By Ralph Hood

Last year’s Lion Airline’s crash prompted many to wonder, “What can go wrong with a brand-new airplane.” The answer? Lots of things.

During my thousands of flight hours most of my emergencies came in brand-new airplanes straight from the factory.

For starters, I once picked up the first model of a brand-new airplane. The engine ran hot. I left the airplane at the factory, which put air vents in the engine cowling of all such aircraft, thus solving the problem.

One pick-up flight worked well until I took a short cut across the Gulf of Mexico. Just as I lost sight of land, the aircraft developed a vibration problem. “Aw”, said I, “It’s just the automatic roughness that seems to occur over water. It’ll quit once I get back over dry land.” But it didn’t.

I landed shortly thereafter and discovered the problem. The wing walk on the wing had come unfastened at the front, bent back, and flapped in the airflow. Once fixed, it never happened again. It was a typical problem—no big deal, but it could scare you to death.

There was the twin-engined aircraft that ran rough, another in which the autopilot would take a nose dive for no reason.

Then there was the time I picked up a new airplane, flew it a couple hundred miles, picked up my 5-year-old son and headed for home. We leveled off in smooth, clear air and I unhooked my son’s seat belt so he could stand up and look out the window.

Instantly thereafter, the single engine quit dead. I immediately wondered if I should try to restart the engine first or put son back under the seatbelt.

As I wondered, I went through the usual quick movements—switch fuel tanks, richen mixture, hit boost pump and look at the gauges. The dead engine quickly returned to life. My son never even knew anything was wrong. Good training is a great asset.

By far the scariest new-airplane flight was in a twin-engined aircraft in which the weather radar worked backwards. If it said the storm cell was on the right, it was really on the left. That radar took me right through the storm as I tried to avoid it. The storm stripped much of the paint from the airplane and the table in the airplane was broken.

We got the radar fixed, but I haven’t recovered from the fear to this day.