Monday began with a disarmingly uneventful flight from the DC area up to Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR) in Connecticut. The weather was clear and dry at about 0915 local time, when N631S and I landed on Runway 29 and were cleared to taxi to parking via taxiways Hotel and Alpha.
Approaching the tie-down area I took note that a rather large aircraft, a Piper Navajo, was parked in the last space of the row behind my assigned spot. That space is usually occupied by an Archer and so I thought that as I maneuvered N631S into its tie-down I'd have to be very careful to avoid the big Piper's wing.
Well, I succeeded after a fashion. As I turned 45 degrees to the right exiting the taxiway I carefully monitored the position of my wingtip relative to the Piper. Once sure that it was clear, I started to swing the nose to the left to align with the tie-down centerline. That's when I heard the sound of aluminum striking aluminum and felt '31S decelerate (from 3 or 4 mph) and yaw a bit to the right.
Tony came out from Three Wing's maintenance hangar, looked up at the sad sight, and called the folks that own the Navajo. Meanwhile, I was calling Dan Schrager, of The Aviation Insurance Agency. He asked the basic questions and said he'd get back to me soon.
It appeared that N631S had come through the incident in pretty good shape. I couldn't see any significant damage to the wing. The Piper had been less lucky. The right elevator was clearly toast, and worse, the outer third of the horizontal stabilizer was bent down at a significant angle. It looked like I'd made a rather costly mistake.
Tony said they'd wait for the Piper's owners before separating the aircraft so I went to my office, having said I'd return if and when I was needed. That happened about two hours later when I received a call saying that the FAA was headed to the airport and had asked that I be there. So I hustled back.
The Piper Navajo that I'd damaged was in Part 135 service for an air charter operator, 'Fly the Whale'. As a "for hire" operator, they had to report the incident to the FAA and the FAA had to do an investigation. If the Piper had been a Part 91 aircraft like N631S, no FAA involvement would have been required.
While waiting, I met Andy, the CEO of 'Fly the Whale'. I apologized for the inconvenience I'd caused and he was extremely understanding and a perfect gentleman about it. He was the first, but not nearly the last, to tell me that, "Hey, things happen in life, nobody got hurt, it's OK." (No...it is not OK.)
The FAA inspector arrived, surveyed the scene, and asked if we could talk. A brief, cordial and professional interview ensued. I told him exactly what had happened. He asked a few relevant questions. I gave him my contact information for follow up and he joined the growing group saying to me, "Hey, things happen in life, nobody got hurt, it's OK." (No...it is not OK.)
And, yes, I've filed my NASA ASRS form.
I also heard from the insurance company, USAIG. Rob, the adjuster on the case, had been informed of the incident by Dan, my agent. Rob said he'd e-mail me a 'Report of Hull Loss' form to get the claim started and asked me for contact information for the shop and the other involved parties. Starting then and throughout, the service provided by Rob and USAIG has been impeccable!
The right elevator of the Navajo would, as expected, need to be replaced along with the plastic tip of the stabilizer. But the apparent bend in the outer portion of the stabilizer that had worried us proved to be entirely elastic in nature. When the load imposed by N631S was removed the stabilizer "unsprung" back into its normal configuration. A thorough inspection revealed no consequential damage. The repairs would still be rather costly (elevators for big twins aren't cheap) but not nearly as bad as had been feared. And the time out of service for the airplane would be fairly brief.
So I felt much better. Not good...but better. You see, I had hoped to get to the time when I hang up my headset for the last time without having bent an airplane. I can no longer achieve that goal. I can't dismiss the loss of situational awareness that I had on Monday which led to the incident as one of those "hey, stuff happens" things. I've been committing aviation for 18 years now and have logged 1,500+ hours as Pilot-in-Command...and now I have a clear understanding of an area where I need to get better.
At least N631S was good to go for Friday. The forecast was telling me that a large ridge of warm air would be arriving in the East on Friday bringing rain but no risk of icing. I could plan for a wet IFR trip home to the DC area. Which was how I got to the second part of my Fairly Bad Week (to be covered in the next post).