Propellers and Complacency
It happens to even the most conscientious. A Pilot tells of his
horrific experience |
protection that would have prevented it
Thanks to this pilot who had the balls to
come forward with his experience, sharing so that others will hopefully
avoid a similar fate. Note that having a
some version of
PPG Safety Bridge would
have prevented this nearly fatal injury.
The pilot writes:
I would like to begin with a little history of my background to help
emphasize that, if this can happen to me, it can happen to about anyone
in this sport.
I soloed my first aircraft in 1963 and went on to earn a commercial
pilot license, logging several thousand hours of flying time along the
way. After entering the army I became a paratrooper and moved on up the
ladder to qualify as a Jumpmaster, one of my life's most demanding
accomplishments. It requires 100% on the test--just one missed item
being inspected on a fellow trooper disqualifies you. Being a Jumpmaster
is all about the responsibility of inspecting equipment and being
totally responsible for the safety of yourself and fellow troopers. The
reason I spell this out is to build a case on how easy it is to become
an injury statistic with our PPG (Powered Paraglider) equipment even
after having extensive training and experience.
I flew into an airport years ago in a fixed wing aircraft and was in
the process of securing my plane for the evening when a plane taxied up
next too me. I glanced over to see a man and a woman in the plane and he
(the pilot) appeared to be telling her something. She exited the idling
plane in an attempt to guide her husband to the tie down points; she
walked directly into the prop of the running plane. After having
experiencing something of this magnitude one would guess that I would
never, never let my guard down around a spinning prop. Wrong!
I have been flying PPG�s for several years and have accumulated in
excess of 2,000 flights. I normally use the
PPG Safety Bridge as a
secure method for starting but didn't have it with me. Knowing that
running our motors up while working on them is a very dangerous thing to
do, I've built several thrust testers and have given all but one away to
try and improve our PPG safety record. Both the thrust testers and
Safety Bridge were designed to safely secure the motor while starting or
working on them. I have preached for years the importance of securing
our motors prior to starting them on the ground.
May 4th of 2009
I had worked very hard all day and had one last mission to accomplish
for the day. We were having a border dispute with a neighbor and I
planned to fly my PPG and get some aerial photos to prove our side of
the disputed border. It was getting late in the evening but the weather
and wind were perfect so I drove over to the part of the ranch where I
keep my PPG equipment and got it all out. After laying my wing out, I
got the motor out of its trailer.
I pulled and pulled on the starter with no signs of it starting. I
remove the plug and inspected it and decided to install a new plug, no
time to analyze the old plug, for I was running out of good daylight for
photos. I Reinstalled the new plug and pulled and pulled with no signs
of the motor attempting to start. Now I am becoming very upset and
tired, having already worked 10 hours this day. I was in no mood for
motor problems. I removed the plug again and it appears to be dry so I
reinstall it and blow more fuel into the carburetor; again I pull and
pull to no avail.
So now I am now very tired, angry, complacent and apprehensive about
running out of day light to get my photos. My mental safety mechanism
has shut down. I have since called it my perfect PPG storm.
I once again removed the plug only to find it gas soaked, so I
installed a new plug and started pulling. At this stage of the game it
dawns on me that the unit is flooded for I smell gas. A little voice
goes off in my head saying �apply full throttle and pull start it
again.� I squeezed full throttle and pulled the rope. Bang, the motor
starts and the throttle is stuck in the full throttle position.
My fun machine became a wild, flesh-eating monster trying to cut off
my hands, arms and head. Knowing that I can not hold the motor at full
throttle I am very fortunate to have had the where-with-all to restrain
myself from grabbing at it with my hands. Instead I turned my shoulder
to it trying to roll away from it. My shoulder was pushed against the
netting allowing prop contact resulting in lacerations from the top of
my shoulder to under my arm. After the prop did its damage the throttle
returned too idle, luckily affording me a chance to get things back into
The depth of the cuts was to the bone, yielding a lot of nerve
damage. The propeller struck my shoulder 3 to 4 times in a split second.
I had boots, gloves, long sleeve shirt and a helmet on at the time of
this accident. I was alone on the ranch and 15 miles from the hospital.
An artery was severed and I consider myself very fortunate to be alive
After a rush trip to the hospital and 2 and � hours of surgery you
can see the results at right. It is a graphic photo, but I want it to be
in hopes it might imprint in everyone�s mind, perhaps preventing this
from ever happening to others.
I have always prided myself as being very safety minded, but as the
above story shows, if we become smug, these wonderful machines can and
will jump up and bite us. The carbon fiber propeller on this Black Devil
missed my neck by only 2 inches. Oh, by the way, my thrust tester and
PPG Safety Bridge were home in my garage. Having just returned from the
Galveston fly-in and visiting with Andy McAvin about his encounter with
a prop I have decided to put this story in print. Out of embarrassment I
have struggled over and over about doing so but have come to the
conclusion that if it helps prevent one accident of this nature, I will
gladly accept the humble feelings of being embarrassed and
self-conscious of my accident.
With lots of willpower and a high tolerance of pain, six weeks to the
day after the accident I was back in the air. I will suffer some long
term nerve damage and considerable mussel loss, but I am more than
grateful to be back home in the air. In my case, pain suffered will
serve as a wonderful aid in postponing any future complacency!
I wish to encourage Jeff Goin to continue his crusade in making our
PPG cages more resistance to these kinds of prop strikes. With a love of
our sport I dream of the day prop strikes are a thing of the past!
Sorry for being graphic but it emphasizes what's at
stake when a mere moment of complacency lets our guard down.
A recalcitrant motor, the pilot squeezing some
throttle, and a momentarily bad grip led to this nearly fatal prop
A common refrain in prop injuries is
difficult-to-start motors that spring to life with a surprising vigor.
Aggravating the problem is if the motor requires throttle to start.