Expect The Unexpected – Propeller Incidents

Propeller IncidentsProper Technique

Expect The Unexpected – Propeller Incidents


Proper Technique

We all know at least one pilot in our surroundings who frequently “handles” the propeller(s) of any particular aircraft. In the seaplane world, we more often than not find our aircraft bobbling in the water when we approach it for our pre-flight checks and flight preparation. Like anyone with years of experience, we tend to think that we know what we are doing, we’ve done it thousands of times before.

The oil needs to be checked, the floats need to get pumped, little nuts and bolts would like to be looked at, prior to commencing flight. We may need to turn the aircraft to inspect the water facing other side. Some don’t even¬† mind the wire between the floats, which is intended to change sides without crawling through the aircraft. Walking that tight line is where we may just touch or hold on to a propeller.

The following video was shot nearly two years ago. Like thousands of videos before, it instantly ended up on Facebook, where it was mass-ingested as “this just in” with thousands of smart comments, shares and likes.

Lets not forget that propellers have been around for a long time and that more than one set of hands, legs or heads have been amputated using them. The separation anxiety that goes on after a hand or head goes flying, without the rest of homo sapient attached, is hard on everyone.

There are very solid reasons for the emphasis on proper handling technique around airplanes with one of these processors attached and more than enough good reasons to pay very close attention to procedure. While the pilot in this video is probably unhappy about his recent Facebook fame, we have a nice thank you for him, for making a mistake that we can use to re-emphasize, why focus and care during a pre-flight check is just so important.

Remember a few serious points to consider, before handling a propeller!

  • The ignition key should be out of the ignition and the switch in the “off” position. Put the key into a spot on the glare-shield, just to verify this. Do not touch the prop before you have seen and verified the location of the key!
  • The mixture control should be on shutoff. (Beware even if this control is in the off position, the engine can start if there is residual fuel in the carburetors from priming or from having shut down by turning the ignition off, rather than pulling the mixture. Especially when docking, the magnetos and ignition are often a more “precise” way of getting the engine to stop at just the right time.)
  • Make sure the aircraft is secured by wheel chocks and/or tie-downs, or better yet, have a qualified pilot in the seat, applying brakes, securing the cockpit and having the emergency brake handle pulled. Whoever has more experience with handling a propeller should be handling the propeller!
  • Make sure you have been taught the proper way to evacuate the propeller arc from an inadvertent start. Do not ever take your eyes or ears off the task at hand. Do not “grab” the rear edge and place your fingertips on the rear end of the propeller blade, but place your hands so that they can slide off, rather than hoping that your release- reflex kicks in and allows you to let go of the blade.
  • Pay attention to any part of your body reaching inside the propeller arc. You wish to move in such a way that a step back goes hand in hand with getting your hands and body away from the prop, instantly. Many seaplane people deal with the propeller while standing on a float, and the smart ones deal with their propeller from between the wings and the propeller arc, on the side of the descending blade. Make sure (by holding on to and pulling yourself toward a strut, for example) that you will fall against the strut or off the float before you fall into the propeller arc if the engine inadvertently fires. While on the cross-wire (often called the “slicer”) you may hold on to the cowling, but try not to use the prop.
  • Gloves an loose clothing can present a incalculable risk when dealing with a propeller. Nicks in the propeller (leading and trailing edge) of the propeller may catch on and dictate your direction of movement. The good thing is that most gloves can be used again after throwing them into a spinning propeller…
  • Last but not least, spend some quality time with an instructor who is experienced and knowledgeable to demonstrate proper technique and always do your pre-shut down mag check. A broken P-lead is all it takes. While the imminent danger is nicely portrayed in a video, experiencing an incident will spoil your day, even if it all ends lucky, like for the gentleman above.

Feel free to add to this list with things we may have missed and/ or share this reminder among your pilot friends!

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