If you’re like me, you’ve probably had to be reminded countless times to shut the door. The consequences of failing to properly shut the door are serious. Since the door was invented (by Ugg Cavewoman who needed to be alone and wanted something to slam in order to get that point across) many a foolish human has been utterly devastated by a door left ajar.
You may be letting the heat out or, perhaps, air conditioning the Earth. You may be letting in mosquitoes which will suck your blood while you sleep and then breed millions of additional microscopic vampires in order to desiccate your comatose body in a single night. Or even more heinous, if you do not heed door-shutting warnings, you just may end up naked at work. This last example is what ultimately cured me of my lax door closing habits.
The first aircraft I flew as a freight pilot was a Beech Baron. In order to enter this aircraft, you must climb up on the wing on the right hand side. Once inside, the door must then be latched from the inside in two places before you scoot over to the left seat to get down to business. If the top, deceptively unimportant-looking latch is not closed correctly, the door will pop open during a critical phase of flight and not even Hercules will be able to close it again while in the air.
The first time I discovered this Baron door anomaly, I was departing Midway airport on my way to St. Louis. It was a beautiful, bright, sunny afternoon and the door became decidedly un-shut immediately after takeoff. The air pressure was such that my hat, which was innocently perched on the co-pilot’s seat, instantaneously vacated the aircraft.
Cursing my door closing lapse, I turned on the autopilot only to find that closing this door again while in flight was not going to happen. Ever. Not wanting to listen to the wind howl my failure while the cold nibbled my extremities all the way to St. Louis, I requested and received a clearance through a small uncontrolled field, landed, shut the door and took off again to continue my flight.
The next leg of my route from St. Louis to Peoria was uneventful except for the mild sting of the loss of my hat. But, alas, I did not learn my lesson. This time when the door popped open on takeoff out of Peoria, my jacket was martyred. I barely managed to sweep my approach plates, which were all cozy underneath my ill-fated jacket, onto the floor to safety.
After coming back around to land and shut the damn door, I took off again for Milwaukee. Somehow, the next air traffic controller not only knew of my clothes-depleting shame, but he was also highly amused by the whole situation. He wanted to chat about it. Over the radio. For the world to hear. Lucky me. Now everyone was placing bets on whether I’d have any clothes left at all by the end of my shift.
Yet despite my abject humiliation, these misadventures may have saved my life.
A few months after learning my lesson the hard way, I was flying from Milwaukee to Midway with a co-pilot who was about to have a harsher lesson than my own. We were in an aircraft that was equipped with a single “throw over” control yoke and he was using it to fly from the right seat. When the top latch of the door opened while in cruise flight, I knew that as soon as he put the gear down, the rest of the door was going to follow suit. However, while I was prepared for this outcome, my co-pilot was not. And when the door opened, the wind dried out his contacts, effectively blinding him.
Panicked, he tried to throw the control yoke back over to my side so that I could take over the flight. This, we found, is not possible in the air. In that instant, I decided our only recourse was for us to work together. I operated the rudder pedals and managed the power while talking him through the control yoke inputs he needed to make in order to get us safely on the ground. Had I not already had my own humbling shut-the-door lesson seared into my being, this flight may not have had such a happy ending.
In posting this blog, my deepest wish is for you to learn from my mistakes instead of having to experience the folly of improper door closing for yourself. Doors left ajar can only lead to suffering. Please, stfd!