Harris Ranch II

Why bother with another dad-gum Harris Ranch story? Bear with me, gentle reader, for all is not the same this time around.

Our intrepid pilots, Steve and Bob in Steve's Cessna 172. It's a tad tight in here for two big guys!


Here is the Harris strip while we are on downwind, headed roughly South. It's that little thing that looks like a dirt road surrounded by green.

I may as well tell my little story here, because it happened shortly after the downwind picture above was taken. I had flown from the takeoff at Watsonville to this point, and had just handed off control to Steve. I was a student pilot in the right seat (unfamiliar perspective), in a plane I haven't flown much (C172 versus C182), and we were about to land at a very small runway. There was some crosswind to make life more complicated, so I felt discretion was the better part of valor and elected to ride out the landing as a passenger.

No sooner having heard the left seat say, "My airplane", when the plane banked sharply, but not too steeply to the left. I could see from the corner of my eye that Steve was thrashing around excitedly and I could hear him making some odd high pitched noises. As I turned to see what he was doing I noticed he was swatting at his left arm and leg as though he was being burned by something. I remember having three thoughts in rapid succession:

  •    Always remember to keep flying the plane. I've read tons of accident reports where the pilot got distracted and I was determined not to that kind of statistic. So I grabbed the yoke and rudders, which Steve had let go of, and made sure we continued our downwind leg in good order.
  •    Can I land this airplane if Steve can't? Kind of a scary thought. I had just handed off the plane to him. It didn't take me long to conclude I thought I could land the plane successfully, though I considered the possibility of returning to Watsonville rather than landing at Harris if it came to that. I have more confidence there, having landed many many times during my lessons.
  •   Okay, now that I'm sure I can land and the plane is being flown, what the heck is wrong with Steve? Epileptic fit? Some electrical problem shocking him? I really couldn't figure it out.

By this time, which seemed an eternity, but which was all of about 1.5 seconds, Steve was able to communicate what was going on. A wasp had just flown in through the air vent and had landed on his arm. Holy mackeral Andy! It was on the floor, he was allergic, and didn't want to be trying to land on that little bitty air strip until we got rid of it. I still hadn't seen the beast until this point when it suddenly flew up and landed on the glare shield. Well, after being admonished by the pilot-in-command to kill it several times I finally grabbed up the chart and took a good swing. My concern was that there would be Hell to pay if I pissed it off. Basically, you want to move kind of slowly with stinging insects and other poisonous critters. So, instead of swatting, I basically pressed it into the glare shield with the sectional until I heard a satisfying crunch. Believe me, I continued grinding until no more crunching could be heard. At this point we relaxed on got on about our $100 hamburger business. You can see a picture of the wasp's wing in the photos below.

We debated just how this wasp had managed to board our aircraft while it was flying into the wind at over 100 mph. Steve was of the opinion it was a freak accident. I was certain we would find a nest in the air vents that are on the wing. Sure enough, we landed and managed to extract three small nests from both air vents on either side of the wing. Each one was the size of your thumb, and somewhat hard to see in the sun. In fact, we had to use a flashlight to find the last one.

The moral of the story: when the checklist says to check your vents, check them very carefully! And always remember to fly the plane.

FWIW, we flew direct in this plane. Looked like a fair number of places to put down in the hills. It's still an hour-long ride in a C172, but the food is worth it.

Coming in on Final. Does that field look short, or what?

The evidence of the encounter is Out There. You can just see the wing sticking up in the bottom of this photo...

The Ramp At Harris. A Few Other Planes There. They Have AvGas Too.

We landed. The guy on the right was in the back seat when all this happened. He looks pretty calm!

Aircraft owner and Pilot-In-Command

All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.