Undocumented Pilot


Undocumented Pilot by Terry Richardson
Papers? I don’t need no stinking papers!
AirPlay Third Quarter 2011

It was early out, just after daybreak, patchy spots of low stratus left over from a few days of rain, but VFR enough to get my IFR clearance from Memphis Center on the fly. I’d waited for days for the rain system to clear the area so I could take a client’s Baron up to St. Louis for a much needed front windshield replacement. If things went as planned, I’d arrive early for the replacement and get back next day after the required cure time. Simple enough.

After runup and double checking the door (which had been a problem on occasions – it appeared to be fully locked) I accelerated for a departure on runway 25. Shortly after rotation and just as going momentarily through a thin layer, the door came open. Not cracked, but fully 6-8 inches open! Charts and stuff I had on the copilot’s seat were instantly sucked out the door. My Navy and instrument training helped me resist the urge to grab things leaving and concentrate on flying the aircraft/gages. The natural tendency would be to pull the yoke as you leaned over to secure the door, but not a great move at less than 200 feet  AGL. 

The buffeting  from the open door disturbing the airflow over the tail was unexpected and the noise in the cabin made radio reception impossible. I wanted to slow the aircraft enough to at least get the door faired, but the buffeting  precluded reducing to low power. I climbed to 1500 AGL and continued to another airport about 10 miles straight ahead. I couldn’t hear responses from the Unicom so I broadcast in the blind my intentions and continued VFR to a somewhat normal landing. On taxi I recycled the door and confirmed it latched and locked-again. I planned to return there if it came open again and to continue on my planned flight if it was truly closed.

This time it worked, so I continued, picked up my IFR clearance to St Louis. Upon leveling off I started checking for missing items. I had assumed that my jacket had been in a back seat. Not so lucky…it had been sucked off the copilot seat back when the door opened!  Licenses, ID’s, credit cards, cash was in my billfold and my iPhone  was in another pocket—gone over the side!!! So there I was on my way with no licenses, ID’s or money. I was an undocumented pilot-- or citizen.  It’s a major problem in normal life and a very serious situation for a pilot. I explained to Memphis that I had left some paperwork at home base and needed a clearance reversal. I shot an approach back and put off the trip until after  I got reorganized.

Upon return, I notified local authorities in case someone found or turned in my jacket, went to the office for a new phone, credit card and nav charts, rescheduling the windshield for the next day. I went online to FAA.gov, to order replacement licenses and obtain a Temporary Permission Authorization statement (which was responded to and issued via email in about 30 minutes) which allowed up to 90 days operations on the statement. Next, I drove back to my hometown (unlicensed driver) to get a new driver’s license. Unfortunately the DMV was closed  due to flooding, so I still had no photo ID.

No real problem for the next day since the windshield work only required an overnight. Since I was legal to fly, next day I flew to St Louis. Once work had begun, the mech concluded that all the windows were marginal and recommended all be replaced. I called the owner, tried to explain my situation (no ID) but he didn’t care about that and insisted that he wanted it done. That put me up a creek with no paddle. I couldn’t rent a car to get home nor catch a flight with no photo ID. It was late by then so I went to a local hotel to regroup.

Going to Plan B, I called my daughter who is stationed at Scott AFB and planned to stay with her and get a replacement retiree military ID, Next day I took the hotel shuttle to STL terminal to catch the metro out to Scott. I bought a senior ticket and jumped the train to the ID solution. Somewhere around East St Louis a conductor came shuffling through checking tickets. I handed him my ticket, he looked at me and asked if I had any ID to prove I was eligible for the senior fare. I thanked him for the compliment, and explained my problem and was not trying to scam the 25 cents discount and would gladly pay full fare----anything - just don’t put me off in East St Louis!!!  After letting me sweat for a couple of minutes, he relented and  I got to Scott,

I went directly to the AFB  ID office, arrived 1 minute prior to their 4pm office closing and took a seat to awaiting service. Finally a Senior Airman clerk called me, asked what I needed. I explained (for the 20th time that day) my situation and required an ID. He asked if I had an ID to prove who I was so he could verify I was eligible for an ID. I looked the young fellow in the eyes and stated my SSN and told him I wasn’t leaving without a replacement and would gladly talk to his commander if required. Wise beyond his rank, he asked my SSN again and magically all my personal data appeared on his computer and with a new photo an ID card appeared out of the printer. Life suddenly got better. Six days later and with new Baron windows, I was winging my way home.

If you think this a trivial event, think about the situation. You literally lose your personal identity and any way to way to prove it without a driver’s license or passport, something official with a photo. I was totally stressed out, unable to do things I took for granted a day before. Over a year now, my jacket with all my stuff and iPhone are still missing. Probably in some deep woods or the bottom of a creek. I do carry most of my personal ID’s on my body now. And I managed to get a backup driver’s license which I carry separate from the rest. You do need those stinking papers!!!!

Keep the shiny side up.