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INCOMPLETE LONG-EZ FLIGHT TO
Christmas 1993 will remain my
most memorable Christmas forever. For two hours, I fought head winds, clouds,
and scattered showers before landing the Long-EZ at Vandenberg Airport in Tampa,
normally one and a half hours flight time from Miami. My son, Chuck, joined me
to continue the flight to Tallahassee for Christmas dinner with my daughter's
family. I give
thanks to all South Florida residents who pay horrendous tolls on the fully paid
bridges and Turnpike Extension. Our pork barrel politicians use these funds to
build roads in North Florida, excellent roads such as Florida 361 heading
northwest out of Steinhatchee. A broken valve from the Long-EZ's Lycoming 0-235
L2C, a very reliable engine, passed through the exhaust pipe and broke the
propeller. This required finding a landing spot very soon. Florida Highway 361
is straight as an arrow for about three miles. The power lines follow the tree
line, well away from the road at the edge of a wide cleared area extending for
fifty to a hundred feet on each side of the pavement. State Road 361 is the
longest and a better runway than available on most Florida airports.
tremendous vibration followed a bang about two minutes before I planned to head
across the Gulf of Mexico directly to Tallahassee. Due to the cold weather and
head winds, we were fairly low at 4,500 feet. The vibration continued until I
shut down the engine and slowed the aircraft to stop the wind-milling propeller.
I circled north of the town preparing to land almost straight into the wind on
Highway 361. I have often commented that the two reasons pilots with serious
problems never call on the emergency radio frequency of 121.5 is (1) the pilot
is busy, and (2) the people listening can't help anyway. However, with seven to
eight minutes until landing, and nothing to do but circle down, I decided to
send out a Mayday message. (I had never done this before.) The State forest area
around Steinhatchee is lonely country. After tuning the transponder to 7700 and
the radio to 121.5, I broadcast two Mayday messages telling where I was and my
intention to land on the road. The transponder light remained a steady green,
but I heard no radio response.
two o'clock Christmas afternoon, most people were enjoying their families and
Christmas dinners. There was not one vehicle in sight as I came in on final
approach. A pair of wires crossed the road, but there was room to go under, and
I made an uneventful landing. As we rolled to a stop and eased off the road, a
pickup pulled up. A young couple, driving to Perry, Florida, offered us a ride
for the 42 miles to civilization. After tying down the plane to a couple of pine
trees well off the road, we headed to Perry in the back of the pickup. This was
the first year for a long time I enjoyed the gorgeous color of fall leaves after
the first frost. Near Perry, Chuck's mobile phone picked up a station, and he
called my son-in-law in Tallahassee, who drove the hour to Perry to pick us up.
While waiting at the airport Fixed
Base Operation (FBO) office, I thought someone might have heard the Mayday, so I
called the Flight Service Station (FSS). "Weather
briefer, can I help you?" inquired a charming voice.
this the Flight Service Station?" I asked.
I had to set a plane down on a road and..."
interrupted, "Are you N829CL?"
oh", I thought. "Yes," I said.
heard you but you didn't seem to hear us. Also, FSDO heard you, Miami Center
heard you, and a commercial airliner heard you. The Center radar showed you 15
miles northwest of Cross City Airport. Where are you now?"
This explained the steady green light
on the transponder. Then, I remembered that I had lowered the radio speaker
volume in order to chat with Chuck as we flew toward Tallahassee. In case of a
real problem, we know the emergency radio system works. Having given the Perry
FBO phone number, I sat down to wait for my son-in-law. The phone rang, and the
FBO manager asked, "Are you Mr. Hodges?" "This
is the FSS. The Supervisor wants to talk to you."
asked, "Do you have property damage or injuries to report?"
injuries nor damage to the aircraft; it was an uneventful landing."
adds, "The Sheriff's Department reports an aircraft on the road."
I'll call them, but it is well clear of traffic."
"911," answers the
Sheriff's Department Dispatcher. For a moment, I am startled, but conclude that
in this remote area, the same phone number probably reaches 911, the Dispatcher,
and the Dog Catcher. "I
landed a disabled airplane on Highway 361 a couple miles northwest of
Steinhatchee. The FSS mentioned the sheriff reported an aircraft on the road.
However, we pushed the plane into the edge of the woods and tied it to the
trees. It is well clear of highway traffic."
he answered, "I'll radio the Sheriff. Give me the phone number where you
down again, and the phone rang.
Hodges, it's for you."
is the Sheriff's Department. How long will the plane be there?"
plan of action, I had no answer, but I said "It will take at least a week
to get a propeller."
try to keep an eye on it and prevent vandalism."
hadn't thought of this possibility. Others were quick to remind me.
A pilot in the FBO said, "It
didn't used to be, but there are some bad characters in this area. You can
expect vandalism." The
next person to enter the office heard the story, and added, "You have a lot
of parts on that plane that would fit an airboat."
the FBO owner, known to run one of the best radial engine overhaul shops in the
US, commented, "You had better put a 24 hour guard on that plane."
started to worry. Every person we met had commented on the danger of theft and
vandalism. I needed to do something, soon! Luckily, there was an EAA chapter in
Early Sunday morning, December 26, I
called a fixed base operation at Tallahassee Airport to inquire for information
on any EAA members known to them. They referred me to Col. Harry Harper, former
president of EAA Chapter 445, who referred me to Richard Ledson, an EAA member
and owner of Aero Associates, Inc. Typical of EAA members, Rich listened to my
tale of woe, and asked, "Can you meet me at the airport at in 35
hooked up his trailer, loaded carpeting, tools, foam, a six pack of Coca Cola,
and headed toward the Long-EZ, one hundred miles away. Off came the wings and
canard, and we rolled the fuselage on the trailer. Finally satisfied the parts
were cushioned and would not shift , we returned to Tallahassee, a three hour
drive with the loaded trailer and a few stops. Three of the stops were for the
van engine electrical problems, one for an oil fire beneath the van with 26
gallons of high octane gasoline in a fiberglass airplane a few feet back, and
another for a trailer tire blowout (without a spare). The last two hours of
driving on a busy highway at night with a tricycle gear trailer did relieve the
monotony of the drive. The Cokes helped stop the fire; they spray well when
shaken, not stirred.
Monday, December 27, during the engine inspection, an odd noise came from
cylinder number three. Rich Ledson determined that a valve had side movement and
the exhaust valve was not seating properly. However, cylinder number four was
responsible for the emergency landing. The valve was missing. There were gouges
in the piston and the top of the cylinder. The scarred, broken propeller was
evidence that the valve had exited through the exhaust.
long time, I have wondered why anyone would design a plane with the propeller in
the front, where it is less efficient. Even the Wright Brothers moved the prop
up front soon after the 1909 crash of the Military Flyer. Research would
probably discover the Flyer lost a piece of metal from the engine, breaking the
propeller. After the crash that killed Lt. Selfridge and injured Orville, no
cause was ever given for the crash. Orville's only statement was "the
propeller broke." Now I understand why propellers are up front. Sorry,
was the first flight in the Long-EZ after the sixteen hour trip to Kitty Hawk
for the 90th Anniversary of controlled, heavier than air flight. No one
appreciates EAA membership more than I. Every time I have had a mechanical
problem or weather damage, EAA members pitched in to help make it possible for
me to fly again. Without the EAA, there would be little flying for me. For most
pilots, not flying is about as bad as life can be.
Approximately ten minutes before the
engine failed, my son, Chuck, commented on the fantastic reliability of aircraft
engines. We did some mental arithmetic of the number of engine revolutions
during the previous 880 hours of operation at 2,650 rpm. Over 130 million
revolutions is an impressive number! (And examination of the engine gave
evidence of a false engine log. The wear and tear of the engine indicated over
2,000 hours, not 880 hours of use!) This
1993 engine failure was the second for Chuck and me. In 1965, my two sons,
Chuck, 11, and Bob, 9, and I visited the World's Fair in New York. Then we
continued on to Boston for an American History trip in a Franklin engine powered
Cessna 170. We departed from Norwood Airport for the trip back to Florida. As I
reduced power following the take-off, part of one cylinder wall blew out and
broke off the intake manifold, causing a total loss of power. Ahead were houses
and more houses, so I turned back, hoping to reach the airport.
possible landing sites were in front of me, (1) the airport, but too far to be
sure of clearing the chain link fence; (2) a dirt road, but as I headed for it,
a car approached; and (3) a small, neighborhood shopping center parking lot. I
selected the third choice, the parking lot. After pulling up to clear the roof
of a house that suddenly appeared, I stalled high, slammed into the ground, and
the wing tip hit a light pole. The aircraft spun around and was twisted into
scrap aluminum. We walked away unhurt, primarily due to the amount of energy
absorbed by Steve Whitman's invention, the metal landing gear used by Cessna. On
Christmas Day, 1993, Chuck commented, "Well, I was less scared this time
than that time in Boston." He had more reason to be scared in Boston. That
was my first engine failure.
breaking off a relationship with a girl friend, was receiving heavy criticism
from her unhappy mother. After the engine failure, the mother commented, "I
put a hex on you, but I didn't mean to cause that!"
24 hours of the 1993 engine failure, Chuck's memory made several adjustments.
The vibration period extended from a minute or so to several minutes. The
highway became very narrow. The length of the straight section decreased. Trees
became larger and closer; the electrical power lines moved nearer the wing tips.
The pair of wires crossing the highway multiplied into a family of high tension
wires. But his comment of "You made a good landing," remained
Sunday, Highway 361 traffic was busy as we loaded the plane on the trailer.
There were many shiny, new pick-up trucks with chrome plated dog boxes in the
back . This was hunting season. Numerous beautiful, high quality rifles carried
by well dressed hunters emphasized the serious dedication of these rugged North
Florida sportsmen. But a couple inconsistencies remained. During the trip back
to Tallahassee, I commented to Rich, "You know what surprised me, no one
stopped to talk or offer to help."
I pondered, "How can they afford those new pickups, hunting dogs, and
rifles in such a desolate area? How can anyone make a living here?"
days later, while relating the Christmas weekend events to a friend in Miami, I
mentioned Steinhatchee as the location of the engine failure.
said, "Oh, I know Steinhatchee. Some time back, half the town was thrown in
jail for drug smuggling."
seems I was not the first pilot to enjoy the use of such a fine runway in the
middle of nowhere.
January 4, 1994, during a discussion with a Lycoming O-320 equipped Long-EZ
owner in Vero Beach, I mentioned Steinhatchee.
said, "Yeh, there was a scandal a while back about that road. It was built
by the State DOT for dope smugglers; that's why the DEA put that aerostat blimp
near Cross City and Steinhatchee."
possible that the 7700 transponder code transmission and the Mayday broadcasts
saved my plane from being cut up by the DEA before I could move it to
related the Vero Beach version of the reason for such a great highway in nowhere
to people in Tallahassee. They quoted the politicians' version.
reason it is such a great runway is because the State built the road to make it
easier to catch the smugglers."
My other son, Bob, is a pilot and
lives in San Diego. He has a strange sense of humor. Bob's wife, Lois, does not
like flying in any aircraft, regardless of size and power. Her comment was,
"See? And it could have been worse." Bob
answered, "Every bad happening has some good. I do not like Christmas. If
they had been killed, for the rest of my life, I could say the reason I don't
like Christmas is because I lost half my family on Christmas day in 1993!"
some reason, Lois and her parents did not smile. I guess they like Christmas.
ever need a great airport with limited services, visit Steinhatchee
International Airport, ten feet above sea level and 15,000 feet long. The runway
is approximately 320/140 degrees, with lights available by previous arrangement.
Expect no customs delays. In case of unexpected official vehicle traffic, you
have a choice of side roads as random exits from the landing area. You can land
your DC-6, unload, and take off without turning the aircraft around.
discussing this incident with an FAA inspector, I mentioned the confusion I
probably created because no none knew a shipment was arriving, who was using
their airport, and the sheriff had not been paid.
inspector said, "The Sheriff is in jail, too. They have a new one,
this is the last entry concerning this incident.
wasn't the last entry, after all. In late 1996, Chuck called from his office in
Brandon, near Tampa. He had just treated a patient, who was unusually nervous.
Chuck, trying to calm him with conversation, asked about his hobby, fishing. The
patient mentioned he didn't do much line fishing, just shell fish.
asked, "Oh, you go up to Appalachecola?"
I go to a place you probably never heard of, Steinhatchee."
mentioned he had heard of Steinhatchee.
after three years doubting my reports of the reason for the road, he said,
"My father has a conspiracy theory about that road. He thinks it was built
for drug smugglers."
"Your father is right," answered the patient.
"Many people in that area are now in jail."
It's nice to see your children grow
up, and how much smarter the parents become with the maturity of the children.
Marvin A. Hodges
9850 SW 15 Street
Miami, Florida 33174