Desert Center Emergency Landing - Part 5

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Triumphant Return:

So yesterday (Sunday) I drove down to Brackett field (KPOC) in La Verne, CA to meet with Tom Kennedy, a long time COZY MKIV builder whose 90% done (and we know what that means).  He had an 8" prop extension, prop bolts, and a brand new Hertzler Silver Bullet propeller for me to borrow.  We went out to lunch in the beautiful and well appointed (apologies to James Montgomery) La Verne, and watched my beloved Giants get pummeled by the Eagles.

We then picked up almost $3000 worth of stuff that Tom was letting me borrow, wrapped it up, and drove it home to Tehachapi.

This morning, I loaded all my three tool boxes in the car, got a roll of duct tape and a roll of safety wire and headed to work.  Sunday morning I had received a phone call from Mike Melvill who was concerned that I might be the person he had heard about from Dick Rutan that had lost a prop on his COZY, and offered to help in any way he could.  So I found Mike and asked if he'd be willing to fly me out to Desert Center in the company Dutchess (to carry the prop, all the tools, etc.) and take a look at the plane to see what he thought about it's flyability, and then escort me home if it was flyable.  He said sure - we'd go right after his 10 AM meeting.

Around 10:30 AM we went over to his hangar, picked up some cleaning supplies (so the duct tape would stick) and a safety wire pliers, and loaded up the Dutchess.  We headed out and flew through some light snow-showers (go figure - I live in the desert, right?) near Victorville and Big Bear, talking about how 6-10 mile visibility on the east coast or midwest was GREAT flying weather, but out here, if the vis. drops to 20-30 miles, we go nuts about how we can't see squat.  Mike let me fly the last 20 minutes of the flight and the landing - boy, put two props in flat pitch, put down the landing gear, and drop 40 degrees of flaps, and can an airplane descend.

At any rate, we taxied over and saw that the COZY had not been messed with in any way, which was a great relief after reading the web page about the airport that mentioned "off road vehicles" on the runway, and seeing shotgun shells and model airplane propellers all over the place the first time I was there.

Mike examined the wing as was surprised and amazed by the visual impact of the damage, yet a closer examination seemed to show that there really was almost no structural damage and the stiffness, strength and stiffness of the structure seemed identical to the intact side.  Mike agreed after looking at the extension that the problem was bolt tension/torque, as the fretting on the drive surface was worse than any he'd seen before.  He seemed to think that there was a good possibility that my bolts had been bottomed out - I'm not sure - I think I just had too little torque on them.

A minute or two after we landed, a white minivan drove up - apparently there's a resort community a few miles away, and a guy named Larry Godsey lives there.  The world is a small place, as evidenced by the fact that Larry is the guy who built (or at least started the build) of Klaus Savier's V.E.  Klaus had told him that there was a COZY at DC, and said that maybe he wanted to go over and help with the repairs.  Well, he and Mike had met numerous times and remembered each other, so they yakked while we worked.  What's the chance of THAT?

Anyway, while I removed the prop extension, Mike cleaned the wing/winglet surfaces and applied duct tape/aluminum tape to hold everything together out there.  I then installed the new extension and propeller, carefully torqued all the bolts to Gary Hertzler's recommended 30 ft-lb (wood prop, 1/2" bolts) and safety wired all twelve (six for the extension, six for the prop).

We took off the cowlings and examined everything for cracks, leaks, or anything that looked wrong.  Nothing did, so we buttoned everything back up.  We talked about the return flight plan - climb to over 6000 ft. over the airport, keeping to a climb speed of 100 kts., and then level off at 8500 ft., keeping IAS at 120 kts. or below.  Mike would take off after me and stay below and behind, watching.

I climbed in and did a short runup to feel the difference in props and to shake out the engine - if it was going to throw a valve or something, I wanted it to do it on the ground.  I ran it up to 2450 RPM (full throttle) for about 20 seconds and it felt and sounded fine - different with the 2-blade Hertzler than the 3-blade Catto, but fine.

We taxied out, did a runup, and took off.  The first 5 seconds after liftoff were pretty nerve wracking, but not nearly so much as on the first flight.  I glanced at the winglet, saw that it wasn't going anywhere, and climbed out.  I was concentrating on airspeed and low turn rates and the winglet so much that I forgot to put up the nose gear until I was at 4000 ft.

By the time we got to 8500 ft. and headed west-northwest, Mike had scrutinized the plane from every angle from about 30 feet away. He reported no leaks, no drips, nothing falling off, nothing moving, nothing vibrating - except for the trailing edge of the right wing being covered with duct tape and the lower winglet 80% gone, everything was nominal.  We had a completely normal flight back to Tehachapi at 120 KIAS, climbing to 10.5K ft. and 12.5K ft. for cloud clearance, and burning 5.5 - 6.3 gal/hr in my case (24.5 NM/gal) and probably 15 gal/hr for the Dutchess :-).  I also ran away from him in the climbs at full throttle and 100 KIAS.  Mike kept asking me how everything "felt" - vibration wise.  I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the Hertzler 2-blade prop - not that it worked well, but just that the vibration was no higher, and possibly even lower, than the 3-blade Catto that I had on previously.  I have NOT done any comparison with respect to performance, but while the FEEL was different - the vibration frequencies were different and the levels were different - it seemed like it was working VERY well and certainly did not cause more vibration in the airframe than the 3-blade.  I had originally purchased a 3-blade prop due to the supposed lower vibration levels in a pusher canard, but I can't say that I've seen that in my incredibly limited exposure.  I will seriously consider getting a 2-blade replacement instead.

I did get a start at one point, as I was cramming my lunch down my throat at about 2:30 PM. I hadn't eaten breakfast and I was starving and freezing - an O-360 doesn't put out a lot of heat when running at 50% power or less - when Mike called on the radio and said "Are you eating?"  I figured that I had accidentally pushed the PTT button and he could hear me chewing, so I apologized and explained that I was starving.  He said something along the lines of "you seem pretty relaxed", and I said that worrying wasn't going to help anything, the Navaid autopilot was controlling the plane better than I could anyway, it was calm and smooth and I was well trimmed for altitude, and I was starving.  I then happened to look to the right and realized that I hadn't pushed the PTT button - Mike was sitting about 20 feet off my right wing, a bit higher than I was, and could watch me popping grapes into my mouth.

At any rate, the clouds dissapated, we descended near Lancaster, and flew into Tehachapi (KTSP) as a flight of two, making a left pattern to runway 29.  I don't think Mike got more than 30 feet away from me at any time, although most of the time I couldn't see him - flying lead is a LOT easier than wing....   On downwind, we flew right over my house and Deanie was in the backyard yelling and waving at us (although I didn't see her - she told me about it later - I hadn't called her to tell her that we were in the air - I didn't want her worrying for 1.5 hours).

As I touched down, I saw Mike go by about 20 feet to my right.  He went around and landed, and after we put the plane away in the hangar, we flew back to Mojave, put the Dutchess away, and I drove home.

I can't thank Mike enough for flying me out to Desert Center, examining the plane and assisting in the repairs, and lending moral and technical support (as well as flight examinations) to help me get the plane home safely.  Since he needs to fly the Dutchess occasionally to maintain proficiency, I might not even end up having to pay for the flight :-).

I want to thank Tom Kennedy for letting me use his equipment, and everyone else that kindly offered the use of theirs.  I want to thank everyone that sent their well-wishes, advice, concerns, or just said "glad you're not dead" :-).  Once again, this is a tremendous community of folks to which we belong, and I'm very grateful to everyone.

Now to spend some $$$ and make some repairs.....

 


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Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved, Marc J. Zeitlin
e-mail: marc_zeitlin@alum.mit.edu

Last updated: February 17, 2007