So there I was, or should I say there they were, thought they were gonna die.
Late last week I was hanging out at our home base airport, drinking a cup of coffee and waiting for the last of our passengers and the morning sun to arrive. That morning our company was sending two jets to Texas. My copilot and I were taking 6 guys who worked in the oil fields and the other plane was taking two guys to do a little hunting. We’d arrived an hour early and The Great White Hope (Cessna Citation 650) was preflighted and ready to go. Central Wisconsin had received a good six inches of wet snow that night and the ramp was an ice skating rink. Our plan was to load the passengers while the plane was still in the hanger and then have the tug pull us out. Then we’d just fire up and take off. That way the plane would stay warm and we wouldn’t have to worry about the wings getting iced up. Taking off with contaminated wings is a huge no no. It doesn’t take much snow or ice to greatly reduce the amount of lift the wings can produce.
The four of us were just waiting for show time when the lights of a jet went whizzing past the the front windows of the lobby. Kind of strange, our windows looked out over the midpoint of a 8000 foot runway, and normally a landing plane was just about if not completely stopped by that point and a plane taking off was already in the air. The mystery was solved a few seconds later when over the radio behind the desk we heard the tower report that someone had just gone off the end of the runway. I’m pretty sure we all had the same thoughts as rushed to the windows because when a jet goes off roading it’s a bad thing. We couldn’t see anything ( no fire at least) so we clustered around the radio trying to hear what the tower was saying to the airport trucks racing down to the scene of the…crash? We were also trying to play it cool because we had a lobby full of passengers who were about to try their luck aboard our jets. “Nothing to see hear folks, never to worry. aviation is one of the top ten safest ways to travel. Why the odds of two jets skidding off the runway in one morning are……Never mind, there’s free booze! It wasn’t long before the tower declared that the airport was closed.
Of course being pilots we immediately began speculating. Too fast of an approach speed? Touchdown too far down the runway? (good possibilities from what we saw) Break problems? Thrust reversers? We soon heard that the crew was OK and the plane was still on it’s wheels. An airport maintenance worker came in looking for a tow bar that might work to pull the jet back to the ramp. Suddenly the tower came up on the radio and said that the airport was now open! My copilot and I wasted no time in getting the hell out of there before someone with more sense closed the airport again. Because even though the jet was not actually on the runway maybe jets shouldn’t be taking off over smoking wreckage filled with charred bodies. Or a plane in the weeds. And getting while the getting was good turned out to be a good plan because about 5 minutes after we were wheels up dad said close r down. We know this because while we were beating feet the two pilots of our other jet that was supposed to two hunters to Texas that morning decided to wait for a new report on how slippery the runway was. A prudent precaution for the conditions and mornings events but they ended up being stuck at the airport for 4 hours while we were in the air.
When we got back that evening we heard that the jet had been able to taxi out of weeds and back to the ramp under its own power. A good thing too because there wasn’t a suitable tow bar on the airport. We also got the the scoop on the incident from the line guys. The jet in question was an old Falcon jet that’s being used to haul cargo. The pilot claimed to have lost his right break on landing but when the company’s mechanics inspected the aircraft they not only didn’t find any damage from exiting the runway at high speed they didn’t find anything wrong with the breaks. We experts, (pilots, same thing) surmised that they landed long and fast and probably hydroplaned on the wet slush covered runway. And on one final note the 20 year old copilot initially refused to get back into the plane and fly with the 60 year old captain. He had to be threatened with being fired before he’d get back in. Not sure I blame him. (that spin was hell Maverick, it would’ve shook me up) It had to be terrifying to go for that ride. One of our line guys saw the whole thing and said that they were really moving and he could see the red light on the tail bouncing all over the place as they slid sideways off the runway. Good fun.
Who said flying jets was boring?