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This Page is dedicated to fellow pilots that want to share one of their in-flight EMERGENCIES.
The Goal is that maybe one of these stories may help save the life of a fellow aviator by understanding the failure and how to handle the situation. After all, everyone who submits a story is a survivor!
Harvey, Napa, N31AK
I thought I should write up a little note about what happened recently aboard Long-EZ N31AK. This should resolve one mystery and might help someone else.
On Thursday May 25,2006, Eric flew a (CFI) John up to Livermore in Eric's LEZ at my request. The plan was to have John and I fly back to SoCal in my "new" plane, N31AK, while Eric returned in his. We met at the base of the LVK (Livermore) tower and went to chat over lunch in a local eatery. As we were leaving, I had to chuckle that there was a John Denver song playing.
Eric taxied over to hangar 58 to fall in behind John and myself. We did the standard preflight and run-up and proceeded to 25R for takeoff. John had placed me in the front seat, a new spot for me. I had 4 back seat hours in LEZs and 1 hour of my own taxi practice. I had studiously read the POH and Al Hodges' materials but was a little surprised to be in the front seat so early.
We wanted the long runway (25R) but needed to turn L to head toward SoCal. The tower asked me to stay on the runway heading until told that I could turn. We had about an 8-10 kt headwind at about 15 degrees but my first takeoff felt good to me and John complimented me on it. Then, at about 800 feet, well under a minute of my first LEZ flight, the engine seemed to quit! I instinctively lowered the nose and chose a road to land on. John issued suggestions and my hand raced through the emergency drill, checking throttle, mixture, then finally switching tanks. The seat cushion had slid forward enough to make the tank switching difficult but my determination wasn't going to let a cushion have its way. As soon as I switched tanks the engine came back to life (odd...) and we quickly resumed our climb. (If the fuel lines were empty or watery, the engine would have taken a few seconds to restart, I expect).
Traffic was heavy enough that I hesitated turning crosswind to re-enter the pattern and at about 1200' I just decided to keep going. At about 2000' our heart rates were returning to their green arcs. Miles later, at lots of altitude and over another airport, we retested the left tank: no problem.
The rest of the flight had some interesting moments, for me anyhow, as my first landing was in 26 kt winds, gusting to 32. But the focus of this note has to be the fuel business.
About 3am that night, after mentally re-flying that takeoff a bunch of times, I realized that the seat cushion was probably the whole problem. The valve had been on L, the position nearer to Off and I believe the cushion had pushed the valve to be partially closed, drawing a little vacuum in the fuel lines.
When John and I met the next morning, we
headed straight for an Ace hardware store to get double-stick adhesive pads to
use in anchoring the seat cushion. The problem never revisited and my checklist
now contains an entry about switching the valve back and forth before takeoff to
make sure it's free of the cushion.
The recent history of this plane contains a related event. Since the plane had been pickled for so many years, we basically had to do another "first flight" and Larry offered make that flight. During one of his taxi runs, he had just switched to the left tank and the engine had died shortly thereafter. He squawked that the valve positions were possibly mislabeled and he went back to the right tank (the John Denver type valve had been replaced with a better type the day before and there was the possibility that it hadn't been correctly plumbed or labeled). We later found that the labeling was correct, leaving us wondering why the engine had quit on Larry.
Sounds like the cushion to me.
Compared to my first flight, the rest of training was uneventful and John signed me off Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning I flew N31Ak back to Livermore; it was a beautiful flight.
Frank Pullano Jr, BerkEZ N97JD Orlando FL
This event occurred in a very public place
right in front of lots of people. The accounts of what people heard over the
radio are radically different, even my memory of the event differs somewhat from
my co pilot's (Brad MacClemmy) who of course was sitting three feet behind me.
Well this story goes back to the AirVenture Cup Race of 2003. We were required to execute a pylon turn at Aurora Illinois but there was an incredibly high concentration of gnats in the greater Chicago area that day. These little bastards were so incredibly thick - as we descended they were coming through the canopy vent and splattering all over my visor (I wear a helmet), they were hitting me in the mouth, I swallowed a bunch of them despite my best efforts NOT to do that. I was literally spitting dead bugs out of my mouth as Brad sat in the back seat and made fun of me. The canopy was covered and unfortunately so were the leading edges of the wings and even worse, the leading edge of the canard. MacClemmy just sat back there all the while enjoying my pain as I played bug shield for him and the rolling video camera. We passed the pylon turn and had some trouble climbing back up, we lost almost 15 knots on our top end too. The bugs were acting as though they were ice, tripping the boundary layer in so many places that we were losing a good amount of lift. We didn't know how bad it was until we crossed the finish line on Lake Winnebago near War-bird Island.
As we climbed out and made our left turn
towards Wittman Regional Airport (Oshkosh) and slowed the plane to approach
speed, the canard began to bob somewhat out of my control. Well, it was
certainly un-commanded! We went through a series of truly scary moments for the
next few minutes as we had very little control of the airplane below 150 MPH. I
dove the plane for the deck and retracted the landing gear in order to get our
air speed back, we didn't quite have the power to do it in the high AOA
environment. As we approached the airport the controller cleared us to land on
runway 36 Right. During the Convention, 36 Right is actually the parallel
taxiway to runway 36. I called back to the tower and told them that I was having
control problems and was taking 36 Left (the main runway) Right Now! He cleared
me to land but asked that I report two miles. I was there so I called out that I
was two miles and landing fast with flight control problems.
As we rolled into final at 150 MPH something happened that scared the living daylights out of me. I could not believe what I saw next. Two piper cub (or similar) aircraft taxied onto the runway right in front of us. I didn't want to go around so I was going to land somewhere down there. I slowed the airplane as much as I could but as before, below 150 the canard would begin to stall so this was looking like a bad day was coming. I continued the approach and pointed the plane between the two Cubs. They began to roll and I said a prayer that they would lift off just as we passed under them, if they didn't we were going to have to put it in the grass or the center taxiway, there was no telling at that point. Brad and I came across the numbers and I just drove the plane a few inches above the runway pulling the nose higher and higher. The two ship in front of us climbed out and we passed underneath them but we weren't out of the woods yet. The canard began to bob and I did everything that I could do to get the damn mains on the ground without pranging in the nose. I held the nose off with everything that I had and it turned out that it was just enough to get the job done. The mains touched at 120 knots (138 MPH) and I held the nose off as long as possible. We rolled that thing out to the end of the runway and it was Miller Time! We made our way back to the Race Corral where I took photos of the bugs on the canard, wings, and canopy. You can be assured that since I had an audience that night, I made the story five times more interesting than it actually was.
This entire thing was totally unexpected, who would have thought that flying through a huge swarm of bugs would cause that kind of thing on an airplane. I was flying a Vari-Eze with a 90 HP engine and a GU-25 Canard. We were low on fuel but had two people on board the plane so our weight was only about 150 pounds under gross weight. Luckily, the main wings were also affected by the bugs so the airplane still flew similarly as for the response to attitudes and such but the speeds required to maintain lift was quite a lot higher than normal. Normal approach speeds in that airplane at gross weight were 100 kias all the way until the flare. Touchdown was normally around 80 to 85 kias.
The most interesting thing about the flare to landing was the oscillation of the canard. It reminded me of my first flights in the EZ and getting used to the sensitive pitch controls. I remembered back to those flights somewhat like a bad memory where I eventually learned through muscle memory (as all pilots do) how to ease your pitch inputs and "split the difference". Also like in formation flying, stick pressure, not stick movement was key to flying through it without becoming a statistic.
I had been flying my Long-ez at young eagle events in southern California for our E.A.A. Chapter. This particular event was held at Hawthorne airport and we had about 90 kids show up that day. With only 1 seat for passengers I felt good that I had taken 6 kids up that day.
The last young boy was enthralled with the cockpit and asked if he could sit in the front seat to study the panel. I placed him in the front seat while I signed Young Eagles certificates for those I had taken up. After everyone had left it was time to taxi the aircraft back to the hangar which was at the far end of the runway. My Step son asked if we could fly her around the pattern one more time. That seemed like a great idea since I could ask for a long landing and turn off abeam the hangar.
We took the active and lifted off about 1000 feet down the 5000 foot runway. At 200 feet we were half way down the runway when the engine suddenly quit! I immediately moved my hand to the fuel selector and noticed it was in the OFF position! Quickly I moved it to the right tank and the engine came back to life. It all happened so fast that I didnít loose any altitude but if that engine had not responded there were limited options left for a safe dead stick landing.
Lesson learned was that I always check the fuel selector on every take-off, not just the first of the day. One of the kids had played with the fuel selector and I failed to check it. After that event I always used the Left tank for take-off since it is further away from the off detent. It became part of my checklist, liftoff on left tank. The guys in the tower said I really got their attention with my sudden quiet departure.
I donít think my legs started shaking till I got out of the aircraft.