Touchdown. Dab of rudder to keep things straight and a touch of brakes to slow it all down. All nice and normal, so far. Tailwheel unlocked into steer, and taxi to the end of the airstrip. Slow down a little at the end, lock the left wheel and swing the tail round so the aircraft's lined up for a speedy departure. Only the left wheel's decided to corkscrew itself into the alarmingly soft ground. Increase power. More power. Full power. Bugger, we're stuck!
Those of you who follow my Facebook page will have already seen a sneak preview of this little incident. Unsurprisingly, it's not exactly uncommon for over two tonnes of aircraft to get stuck in the mud occasionally. I've been fairly lucky thus far, in that all of my mud vs. aircraft problems have been relatively easy to resolve. I know fellow pilots who have not been so lucky and had to spend hours digging themselves out of places. Nothing quite so drastic for me this time thankfully.
Last week I had a charter from the tiny village of Gome to the even tinier village of Tuput. Tuput is on the high plateaux at nearly 9000ft elevation and a few miles from Agudugume. It's not a place we go to very often and no-one from our company had been there for a few months. So before landing I made a low pass over the airstrip to check it's condition out and all seemed fine with no visible obstructions, ditches or water logging problems.
Landing and taxiing were all fine and the airstrip was surprisingly dry. The wheels weren't digging in and braking action was very good. So it was a surprise when I came to turn around at the end of the airstrip and got stuck. The left wheel corkscrewed itself a good four inches into the ground and no amount of power was going to bring it back out again. So I accepted defeat and shut the engine down. With the passengers off loaded, along with all their baggage, the now lighter aircraft should be easier to extract from the grips of the mud.
First thing one needs to do to get unstuck is to straighten up the tailwheel. As I got stuck towards the end of turning, the tailwheel was at nearly 90 degrees to the fuselage. The Porter has a handy tow bar stored in the rear empennage which attaches to the tailwheel for manouvering the aircraft on the ground. It's important to ensure the tailwheel is unlocked and in steer mode before using it though.
Once straighten out, it was a case of digging out the left main wheel and laying down some stones for added traction. Now everything was prepared, there were two ways to escape the mud. One option is to gather as many local villagers as I could and get pushing. This can work but as there was only half a dozen or so folk around, and I was already lined up for take-off, I opted for 550SHP of Pratt & Whitney PT6 to get it out.
The aircraft rolled out of the hole with surprisingly little power and I departed without issue. All in all, pretty much a non-event and just another little tale to add to my life story out here in the jungles of Indonesia.
|Pilatus PC-6 Porter left wheel stuck in the mud at Tuput, Papua|
|Stuck in the mud|
|Stuck in the mud|
|Using the tow bar to straighten the tailwheel|
|Tailwheel straightened up|
|Lip in-front of the wheel smoothed off and stones added for traction|