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She Failed Me!

Stearmann4

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Fellow Cubbers,

Ya know, long time aviation friends have cautioned me for years of believing airplanes are more than metal and fabric, that if you take care of em;, they'll never let you down.

My 6 year old son and I started on our memory making XC trip from Olympia, WA to Lompoc, CA for the Cub Fly-In. We had a great day yesterday, spent the night in Grants Pass, OR. Took off at sunrise today and made it all the way to Redding, CA when the unthinkable occurred.

We were at about 1,700 MSL, (about 600' AGL) oil temp about 130, pressure normal, at cruise power and the RPM immediately dropped to 1,500, which was not enough to sustain level flight. OAT was about 90 deg. There's were no suitable landing sites, lots of houses, and mountains, and 200' power lines.

The RPM continued to drop lower, as carb heat was applied, fuel valve checked, and oil pressure remained normal. All this occured in about 3 seconds, along with waking my son up from a nap, tightening his shoulder harness and dropping the lower door. Never got time to get off a call.

The only thing I could find was a 600' long graded area where they were building houses on all sides. I cleared the wires and hard slipped to plop down in the graded plot. I think we were still fast because we bounced hard, hit a few big holes and rocks and actually had to steer away from some trees. We finally came to rest left gear sunk in a hole, everyone safe, no apparent damage to the plane (external anyway), not so much as a nick. After the shock wore off, I started it right up, taxied to a more accesible location on the lot, and did a run up. No problems whatsoever. Good mags, pressure, etc.

So, we will make Lompoc, albeit in the back of a 26' box truck on the way to Santa Paula, CA for a good looking over by Al Ball, and re-assembly.

As everyone does, I've been re-playing the scenario all day to see what I could've done differently. I suspect carb ice (but at 90 deg?), maybe plug fouling, or fuel contamination somewhere along our 1,400 mile trip. I will let you all know the results when I find out.

Lessons learned: 15 minutes previously I was flying over a large lake with no suitable landing area anywhere within glide distance. I thought it was a bad idea once I got feet wet, but stupidly continued on. I installed Hooker harnesses, and had my son sitting in a "booster seat", which raises up high enough so the shoulder harness fits him correctly. While we didn't hit hard enough for my young son to impact anything, we easily could have and it would've been tragic. Being an Army pilot, and many overseas tours under my belt, I'm sort of survival minded. In my tiny baggage compartment I packed a gallon of water, and an extensive survival/medical kit. The homes under construction were all unoccupied for a few blocks, an nobody saw us go down. It was about 100 deg by the time we got settled enough to go walk to a house for help. My son and I both had to put on our packed ball caps, and drank nearly the whole gallon over the next 45 minutes. If we'd gone down 20 minutes earlier, even that may have not been enough to effectively survive as temps rose to 115 deg a couple of hours later. Lastly, over the last couple of months I've been making a habit of challenging myself to land on unimproved strips, gravel bars, and practicing short take offs and and landings. It payed ten fold, as I don't remember any of my physical actions following my decision to land in the housing development.


Moral is; I polish, pet and talk to my plane, and whole heartedly believed she would always take care of me. Reality, it's metal and fabric, subject to failure at any moment. You can bet this lesson has re-enforced that flying landing area to landing area is the only smart way to fly particularly with antique airplanes. Although my son will have a hell of a story to tell in first grade next year when they ask him what he did this summer!

I will post pictures when I get back to Olympia next week.

Mike-

J-3C N9914H
Olympia, WA
 

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