Your connection with the sky

After the Forced Landing

I haven’t blogged in quite a while – and got several notes from readers who said “Don’t leave us hanging! What’s the end of the story?” My strong apologies and an explanation. My sister has lung cancer and it metastasized to her brain. I flew overseas to be with her and was gone for almost two months. I didn’t have any energy for blogging. She’s been discharged to hospice care and so we’re in a limbo, waiting. Thankfully, she’s in no pain. It was very hard leaving, knowing that I’ll probably never see her alive again.

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What type of segue sentence can move from that last paragraph to picking up the story of my flight home from Oshkosh? Nothing that I can think of, so I’ll just dive in.

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At the end of my last blog entry, I wrote how I’d had a forced landing in a field in Custer, WY. I was more annoyed than frightened when the engine quit. I’ve done dead sticks before, and in this case I was over wonderful landing spots: lots of wheat fields. I set up for a glide to a particularly large field, and brought her down nice and slow and straight, aligned with the pattern of the plowing. (You can tell that by looking at the edges of the fields.) I felt pretty good as my wheels started to touch the tops of the wheat – and was absolutely astounded when I suddenly found myself upside down, hanging from my harness, my face tickled by wheat!

My Talon’s somersault happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to be scared – one moment I was about to land, the next minute I was upside down! How did that happen? The wheat was ready for harvest, and about 3’ high. As I “landed” it grabbed the Talon and brought me to a complete stop – but the Talon ‘s forward momentum caused me to somersault.

I unhooked my four-point seat harness and dropped into the wheat. I quickly crawled out and waved to Wayne – who had seen me go down and was circling overhead. Then I began to run! I wanted to get out of the field as quickly as possible. If there was a fire, the entire field would go up in flames.

I walked and walked and walked and walked and finally found a farm house. As the farm dogs came roaring out I pulled out my emergency whistle and BLEW!! The dogs came to a dead stop and someone came out of the house. She let me use the phone to call 1) the fire chief; 2) Wayne, and 3) Bob – who had flown ahead and already landed in Laurel, just outside of Billings.

When the fire chief arrived we drove out to the wheat field. There was no sign of gas leakage and since it was getting dark, I got out everything that I’d need for the night and the fire chief drove me to Custer (a bar/grill and a gas station) to wait for Bob.

Bob told the Laurel FBO manager what had happened and got permission to use the courtesy car to get me.

Waiting for Bob, I had plenty of time to think about 1) what happened, and 2) what I was going to do next. I decided to catch a commercial flight home from Billings, and Norm (my husband) and I would bring our trailer out to get it next week after the field was harvested. The farmer didn't want a truck going out into the field until after harvest - not only would it ruin more of the wheat, but there was a real danger of fire.

Bob came to get me, and then we went to get Wayne, who had been unable to find a place to land and flew back along the route we’d just come from to a small airport 20 miles east in Hyshem, MT.

The morning either Wayne or Bob (I don't remember whom,) wondered out loud if it might be possible to dismantle the wings and roll the fuselage out of the field, then hire a U-Haul truck and drive it home.

I called the farmer and asked him if he'd let me remove the Talon today, explaining that we'd take off the wings and walk them out the road, then upright the plane and roll it out. He immediately agreed, and said he'd call some strong young men to help us.
When we drove back to the wheat field, we saw that the Talon wasn't as far from the farm field road as we had thought.

In 90+° heat we pulled the wings, the struts, and the cables. We were astounded to see that there seemed to be very little damage, other than to the nose of the pod.

One jury strut was slightly bent, but there didn't seem to be any other damage. Bo Harrison, a strapping young man who obviously played football and other violent sports, drove out to help us turn it over and get everything out of the field. By 12:30 p.m. we were dripping with sweat and wheat burrs, but everything was out of the field and on the field road.

Then we drove the 50+ miles to Billings (still using the Laurel Airport's courtesy car,) to rent a truck. It was a behemoth!! 12'6" high, 30 feet from bumper to bumper, 8' wide when you include the external mirrors - I have to admit that my heart quailed when I saw it. I've never driven anything so huge.

With the help of Bo and Anna, Levi’s girlfriend, the 5 of us got the Talon into the truck and tied down securely. Anna drove Wayne east to his plane, and Bob and I drove west to Laurel. It was 10:00 p.m. by the time I dropped Bob off and I just wanted to find a motel and crash. There is a Best Western in Laurel, but much to my dismay, when I went in and asked for a room, the woman just looked at me pityingly and said, "Honey, between the oil spill and the rodeo and the fair, there's not a single room to be had between here and Livingston." I soon found out that Livingston was 100 miles west! I couldn't just go to the Laurel airport and camp, because my sleeping bag and blow-up mattress were being used as padding for the wings.

So - I literally stuck out my chin and told myself "You can do it!" It was another adventure. I'm not a night owl, and I was still uncomfortable driving the truck. It's noisy and uncomfortable. Even with the seat pushed as far forward as possible, it's clear that it was never intended to be driven by a 4'11" person!

To buoy my spirits, I did a little game of cheering out loud every 10 miles, and whooping out loud when I did 25. At the 25 mile mark I congratulated myself for being 1/4 of the way there. Then a third of the way, then half, and before I knew it I was rolling into Livingston @ 12:30 a.m. I was truly exhausted yet greatly, greatly pleased with myself as I pulled into the parking lot of a Super 8 Motel.

SAME STORY!!! Not a room to be had in all of Livingston - which is right next to Gardiner, which is the gateway to Yellowstone. Tourist time and not an empty room anywhere. The front desk manager took one look at my discouraged face and said "Do you think you can make it to Bozeman? That's another 28 miles west of here." Then she called...and called...and called motels in Bozeman. There was ONE motel with ONE room left in the entire town! I didn't even ask the price - I just said "Put me on the phone and let me make a reservation." I pulled into Bozeman @ 1:24 a.m. Only another 1100 miles to go!

In my next blog post I’ll wrap up this story by writing about Wayne and Bob’s flight home and what we discovered about why my engine failed.

6 Responses to “After the Forced Landing”

  1. So sorry to hear about your sister! My condolences. It's wonderful that you were able to take the time to go be with her.

  2. David Mosdal Says:
    April 13th, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    You're a brave lady to take to the Western skies in an ultralight. I was amused that size of the rental truck caused you to pause. There are a number of farm women in the area of your unscheduled landing who might call that truck their "other car".

    Also, from your description I'm pretty sure you landed at Custer, Montana, not Wyoming.

  3. Vicki Danhof Says:
    April 15th, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Hey Arty,
    I am the Avi8trix, here at KBZN...Bozeman, MT where you got to 'hit the sack'. If I knew you needed a bunk, my humble home is always open for fella pilots.
    My prayers are with you and your Sister. I just lost my flying buddy to cancer a couple weeks ago. We flew together for 24 years. He now can fly without metal or fabric wings....but has left a huge hole in the akies around here. Thus, loosing a loved one is difficult for us....those who remain. Our believing loved ones, who have 'gone west' are flying the heavenly realms.
    I fly to Oshkosh every year solo in my Baby Blue and so enjoy the adventure.
    Fly safely,

  4. Arty,

    Sorry to hear about your sister. I have no siblings, but I've been through similar with my daughter, my parents, and others, and all I can offer is that you get through it and life goes on.

    I enjoy your stories and look forward to the rest of this one. I admire your persistence and resourceful nature.

  5. Arty,
    What an amazing adventure! I very much admire the way you handled such adversity. You have motivated me to take the plunge and finally build my own light-sport.

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