My Old Post About Nearly Crashing the DC-10

In another thread (about watches of all things) I mentioned having nearly killed hundreds of people in a DC-10. Of course, you can’t just leave a story like that hanging. I thought I had written about it at Mudspike but a search here came up dry. With a grimace I returned after many years to what we used to call “that other site”. As it is laying there, wheezing and off life support, I’ll just say that once great name, SimHQ. It’s there, a snapshot of an earlier age. But it’s covered in clickbate making navigation both nostalgic and disconcerting. I have thousands of posts there. But what helped me find the one I was looking for was a PM by none other than @BeachAV8R dated March 2014. His was a very kind message about my post and it may well have been our first interaction. Old age is making me wistful. Thanks @guod for SimHQ! I’d almost forgotten what a big part of my life it once was.

In 1994 I was hired (gifted is a better word) into the right seat of a DC-10. My first trip (I think) was from San Francisco to Maui with Captain Dick Capp as my check airman. Dick was a Continental striker with the perfect old school Captain persona. I have never flown with a better man since. I have also never flown, and will never fly, a better airliner than the DC-10. By comparison, everything else is a truck. I flew both the dash 10 and dash 30 and loved them both but the dash 10 was especially light–best flown with three fingers on each corner of the yoke. A few weeks after that first flight with Dick we were again together, this time taking off out of Brussels with 350 football fans on board on their way to World Cup '94. The plane was an old beat up -30, EI-DLA. It had a very sorted history and I came close to giving her a suitable end. The -30’s had a center gear and a capacity for about 100,000 pounds more fuel. We were near max gross at 563,000 pounds (IIRC) and this was my first time in type. I had my speed bugs all mis-set but didn’t realize it until the roll had started. I should have asked for a reject but instead tried to fake it. I called V1 early but then realized my error and said “NO! That’s wrong!” and I could see Dick’s jaw set. I felt like an impostor in the right seat of this great plane with this great man to whom I was now proving to be a huge disappointment. A few seconds later I called V1 at the proper speed and many more seconds later we rotated. The climb was a slow struggle. At Flaps up speed I somehow missed the gate and retracted the slats as well. (Not an easy thing to do but I managed it). We immediately went into stick shaker and Dick calmly established a decent to keep some air flowing past those huge wings. At 230 knots there was not nearly enough to keep us off the rooftops of Zaventem. The PFE (professional flight engineer)–a non-pilot–was screaming “What’s happening!”. Fortunately for us (and Zaventem) Douglas designed the plane with auto slats. As they deployed I had already reset the slat handle. I waited in horror for Dick’s wrath. All he said was “shut up!” to the flight engineer. Once proper control was regained, I was about to say something like “God, I’m sorry…” but he cut me off with “we will discuss this at cruise. For now forget about it and do your job.” This was like my dad saying “just wait till we get home!” after I’d committed whatever crimes an eight year old can manage. Thirty minutes later we were at FL280 and the autopilot was on. Dick looked over at me. ‘Here it comes’, I thought, ‘25 years old and my career is over’. But instead he said, calmly but firmly, “look, these things happen. If you want to survive as a pilot you will need to demand that one error must never be allowed snowball into another. Mistakes are part of flying. We must mitigate them and move on”. He then turned to the flight engineer, explained what had happened and apologized. We flew together all over Europe and the pacific that summer and he never mentioned it again. In fact he treated me always with complete confidence and respect. That airplane belonged to a generation of pilots who deserved it. I don’t put myself in that category which makes me even more grateful to have had my year in the Douglas. I hope you all will forgive the long story. I was about to write a one-line–“sorry to see her go…” but then the memory came in a flood.


Sniff. I was a better writer back then :grin:


That’s a great story, thank you very much for sharing it with us!


That. Was. Brilliant.

@smokinhole thanks so much for that. What a fantastic learning exercise for you and what an absolute star of a captain you had.

Its a different league, but the way you describe him reminds me very much of a guy that taught me to fly to PPL. Consummate professional and the fatherly kindness and authority that makes a good teacher into a great one.

He pops on here occasionally, so dont tell him i said that. :joy:

But seriously, that is amazing to read and I am so happy to learn what a beauty to fly the DC10 was. An aircraft I throughly respect and admire. Awesome


Not at all a different league. “Aviators” are aviators. There are many ways to perfect the art. Blanik or Space Shuttle: to do it well requires the highest skill. Today, at this very moment, in Edinburgh, I am the teacher. But 30 years later I still feel like an imposter. Dick Capp was a different breed. My student was born in 1994, the year of the story above. His landing today, his first in the 757 and his first Flaps 25, was the best landing I have seen in months. His flare was perfectly timed with his easing out of the crosswind slip. He nailed the centerline and the touchdown zone. That kid flew it as if he had learned to fly in the thing! He is also quite openly gay—today, a fairly common thing among pilots, not normally even worthy of mention. I mention it now only because in 1994’s America this would not have been possible. Times are changing for the better. And great pilots, at least for a few more years, are still being bred.


thats brilliant. normalisation is key to this all.


I assume he knew, or suspected, that you “faked” it. That was the first mistake. Easy to make for a human.

Still he did not lecture, but made you a better pilot/human instead.

What a great way to learn. This is how teaching is done. I wish I could do this. I’m taking notes.

Great story, thanks!


Wow, that was a close shave! I can just see the 3 of you inching higher in your seats peering at the ever larger rooftops while the aircraft struggled for lift. Did Cpt. Capp bestow your callsign? :laughing:


Now that you mention it, I always wondered about the story behind that one.


Super Troopers Yes GIF by Searchlight Pictures

This is safety culture.
It would’ve been sooo easy to blame the rookie FO and let him go.
That would slowly create a culture where mistakes are hidden away and covered up.
Instead, they created a pilot who was allowed to grow and continue to cultivate safety.


I think I speak for everybody here when I say that I love these kinds of stories- no need to apologize. Thank you for opening up and sharing your experience- honestly, we’re all richer for your contributions.


Amen. Great story, and with an important life lesson to us all. It’s so easy to focus on what went wrong when a mistake is made even though it’s usually worthless to do so. Focussing on what went right in dealing with a mistake is far more constructive. Thank you and captain Capp for driving that point home. :salute:

The old site used to be my favourite internet place too. I was so sad to see it decay. I am so happy to see a great deal of what made it great live on here.


I guess that we who fly in machines will always be imposters, compared to those who fly with wings of their own…
I also think that we will always keep those older captains and instructors, that taught us the art of flying, in a higher regard than how we regard ourselves. I recently discussed this with an old friend from flightschool. We realized that those old school captains that were around when we started flying, were actually younger then, than we are today. How did that happen…? :wink:


I feel like i stole it every time i fire up my little wobbly motorglider.


I’m just waiting for the day when someone tells me it’s all a big mistake and that I should really not be doing anything at all with real airplanes, let alone flying one. :crazy_face:


Epic story!

What a great left seater; certainly better than the guy I flew with who, while I was trying to keep Nashville in sight over my shoulder and level off the aircraft one foggy night uttered the ever helpful:

“What are you doing?”

Which immediately put my brain in 4 Bar 4 scan as I panned across the cockpit trying to figure out what he was talking about!

My SA was like a 3 at that point!!! :joy:

They don’t make captains like yours anymore.


I hope they do. He certainly wasn’t the only great one. Jim Wolfe, who just retired, had a similar calm, confident presence in the flight deck.


That’s a great way to put it! :joy: Can definitely relate, haha. My favorite quotation in the cockpit is “What’s it doing now?”