Laura Thorburn-Gundlach (hereafter referred to as TG) learned a hard lesson about simulated versus real manoeuvres on Independence Day.
TG badly pranged the Beechcraft BE-77 "Skipper" she and her husband own while trying to takeoff from a cow pasture in Virginia on the fourth of July.
She and her husband, also a pilot, had been flying to a nearby airport the day before when the Skipper's engine quit due to a clogged fuel tank, and they safety put down in the cow pasture, according to the NTSB report.
Later that day, their mechanic, also a pilot, and his partner, a certified flight instructor, helped the couple fix the fuel flow problem. TG, in the NTSB report, says the local FAA flight standard district office "approved" the aircraft as "airworthy" the next day, July 4th.
What followed next led to TG's folly.
"I measured the length of the field and found it shorter than our typical requirement, but was heavily depending on the opinion given by both our mechanic and his partner, who felt that the plane would have no problem taking off out of the field," she stated. "Their opinion was that the grade of the terrain (downward sloping runway) would increase acceleration - effectively creating a great deal more thrust."
With that recommendation, put a freshly moved path through the grass, a go-no/go decision point mapped out and all non-essential elements removed from the aircraft, TG attempted a takeoff.
One key element was missing from formula though: She had never actually done an actual soft field takeoff from a soft field.
During the takeoff run, where she found the "plane to be underpowered" and no apparent extra acceleration from the down-slope, she became "overwhelmed by trying to keep the plane under control on the rough field" and did not abort the takeoff at the go-no/go decision point.
The aircraft ultimately hit a fence post at the end of the field and caught fire as TG jumped out. She received second degree burns on her lower legs.
What did she learn from the experience? "Simply put, I should never attempt any form of piloting that I have not successfully done with a CFI -- no matter who says how easy it is," she concludes.