Last flight of N220EZ and Roll over structure crash test.
On Sept 5, 2005 at about 4:00 PM I lined up on Runway 26 to depart on a normal test flight. I just completed adding a new comm. antenna in hopes it would improve the radio reception. The gear leg antenna worked but not good enough. I was also having transponder issues. I found the problem was linked to a bad connection. I corrected it and decided to flight test it to see if the new additions solved the problem. I also changed my bottom set of spark plugs and harness to automotive plugs like the ones I was running for 40 hours on the top. They seemed to foul less with the new engine.
I was cleared for take off as requested for a closed left pattern for 30 with option. I took off. Eze 220EZ really liked the new plugs and with the 9 to 1 pistons she really scoots. I was at pattern altitude and called my down wind for a low pass and was granted the request. The tower guys know me pretty well because I have been testing this and other aircraft and they know this is going to be a fast low approach. So, at 182 kts, nose down; I did my thing.
Climbing out, I contacted the tower and requested a southerly departure. Leveling off at 2500 feet the Tower voiced their approval by saying, "Looking good EZ 220EZ". Five miles out, I was pulling back on the power. The engine instruments were in the green. I started to adjust the mixture. Just then, tower called and said I was leaving the TRSA and resume VFR. At that time the engine began to run rough. I richened the mixture and it got worse. I radioed the tower and said I had a rough engine and was returning to the field. I was at 2300 ft and 5 miles out.
I realized I was probably not going to make the field. We EZE owners know what the survival rate for an off airfield landing is in these wonderful machines. With that sinking feeling in mind, I pressed on. I continued doing my checks. I tried everything carberator heat, pumped the throttle, tried the mixture. I thought maybe the spring broke and she just wasnít making RPM.
The RPM was just above idle and I was loosing altitude. Looking around, yeah there are some good fields, but maybe I can make this one. The engine comes to life a bit then dies off. The freeway is not an option to many cars. I didnít want to endanger others. I advised the tower that I did have an emergency. They cleared me for any runway and advise the other aircraft to hold until I landed. The other aircraft was a Cessna. He reported me in sight and my direction of flight. He said he would stick with me. I was still trying to nurse every bit of altitude I could out of the plane. I could see runway 8 straight ahead but it was just over the hill.
I knew there was no place to even think about landing from that hill on. I wasnít going to make the hill. I radioed the tower I was going to land in the field 2 miles south of runway 8. This was the only patch of green left. I was at 1000 ft and could see this wasnít going to be good.
There were barbed wire fences every 300 feet sectioning off the pasture and it was hilly and rocks and trees and it really sucked. The only control I had was to fly the plane. I lowered my nose gear then shut the fuel and master off. Not enough time to verify my emergency checklist. There was no straight in approach. I just circled her in bleeding off as much airspeed as possible.
I was desperately looking for any reasonable place to land. I was beginning to loose the effectivenessí of my flight controls. The nose of the plane was high and the terrain was really bad. I said aloud or maybe it was to my self, "This is not good David you are going to die". I had full aft elevator when 220EZ hit on the mains, caught the right wingtip pitched me onto the nose causing the nose wheel to depart the nose strut , and the nose to break in half. It pitched me over upside down. Now the plane was sliding backwards and to the side with left wing still attached.
I was not optimistic at this point. I was thinking as I was sliding upside down, "Dirt so close to my face, God I am still alive. Lord just keep me away from the dirt". I shrunk upside down deeper into the cockpit to protect my head and neck. Generally speaking, the fatal blow in this type of crash is from a broken neck.
Then it stopped, gasoline was all over the place. I was alive, there wasnít any pain. I was under the plane. It was upside down. I pulled my safety harness and tried to push, lift or move the plane. The canopy was gone. I couldnít lift the plane. I was afraid of fire. I had to get out. My feet were tangled up. I kicked my shoes off and could move my feet. There was about six inches of daylight under the longeron. I just squirmed my way out cutting my hands on the shards of Plexiglas from the demolished canopy. I was out free and clear, no shoes. I quickly took a survey of body parts. Everything was where it should be. I didnít have any bad pain my hands were cut and I had blood dripping from my face.
I pulled my shoes from the wreckage. The plane didnít seem to be at any risk of fire. So, I got my head set and turned the radio on and could hear the plane above me talking to the tower. I waited till the frequency cleared then I radioed to the plane that I was ok. They confirmed my transmission. People started to arriving cell phones, cameras, police, EMT's, and the FAA. I was pumped full of adrenaline and not able to sit down. I was in a state of shock. I tried to answer the barrage of questions being asked of me. I related the incident as best I could.
The rest isnít too important. The FAA has a job to do for the most part, I am alive and I owe it to my roll over structure. It is the first crash test proven structure that I know of. Although it deformed in the upside down impact and skid it did not break off or separate from the longerons and kept the plane off of my head and neck.
I must admit I built it more for its looks and practical reasons. With it I was able to look at my fuel gauges and it made a dandy place to hang my head set. I know I would be dead now if I didnít have it in the plane. As far as not breaking my legs off, which I thought would happen for sure. That was just plane luck.
The plane broke up on impact as it should have. The composite structure absorbed all the forces. The fire issue was minimal because the composite plane absorbed all the energy and with the electrical off gave no source of ignition.
From the first point of impact the mains touching down to the final resting spot was only 250 ft if that. One wing broke off beyond the main spar cap the other wing stayed on the plane but kept it from flipping again and the canard ripped off taking most of the f22 bulkhead with it. The canopy was demolished and because I was sliding upside down and sideways and backwards the shards of plexi were going way form my face. I was extremely lucky.
I built this plane for my brother Mark in Seattle. He has been waiting two years for it. He was the first person I called. He is a cancer survivor this year and telling him I destroyed his plane was hard. He was more concerned about me. I would give anything to replace his plane. So, if anyone knows of a Vari EZ airframe let me know.
I just received a preliminary report from the FAA investigators. They found dirt and mud in my fuel screens in the fuel strakes in both tanks. It looks as though the screens were caked over restricting fuel flow. The plane was kept at an unsecured field outside of Buffalo New York.
It appears that someone tampered with the plane by putting dirt in the tanks. The plane is not equipped with locking gas caps. It appears that the plane was sabotaged. The FAA found cups of gasoline soaked mud restricting the filters in both main tanks. I have not heard if there will be a criminal investigation into this matter. The information is all very new.
I have not formed a conclusion about this flight. Anyone can Monday morning quarterback it. First rule is to fly the plane. And that is what I did. And in an emergency there are no rules.
For now, I just count my blessings and look for another project to replace N220EZ for my brother Mark.
Builder and Pilot of
N220EZ and N440EZ