Pilot Jack Barnett of Benbrook heard a strange noise while flying Tuesday afternoon over eastern Parker County. And then he started to lose altitude.
But it wasn’t until after he landed in a drainage ditch on an old race track near Willow Park that he understood the problem.
The propeller on his Grumman AA-5 Tiger came off while he was cruising at about 2,000 feet. He told the Federal Aviation Administration that this happened near Aledo High School.
“It was big bang,” recalled Barnett, 79, who was not hurt. “I didn’t know I didn’t have a prop at that time.”
Barnett explained that a propeller isn’t visible while it’s spinning, and he did not see it come off the single-engine airplane.
“But I couldn’t climb,” he said. “And I couldn’t control altitude, so I knew something was wrong.”
The propellor hadn’t been found by Tuesday evening.
The flight began like any other for Barnett, who bought his plane in 1983, a year after he earned his pilot’s license.
“I was just out pleasure flying, burning up some fuel,” he said. “I love to fly, and I’ve been all over in it — Key West, Connecticut. But I never expected to lose a prop.”
Barnett said he thought about flying the plane to an airstrip in Parker County, but when he couldn’t climb, he decided to glide toward the old Trinity Meadows Race Track in Willow Park.
The former track is north of Interstate 20 in Willow Park.
Police Chief Brad Johnson said the city’s public works director called him to say he was watching the plane land about 3 p.m. on the track’s infield.
“He saw it come in very low, and it was a relatively smooth landing, except for a very large drainage ditch in the middle of the infield,” Johnson said. “Then he saw a large puff of what I’m sure was probably dirt going into the air.”
Johnson called dispatchers to summon firefighters and an ambulance crew, but there was no major emergency.
Barnett said he went about 100 yards after his landing gear touched the ground, but he didn’t know about the ditch until he was in it.
“If it hadn’t been for the gulley in that field, I would have landed just fine,” he said.
Johnson said it was “somewhat frightening” that the propeller was unaccounted for Tuesday. But, he said, Barnett “did a fantastic job” landing his plane.
Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth, said a plane like Barnett’s Grumman can fly without a propeller, “but not for very long.”
“The bottom line is, pilots are trained from the beginning how to handle emergencies.” Lunsford said. “He handled this one like we would expect.”
Barnett said his plane would stay at the race track overnight and he planned to meet with FAA officials Wednesday morning. He was confident it would fly again.
Meanwhile, Barnett could only speculate on why he lost the propeller.
“I’m required every 500 hours to check that prop, but it hasn’t been 500 hours yet,” he said. “Evidently it cracked and split in two at the hub.”
Barnett said he was calm during the landing.
When asked what he thought seeing the airplane without the propeller, Barnett responded with one word, but it’s not printable in a newspaper.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said with a laugh, “but that’s what went through my mind!”