What a weekend it was.  Saturday evening was quite honestly one of the most incredible evenings I have ever had at any airport.  Temperature were sitting at the 70 degree mark, winds were supposedly pushing at 7 knots, but it seemed still to me... and what little wind I detected seemed to be blowing straight down runway 6.  Air was like glass.  It was the kind of day any pilot craves.  Making things even better was the fact that I was alone!  Yes, I enjoy a passenger and often welcome folks into the airplane for a quick "hop around the patch", but there are times when it seems quiet time with the equipment is just the way to go.  This evening, it was just me and N6026S, a G1000 equipped Cessna 172 I rented from a local flight school. 

The original plan was three takeoff's, followed by three landings.  It seemed every landing was better than the last, and I just couldn't miss Charlie taxiway every time.  Five landings later, I had to consider making it six, but figured that the concept of "too much of a good thing" may actually be reality.  Besides, I had plans to take my friend David up on Sunday.  That in mind, I rolled the aircraft back onto the ramp and tied the bird down. 


Sunday started with confusion over which aircraft I should take.  I again started with N6026S, but Wes, an instructor at the airfield, had been using the aircraft for discovery rides.  A few minutes later we'd agreed to trade rides and I found myself pre-flighting N60747.  This was no big thing, as N60747 is an identically equipped sister to N6026S.  After a careful inspection of everything, David and I were at the threshold of runway 24 and ready for departure.  We made a pattern, followed by what I'd call an "OK" landing.  It would have been better if winds hadn't changed and we didn't have some variability to deal with.  We ballooned and I landed just past the thousand-foot markers.  The runway boasts nearly 6,500 feet of asphalt and is 100 feet wide.  Not a big deal.  I still caught Delta taxiway, and we went back for another. 

The "second time" around, we decided to break pattern and "go play" to the east of the field.  We ended that playtime by turning back to the airfield and lining up for a landing.  It was about a six-mile final.  About the time we were at the three-mile point, we heard another aircraft calling downwind.  At the one-mile mark, I noted a Cessna 177 (cardinal) was perched majestically beside the runway, awaiting takeoff.  This approach seemed very normal.  Perhaps a bit high, but not beyond any tolerance.

As we crossed the threshold, I quoted my speed out loud.  I checked with David after our flight and he confirmed he heard me say "seventy-three".  This was our airspeed as we crossed the numbers.  Just after this, the wind reared its head, seemingly "puffing" from the left and pushing me to the right of the centerline.  I quickly tapped a rudder pedal to aim back toward center, and then flared the aircraft.  The stall warning horn squealed and the aircraft dropped onto the runway, but something seemed wrong.  The aircraft begin to pull awkwardly.  First to the right, then to the left then back to the right, then back to the left.  As we decelerated, I found myself stepping on full right rudder and still veering left.  The aircraft shook, and the ominous sound of rubber hitting the asphalt soon followed.  At first, I thought the nose wheel shimmy damper may have given up the ghost, but as the aircraft continued to move to the left, it became obvious I was dealing with a flat tire.

Braking, rudder, and more braking were all on my agenda.  The aircraft came to rest with the left flat tire in the dirt, and the other two still on the runway.  I attempted to add power with the hopes of getting the aircraft off the runway.  After all, one was waiting to take off, and another was in the pattern.  Let me be the first to tell you that when you have a flat main tire on a Cessna 172, it's not going anywhere except for maybe in a circle around the flat main.  Fortunately everyone was paying attention and there were no additional mishaps.  Also, there are a lot of nice folks at the airfield.  Heck, pilots are generally nice people with cool, even tempers (and yes, there are a few exceptions, but none were seen this day).  A gentleman who had a Bonanza at the other end of the field drove down with his wife and even brought us a jack and a tow bar.  A tug with a wheel mount was brought from one end of the field, and a second "tractor tug" was brought from the other.  I even got a golf cart ride from some other nice folks at the airport. 

So, why the long story about this?  It didn't hit me until I was looking at the bird sitting on the dead tire in the hanger.  This could have been bad.  This spawned the need to know, "is there something I could have done to have prevented this incident?"  The next 72 hours were spent trying to understand why tires go flat.  First came Googling "flat tire Cessna" and reading others stories.  Monday found me with an instructor (Wes) doing nine takeoffs and landings.  All checked OK.  I already knew that my crosswind technique needed work and Wes affirmed that.  Time to practice with some wind!  On Tuesday Wes called and told me that it appeared to be caused by a puncture.  My pre-flight was thorough, so it's likely I picked up some FOD on the runway. 

Lessons learned:

  • No two days are alike
  • Expect the unexpected
  • It's a great thing to find good people when you're having a bad day
  • Always examine, but don't overthink