly. We should never fly with a no crash load.
Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies air charters. He still freelances as a flying instructor and seminar facilitator. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.
Got an aviation safety story to tell? Dale Nielsen would like to hear from pilots who have educational aviation experiences to relate. Excerpts from these stories will be used in upcoming safety articles. Dale can be contacted via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.