Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Day I'll Never Forget

This article was republished in the Vernon Flying Club Hangar News. Posted at Jill's request. Images are available in the newsletter, available here (PDF file).

Today is a day that, as long as I live, I will never forget.

I was out flying my 1947 Luscombe 8E, shooting aerial photos for work near Ridgetown, Ontario, when for some unknown reason my airplane started yawing side to side without any control inputs from me. This was not something that I have ever had a plane do to me before. I started “playing” with the rudder pedals, they felt unstable and over reactive. It was very difficult to maintain control of the uncontrollable side to side motions and I was only able to get some control back by holding a lot of pressure on both rudder pedals. It was at this point that it became apparent to me that this was not something I wanted to be trying to fix while flying at 100 mph, in a plane that was nearly sixty years old.

I immediately started looking for a suitable field to land in, while at the same time making a distress radio call to London Flight Service, to which I got no response! There were many fields below me, all of which were full of 6 foot tall corn, nothing I wanted to attempt a landing in. I used my GPS and located the Highgate airfield just less then 5 NM north of where I was and after struggling through a turn towards the airfield I initiated contact with another aircraft in the area who relayed my distress call to Flight Service. As I got sight of the airfield my elevator controls started to be affected by what ever was going wrong in the tail section, I was no longer able to hold the nose in a steady position. With constant pitching up and down, right and left, I attempted to make a slight left hand turn to do a straight in approach to the North facing runway. It would have no part of this so I started a turn to the right in order to come all the way around and line up with the
runway. The runway was nothing short of perfect, straight into a 10 knot wind, 100 feet wide and way longer than I would ever need.

Once I was on short final and had the engine at idle I realized I was doing more then 100 mph and was only 100 feet from the ground! I immediately pulled the carb heat on, and turned one magneto off in attempt to slow the engine. I realized that I was flying a plane that had no flaps, and no useful rudder to help me slow
down in a slip. Remarkably the landing was uneventful. Once on the ground I made one last radio call to the aircraft relaying the messages “I’m safely on the ground”. I then took a deep breath followed by a huge sigh of relief.

 Once the initial drama of making an emergency landing was over, I had to get my disabled airplane off the runway and figure out what the hell went wrong. A quick inspection of the tail section I found that the vertical fin and rudder assembly was loose and able to lean freely from side to side about 14“. I removed the damaged inspection covers and discovered the whole assembly was being held on by only two rivets at the
front and the lower most rudder hinge bolt at the rear. I suspect that they both only had a minute or two of stress left before they would have given way as well. Had this been the case it would have left me with no longitudinal control, a situation that I am not so sure I would be here to describe.

 After investigation of my aircraft by my mechanic and the Transport Canada Safety Board, it was determined that the rear fin attachment spar had cracked and failed, thus causing the fin to move and break the other fin mounts. The rudder and levitator were also bent from these unusual fin movements.

Lucky… I think so!

Posted in AvCanada 1 Sep 2006

The Transport Canada take can be read here: