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Fri, Oct 08, 2004

The Little Airplane That Could

Aircraft Survives Three Florida Hurricanes

Hurricane Charley flattened one of Ranger Aviation's hangars at Kissimmee Gateway (ISM) Airport near Orlando (FL). Could anything survive?

Talk about a trusty, durable aircraft. AOPA reports Rick Cohen's Cessna 172SP stood up to beatings from three of the four hurricanes that have hit Florida this year and came out with only a few scratches.

His airplane weathered hurricanes Charley and Jeanne at Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM) where it is based. But Cohen tried to escape the wrath of Hurricane Frances, only to end up in its path.

Hurricane Charley hit ISM, collapsing the hangar housing Cohen's airplane. Steel beams forming the structure were bent at 45-degree angles.

"Fortunately, mine was sitting pretty in the middle and came out with a few scratches," Cohen says. The airplane sustained a few dings and marks on the wings, horizontal stabilizer, and spinner. Meanwhile, almost all of the other dozen or so aircraft in the hangar were severely damaged, he reports.

When Frances was forecast to pound the state, Cohen flew his family and the airplane away from the approaching storm. Using AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner, he quickly obtained current wind and weather information, charted his route from Kissimmee to Savannah, Georgia, on the electronic map, and received an automatic flight plan and navigation log. (Cohen runs the program, a free AOPA membership benefit, on his Mac laptop computer using Virtual PC.)

"I was going to try to outrun it," Cohen says.

Instead, he ended up sandwiched between Frances, approaching from the southeast, and a cold front moving in from the northwest. After fighting a 25-knot headwind, he landed in St. Augustine to hangar the airplane and wait out the storm with his family.

This time, the hangar housing his airplane withstood the winds, but another one on the airport was damaged. Its doors blew out, and the aircraft inside were smashed.

The third time around, Cohen tied down his airplane at ISM and hoped for the best — the pilot who was supposed to fly it to safety called in sick at the last minute, and by then the wind was already at 50 kts.

Cohen used new ropes to tie down the wings and nose, attached external gust locks, and filled the tanks with fuel. Not only did his Cessna 172 survive the storm, but it was washed almost spotless by all of the rain.

"It was inspected and test flown, and performed flawlessly," Cohen says. "I think I'll keep her."

Right now, the airplane is in the shop for a thorough annual, which Cohen adds couldn't have come at a better time.

FMI: www.kissimmeeairport.com

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