Grassroots Budd Davisson, February, 1998
Most of us go through our aviation lives gracefully avoiding airplane accidents. This, of course, depends on your definition of "accident." It also depends on your definition of "graceful." As it happens, I have a lifetime of less-than-graceful airplane accidents behind me. Granted, they aren't the kind that generate tons of FAA paperwork, but every one left their impression on me. Literally and figuratively.
Let's take the day the Dog bit me, for instance. The Pitts shares a hangar with the Desert Dog, our faithful, if seldom-flown, Cessna 140A . The two of them seem to co-exist in that tight space quite nicely considering they are as different as two aero creatures can possibly be. One is rambunctious. Continually ready to rock and roll while testing me every inch of the way. The other is benign. Eager to please. Friendly. At least it was until it bit me.
The tail of the Pitts snuggles under the left wing of the 140 and I was busily engaged in expounding on Anti-Gravitational Concepts as Interpreted by Curtis Pitts while I pushed the airplane out of the hangar by the tail. I had forgotten about the Dog.
As I passed under the wing...no, let me correct that. As "most" of me passed under the wing, she reached out and bit me. I heard it before I felt it. It sounded as if I'd thumped a ripe water melon with a ball bat. I felt the stinging in the middle of my forehead as I fell backwards to the ground. Damn that smarts!
I hadn't hit the ground before I knew what I'd done. I'd walked into the trailing edge of the aileron. Talk about stupid! However, instructors know what's most important in situations like that: At all costs, always try to look good. I bounced off the floor as if I wasn't hurt and continued the intellectually profound lecture without missing a beat.
Then, with the airplane outside, a friend I hadn't seen for a long time walked up. This was a guy I have a lot of respect for and I try to keep from looking the fool around him (not always easy). About halfway through what I perceived to be a witty exchange with both him and my student, I felt something running between my eyes: Blood was flowing freely down my forehead from my dog bite. So much for trying not to look the fool. Neither my friend nor my student had said a word. They just let me stand there babbling like an idiot. An idiot with a leak.
Now in the space on my medical form where it asks for identifying marks, I write "... two inch horizontal mark with triangle, indicates level of stupidity contained herein ..."
If that was the only time I had been hurt while making a fool out of myself around an airplane, I'd say I was ahead of the game. Unfortunately, that's far from the case.
While I was stripping the paint from the Dog's interior, I steadfastly refused to believe the airplane had wing struts. Four times in one morning, I hurriedly leaped out of the cockpit, dashed around the door, and ran headlong into the strut. The last time I hit it so hard right across the top of my noggin that it knocked me flat on my back. I "relaxed" on the pavement for a few seconds and enjoyed the stars floating in front of me. As I lay there, I heard someone say, "...hear that? I make that four for Budd, I've got five bucks saying he makes it six times before noon..." No one would take the bet.
And then there was the T-28 incident: I was standing on the wing shooting pictures of the front cockpit. Nikon in hand, I turned and stepped towards the trailing edge of the wing to get down. I knew I was in trouble when I felt the frosty cold metal of the flaps wiping itself clean on my butt as gravity yanked me past. I had only one coherent thought: Save the camera! Save the camera! I hit the ground in a sitting position, Nikon held high in one hand like a bronco rider trying for eight seconds. My less-than-spirited bounce back to my feet couldn't erase the hysterical image of what just happened. And nobody had missed what had just happened. Fortunately, I'm used to being laughed at.
I returned from an air-to-air photo mission once with a cut and gigungous bruise over my right eye. I had caught the leg of my flight suit on the front stick of my Pitts while trying to get my leg over it to twist sideways and the airplane had pitched down. Hard! My Nikon rocketed off my lap and smacked me on the forehead as it went over the side of the open cockpit. The strap around my neck was all that stopped it from winding up expensive junk in a cornfield below. I had no seat belt on and would have followed the camera had it not been for very determined hands and knees clamped onto tubing and stringers.
The camera was dangling over the side with the strap choking me blue. Blood was running into my eyebrow. We were pitching nose down and I struggled to stay in the airplane while untangling my flight suit from the stick. The guy flying the airplane was certain we were going to die and was pulling on the stick with both hands. In one blurred motion, I ripped the flight suit loose, the stick came back hard, five G's crushed me into the seat and the camera strap threatened to take my head off. We put a removable front stick in the airplane the next day.
39 years of flying gives you lots of opportunity to look stupid. The most embarrassing, however, was when I stepped out of the back seat of a Champ with the student still in the front seat. My foot slipped on the wet step and I fell out of the airplane with my left foot still inside and jammed under the front seat. I wound up dangling upside down, head nearly on the ground. My student had tears coming down his cheeks he was laughing so hard. I, on the other hand, thought my leg was broken.
There are some situations in which it is flat impossible to maintain your dignity. I should know. I've done a lot of research in that area.