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Aviate, navigate, communicate -- in that order -- even if your Cessna 172 is missing a wing

Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains By Dan Sobczak
January 2020

Editor's note: This content does not constitute flight instruction. Consult a certified flight instructor in your area for proper flight instruction.



The laws of aviation dictate that, in any emergency, a pilot must first aviate, then navigate, then communicate.

The laws of aviation also dictate that an airplane should not be able to fly while missing a wing, and very rarely will it continue to fly after having a wing ripped off during flight.

Yet that's just what happened in the recent case of a Cessna 172 during a pipeline patrol inspection flight over Texas, as well as in a much earlier case of an Israeli F-15 Eagle during a training mission in 1983.


Cessna 172 lands with part of wing missing


The NTSB released its report on an incident from December 2018 where the pilot landed his Cessna 172, N254RA, after having a portion of its left wing ripped off after the aircraft hit a tower wire.

A photo showing the damaged left wing on a Cessna 172 after it collided with a tower wire while on a pipeline patrol flight over Texas. About 4' of the wing is torn off outboard of the aileron attachment point.  The pilot maintained control of the airplane and landed safely. Source: NTSB.

A photo showing the damaged left wing on a Cessna 172 after it collided with a tower wire while on a pipeline patrol flight over Texas. About 4' of the wing is torn off outboard of the aileron attachment point. The pilot maintained control of the airplane and landed safely. Source: NTSB.


According to the NTSB report:

On December 21, 2018, about 11:45am CST, a Cessna 172M, N254RA, registered and operated by Reynolds Aviation, Beach City, Texas, sustained substantial damage when it collided with a tower wire about 10 miles south of the Abilene Regional Airport (AB), Abilene, Texas. The commercial pilot, who was the sole occupant, was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed. The pipeline aerial observation flight was being conducted under the provisions of Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight originated about 10:00 from the Draughon-Miller Central Texas Regional Airport (TPL), Temple, Texas, and was enroute to the Winston Field Airport (SNK), Snyder, Texas.

The pilot stated that he was conducting an aerial pipeline inspection. He stated that he was looking down in the cockpit, writing down pipeline observation information. At the same time, he felt a pull to the left. The airplane struck a tower wire. The pilot stated that he did not see the tower wires. The pilot was able to control the airplane, immediately declared an emergency, and landed the airplane at ABI, which was about 10 miles north of the wire strike. Inspection of the airplane revealed a 4-foot section of the left wing was torn off the airplane, just outboard of the left aileron.

The pilot stated in NTSB Form 6120, that many pipeline patrol operations have an observer on board in addition to the pilot, one writing down information, and one looking outside the airplane. He also stated that he could have waited to write down information after passing the tower area."


F-15 lands with one wing


In 1983, an Israeli F-15 Eagle completed a successful landing with a missing wing.

A photo of an Israeli F-15 Eagle that landing safely after having its right wing completely ripped off during a training exercise in 1983. Source: Military.com YouTube video of The History Channel's Heavy Metal episode.

A photo of an Israeli F-15 Eagle that landing safely after having its right wing completely ripped off during a training exercise in 1983. Source: Military.com YouTube video of The History Channel's Heavy Metal episode.


A History Channel YouTube video on Military.com tells the story of how the F-15 landed with one wing missing, which proved not only the durability of the F-15, but more importantly, the ability of the pilot to keep his wits about him in a dire situation, stay calm, and aviate first.

F-15 pilot Zivi Nedivi was flying a simulated mission to intercept hostile aircraft when his aircraft and the target aircraft collided. Instead of immediately ejecting, Nedivi was able to maintain control of his fighter jet and land safely.


Lesson learned


In both cases, these two pilots reacted quickly, realized they could still maintain some flying control over their airplane, and aviated their way through their emergencies to land their crippled airplanes safely.

While it may not be possible to successfully land an aircraft every time a vital flight control goes missing, the important thing to remember is to react quickly and appropriately for the situation at hand, as these pilots did.

Stay sharp!
The Flight Chain App team




Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains Dan Sobczak is the founder of www.FlightChainApp.com, a mobile app that helps pilots learn from accident chains by making NTSB reports more convenient and easier to digest. Dan received his private pilot certificate in 2003.


Flight Chain App and its companion blog www.AheadOfThePowerCurve.com are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.


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February 2020:
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January 2020:
Aviate, navigate, communicate -- in that order -- even if your Cessna 172 is missing a wing



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May 2018:
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April 2018:
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March 2018:
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February 2018:
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January 2018:
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