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(From CP28, Page 7, April, 1981)
Letter from Alden Andrew, 24531 Vanessa Or, Mission Viejo, Ca.
This note is to alert VariEze owners of problems that made me an ex-owner. I had the Brock fuel caps as specified in the plans. As per original instructions, a vent hole was drilled in the cap for the auxiliary fuselage tank. I did not modify the auxiliary cap with the aluminum tube as per CP 25 page 4.
Recently I removed the left main fuel cap and went to the restroom while the attendant put in the fuel. Upon my return the left cap was on and the attendant was fueling the right main. I replaced the right cap and went flying. Shortly after take-off I was notified over the Unicom that fuel was being dumped overboard. Sure enough, the attendant had set the left cap on but had not engaged the Dzus fastener, and I had neglected to check or notice that it was not secure. I landed immediately and discovered that the cap had hit the prop and left a gash 1/2" wide and 5/8" deep about 4" from the tip. After this experience I considered putting a tether chain on the fuel caps but business matters soon consumed my full attention and the idea went by the wayside.
With a different prop, the plane was again serviceable. On February 6, over the telephone, I gave permission for a 3,000 hour pilot (with 10 hours in my VariEze) to use the plane the next day. Before his flight he attempted to obtain fuel but the fuel pit was temporarily out.
Even so, they removed the left main cap as wall as the auxiliary cap and attempted to obtain some fuel that might possibly be in the long hose of the fuel pit. After this unsuccessful attempt, the caps were replaced (with the un-vented cap being put on the auxiliary tank) and it was decided that with about 1 3/4 gallons in the auxiliary tank that the pilot and his passenger could make Corona Airport from the present Chino location (about 5 minutes). They took off on the auxiliary tank and at about 100' at 105 knots they lost power. In the knowledge that there was fuel in the auxiliary tank the pilot did not try to select the mains which still had adequate fuel. An off airport landing(?) was made in a rough grassy field. The nose wheel was left retracted. (The aircraft was forced to the ground at high speed and high rate of sink because of a fence ahead.) The plane came to rest about 300 ft from the original touchdown point. The pilot escaped with scratches and bruised legs and toes but no broken bones. The passenger was not scratched or bruised at all. The plane did not fare so well; collapsed main gear, main center-section spar broken and ripped off with the left wing, canard ripped off, the total front end from the trailing edge of the canard was completely severed from the rest of the fuselage, as wall as the top and bottom Kevlar cowling was ruined. The prop was horizontal at the time of impact so the prop, spinner, hub extension and engine were undamaged, as was most of the instruments. The canopy was unscratched.
To sum it up, I would recommend either a mandatory change to include a ram air vent leading to the auxiliary tank or the tethering of the fuel caps.
As my 86 delightful hours in the VariEze have spoiled me, I desire another canard pusher. I guess a Long-EZ is the next project. Does anyone want to buy a good VariEze canopy and a 96 hour SMOH Continental 0-200 couplets with hub extension, prop and spinner.
RAF comment: The two VariEze plans changes in this newsletter are intended to prevent reoccurrence of Aldens accident. We have before considered tethering the fuel caps, but were concerned that major tank damage would be done by a cap flailing against the surface. Note that, as was explained in CP #13 page 5, loss of a wing cap on a VariEze will cause all fuel to be slowly drawn into one tank (and overboard if tanks are more than half full) and result in fuel starvation, requiring the selection of the fuselage tank to maintain engine operation. Loss of a cap on a Long-EZ does not effect engine operation due to its left/right isolation and pumped fuel system. Also, the Long-EZs caps are outboard of the prop to eliminate prop damage should a cap not be secured.