Thursday, 24 June 2010

Crash landing

Nobody get alarmed, now.
Any landing you walk away from is a good one....even when you plough into a field of crop when your engine fails on take-off, as it did on Monday. The only thing I hurt was my bank balance, and even then it could have been a lot worse.

The take-off was longer than I'd have expected but I put this down to slow wind. The climb was sluggish, so that I checked that I had the throttle all the way out, which I did...but the Dragonfly levelled off at about 100', if that (my vario had chosen this time to fail too!), then started sinking startlingly quickly, so that when I started a quick turn to do a downwind landing onto the field, I wasn't sure I'd pull it off, so straightened up again. But then I was running out of surface. At the end of the field beyond the runway is a deep ditch and if I struck the far bank I would probably break my neck. I couldn't stop short of it and it didn't look like I could flare over it, so I made a very fast decision which makes me proud. Counter-intuitively, I pulled the bar in, increasing my rate of descent, but also raising my speed, creating lift over the wing, so that we leapt the ditch and just made it into the crop beyond.

The crop was thigh-high, so there was no chance of rolling to a halt - the crop acted like an arrester wire; the front wheel hit in hard and the plane slewed sideways, so that the front strut bent dramatically and the trike turned up - its starboard wheel in the air...and I hung from my strap and struggled to release myself, before calling in on the radio that I was ok, seeing Dave Broom's Quik circling above. Baz called me on the mobile - he had seen it all - and assured me that Dave Garrison, who had also seen it from his window, had jumped in a truck and was on his way. Shortly afterwards, he and another pilot arrived to help. Embarrassingly, this is not the first time Dave has rescued me!
But as last time, it wasn't my fault - neither bad airmanship nor poor judgement before flight had caused the engine failure.
I got home last night after three days away from home - filthy and exhausted, having camped at Sutton Meadows and at Sywell and after two days of exertion. Tuesday and Wednesday I was up at Sywell, where Paul Dewhurst let me do my own mechanics, sympathetic to the fact that as I am out of work, I really can't afford expensive work on things I CAN do myself; when Ben gets back from France he will do the bits it will need an expert for. (He will put bushes in my widened monopole holes, etc). I took the engine off the trike (with help and advice from Mark) and put it in my van ready to take it down to Paul Bailey. Then I changed the front forks.

But the best bit, the part that makes me feel proud of myself, is that I taught myself to take the sail off, which I did while Stew was gliding Tuesday evening. And he confirmed when he got down that the tubes had sustained no damage. He agreed that only the splayed hang bracket will need replacing.I struggled quite a bit getting the sail back on, punctuated by occasional teasing from Stew (one time champion hang glider and now-instructor), but eventually succeeded after camping beside it, then finishing at about 5a.m., as balloonists inflated their
ballon nearby.

I talked to Paul Bailey at lunchtime today and he put the engine failure down to the big end bearing, which he has replaced for free with a more robust one which he uses in his more recently developed engines. I did ask that if the repair didn't cost me a lot, he also fit the quick release hub which is also a recent-ish development and which I have coveted for some time; so now I have one of those too. So, it won't be a cheap crash, but I think my plane will actually be better than before it happened.

I went back to Sutton Meadows with the wing and re-rigged it and put it back in the hangar with Andy (a really nice hang glider pilot who told me about ground handling), then talked to Roger, a glider tug plane pilot, who is an interesting personality. It was gratifying to have my wing safely back on its trolley in its bay before coming home. (there was another pic and more text but the editor kept messing about with its html, so I give up - below is a pic of the wing skeleton)

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