Defensive taxiing may prevent a dent


We tend to focus well when we fly our aircraft. Unfortunately, we often don’t focus as well or pay adequate attention when we are taxiing the aircraft.

The Piper PA31 350 Navajo aircraft was conducting a run up. A Cessna 172S aircraft taxied behind the Navajo and was blown 90 degrees from its path.

A pilot of a Piper PA34 220T Seneca was taxiing for takeoff on a private fixed base operator’s apron when he heard a loud noise. The pilot shut down the aircraft to investigate and discovered the aircraft propeller struck a metal reenforcing rod which had been used as a marker during snow removal. The propeller strike damaged the propeller which required removal for inspection and repair.

A Beech 100 King Air was taxiing for an IFR departure when it hit an orange marker cone and a light on the ramp with a propeller. The Cessna 172 aircraft was taxiing for departure when it scraped its wing along a fence at the airport construction site.

The pilot of a Piper 28 was beginning his taxi from a line of aircraft when a tow vehicle came around the parked aircraft to the left and passed very close in front of him. Sudden braking was required.

The Cessna C-172 was taxiing off Runway 31 with gusting winds from the North. Part way down the taxiway a large gust came from the Northwest and picked up the aircraft tail and left wing and turned the aircraft upside down onto the South edge of the taxiway.

A Homebuilt Baldwin (tail dragger) was taxiing in a 20 knot wind when the tail started to swing. The swing caused the aircraft to flip over onto its back. The Vans RV-9 reported hitting FOD on Runway 11. A runway check determined that a tow bar was on the runway. The tow bar belonged to the aircraft. The pilot of the Cessna C-210 was relocating his aircraft to a small aircraft grass parking area when his nose wheel went into a depression in the ground, and the propeller struck the ground. All three propeller blades were damaged. The Cessna 172M aircraft struck a taxiway light while exiting the runway at night.

Three of the aircraft ran into stationary objects. Were the pilots distracted? Were they conducting pre-take-off or post landing checks? Ramps can be busy places. Vehicles and people can be anywhere and may not be paying much attention. Defensive taxiing may prevent a dent.

Taxiing in strong winds always requires care. Controls must be placed so as to reduce the chance of an upset, especially when taxiing a tail dragger. Those of us who fly tricycle gear aircraft like the C-172 mentioned above occasionally get complacent when taxiing in windy conditions.

When taxiing into wind, steer into the wind with the ailerons and hold the elevators neutral. When taxiing away from the wind, steer away from the wind with the ailerons and push full forward on the control yoke (tricycle gear). The control column must always be held fully aft with tail draggers to pin the tail. As the aircraft makes turns, the controls must be moved to maintain the correct control inputs. We must not relax until the aircraft is stopped and tied down or hangared.

Distraction likely caused the RV-9 pilot to forget to remove his tow bar before taxiing. He was lucky that he did not get airborne with it still attached. Even light twin engine aircraft like a Navajo can create a lot of wake turbulence when running up. Taxiing behind any aircraft carrying out a run-up should be avoided. It is also wise to make radio contact directly or through the ground controller to warn the pilots of the larger aircraft that we are maneouvring behind them so that they don’t add power when we are.

When we intend to taxi on unprepared surfaces, it is wise to inspect the ground for holes and depressions to avoid an incident like the one incurred by the Cessna 210. Grass can hide uneven surfaces and foreign objects. Taxiing at night requires more care than during the day. Use the taxi light, and taxi slowly. Do not use the landing light for taxi. It shines too far ahead and may affect the night vision of other pilots on the ground. It may also affect the night vision and distract pilots of aircraft on final approach if you are taxiing near a runway.

Use the taxiway lights to help gauge your speed on the ground. At night, lighted objects such as taxiway and obstruction lights are closer than they appear. Taxiing too fast will not allow adequate stopping time in dim light conditions. Because objects are closer than they appear at night, allow more clearance on each side of the aircraft. While taxiing very slowly, the reflection of your position lights off other objects will assist in judging distance from other objects, and in judging your speed.

Some aprons are lighted, or partly lighted, by floodlights. These lights throw shadows, which may conceal obstructions.

Performing checks during taxi at night is not a good idea. We must keep our eyes outside the cockpit.

Taxiing at any airport requires that we pay attention to what we are doing. Taxiing at an unfamiliar airport can be a real challenge. We can ask a Tower Controller or an FSS specialist for progressive taxi instructions, or for information about an uncertain portion of the airport.

Whenever we feel rushed or our workload is high we make mistakes. Taxiing in congested areas, at busy airports and at night increases the chance of making those mistakes.

Taxiing is part of any flight. The flight begins when we start to taxi and is not over until we have parked and shut down the aircraft.

• Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently manages a small airline and teaches part-time for a local aviation/university program. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.