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ACCIDENTS AND INCIDENTS
REQUIEM? FOR A LONG-EZ
With much excitement, I awoke on the morning of June 14, 1986,
The previous night, I had been up late - washing and waxing my LongEZ, N23RY. I wanted her
to look her very best while on display at the big Texas Sesquicentennial Airshow in Waco,
Texas. With my wife, Margi. settled in the back, we enjoyed a comfortable 45 minute flight
from our home base at the Addison Airport in North Dallas.
It grew to be an oppressively hot day - right at I 00 degrees. We enjoyed a great airshow, yet after having answered hundreds of spectator questions, we were anxious to get airborne once the field reopened. A little over half way back to Dallas at approximately 2500 feet AGL, we experienced a sudden complete loss of power. Searching around, I spotted a field about a mile off the right wing. As I swung into a wide right-hand turn to land into the wind, I turned on the boost pump, switched fuel tanks and checked the mixture and mags all to no avail. Established on a base leg, I can recall observing a line of trees at the roll-out end of the field and utility lines at the approach end. Given what I estimated to be about 2,500 feet of field in between, I decided that my approach path should be planned to just clear the wires. I felt well prepared for this situation since I had performed a good number of practice forced landings and actual engine shut-downs both during my thorough flight test phase and subsequently. My 170 hours in this Long-EZ had been accumulated since her maiden flight four months previously. My overall experience includes 9,300 logged hours as a professional pilot in a wide variety of aircraft.
Once on final, Margi recalled me saying that I needed to go a little bit lower. I remember feeling confident on a short final that everything was going to turn out OK. Tragically, this was not the case as I was to realize while slowly emerging from heavy morphine sedation a week or so later.
I was disappointed with the FAA's investigation of the accident. Once the badly damaged forward fuel lines were by-passed and the prop replaced, the engine started up and ran satisfactorily. Despite the extensive damage at the fuel selector location, the FAA said the AN 818 aluminum coupling nuts were found to be finger tight and listed this as the probable cause. This was hard for me to accept as I had recently applied fuel tube to help unstick the fuel selector valve and had checked that these fittings were plenty snug. I personally suspect that given the hot conditions and my use of mogas that the occurrence of vapor lock was a possibility.
The accident investigation revealed that after impact with some smaller gage wires near the top of the cluster, the aircraft impacted the ground 70 degrees nose down at approximately 70 kts wings level. The fuselage shattered with severe damage extending to and including the front seat bulkhead. I was ejected at the impact point as the aircraft flipped over and came to rest 27 feet further on. Margi was terrified as she remained secured in the inverted aircraft with fuel coming out of the broken vent lines. Other damage included: a clean shearing off of the right winglet at the attach juncture, one-third of the top left winglet crushed (with no apparent damage at the juncture), the left-hand baggage pod sheared off in the wing saddle area although the right-hand pod remained attached intact, the canopy and aft turtle-deck were flattened to within approximately 4 inches of the longerons, the head rest sheared off along with a good portion of the front seat bulkhead, the canard remained surprisingly intact except for major crushing damage to the center section area.
We thank God that given the severity of the forward fuselage and canopy damage, that both Margi and myself came out of it alive and reasonably well. She suffered a concussion and a cracked rib. We were very fortunate that bystanders were immediately available to re-right the aircraft and extricate Margi. Also, a veterinarian was right on hand and administered three tourniquets to me. A Care-Flight helicopter delivered me to the emergency room in quick order. I dont know how, but I appeared to have maintained consciousness during the whole ordeal. Unfortunately, both my legs were eventually amputated just above the knees. I am thoroughly convinced that my decision to employ approximately 15 pounds of extra thickness thermo-foam absorbed a great deal of the impact forces and prevented both of us from receiving any internal or spinal injuries. In reflecting on how this tragedy might have been avoided, I would advise against the use of any automotive fuel. Although I had no problems in using it up to that day, operating temperatures had never exceeded about 80 degrees. In all honesty, I cannot rule out that human factors may have played a part. The long hot day standing on the concrete ramp left me feeling irritable and not too perky. It is possible that my judgment could have been impaired.
The point at which my landing gear snagged the thin wires indicated that just another two feet of attitude would probably have put me in the clear. In evaluating the position of the canard relative to a line extending from my eye level to the aircraft flight path it appears to be within the realm of possibilities that the highest thin gage wire that I struck could have been hidden from my view by the canard. With this in mind, I would caution anyone flying a canard aircraft to closely eyeball the approach area well prior to getting set up on final approach.
Besides being concerned with the utility lines at the approach end, I was equally preoccupied with the consequences of not stopping before reaching the trees at the end of the field. I suppose its a natural feeling for a pilot - especially a homebuilder to avoid anything that could inflict even the slightest damage to his creation. Had I been willing to just get it down and accept the possibility of minor airframe damage, I could have avoided all personal injury.
No other aircraft has ever come close to providing me with the great satisfaction and sheer flying excitement as N23RY did. Given the nature of my disability (specifically-, loss of ankle articulation), the rudder,/brake combination of an unmodified Long-EZ represents a viable and realistic opportunity for me to get back flying again. I am contemplating a static load analysis of my aircraft which has been stored in my garage.
Amazingly,,, close visual inspection of the wings, spar, strakes and rear half of the fuselage reveals no apparent damage. Any builder/flyer of a properly constructed Long-EZ is entitled to utmost confidence in its structural integrity, energy absorbent characteristics and resultant crash worthiness.
My twin brother, Al, and his wife, Cathi, are heading towards completion of their beautiful Cozy later on this year. I'm really excited and will not hesitate to go up and fly that Rutan derivative.