Learning From Mistakes
Flying|June 2018

A Visit To A Grass Strip In Early Spring Teaches Valuable Lessons

Robert Hanrahan
It was a chilly March day in New Jersey, but the temperatures were finally rising above freezing on a regular basis. Signs of snow had all but vanished, and we CFIs at the flight school were looking forward to the start of spring and better flying weather.

On my schedule was a private pilot with whom I would occasionally meet for a refresher flight. As always, he reserved our Piper PA-28 Warrior for a two-hour block of dual instruction. Though legally current, my client didn’t fly often and was a relatively low-time pilot. Before heading out, we established a plan, which included performing stalls, steep turns and emergency procedures because he thought those were the areas where he had the least recent experience. I suggested some takeoff and landing practice, including soft- and shortfield work.

We flew to our usual practice area and covered the airwork before I pulled the throttle well above the nice little airfield with its short runway at Aeroflex-Andover (12N). He did a good job with his engine-out and short-field procedures. As we departed back toward Essex County Airport (KCDW), I asked if he had done any actual soft-field landings. He replied that he hadn’t, but had always wanted to try.

I directed him toward nearby Trinca Airport (13N), a 1,920-foot grass strip that I visited many times over the years. I had him fly over the field, and we took a good look at the runway, which appeared clean and solid. I observed no signs of water or mud, and the turf appeared to be in good shape. Though I understood the risks of soft fields after the winter, I had more than a thousand hours in PA-28s and felt very comfortable with soft-field takeoffs and landings. Up to now, that is.

The wind was from the west, so we flew the pattern for Runway 24. The approach went as planned. We flared with a little power and gently placed the mains onto what now appeared to be a surface that was softer and wetter than I’d thought. During the rollout, I realized the turf was in bad shape in some areas and I became concerned about the possibility of getting stuck.

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