I called a good friend, told him of my predicament, and asked if he’d load up his trailer and come get me. (Ultralight pilots are an amazing group. They are always ready to come to each others’ aid. Even if it means a 3-4 hour drive.) Dave first asked me if I knew what had caused my engine out. I had checked the float bowls, and it wasn’t fuel starvation. Even if I was able to get the engine re-started, I wouldn’t have been able to fly it out—the uncut hay was much too high. So he said he’d round up his wife and son, load the trailer and an ATV, and be on his way.
While I waited for them, I walked up the long paved driveway to a house. The owners were home and were astounded when I showed up at their front door. They didn’t own the hay field, but invited me in to call the owner. She wasn’t home, so my voice mail message included the information that I’d pay for any damage to the hay.
Four hours later, Dave pulled in with Caroline and David, Jr. Bringing the ATV was a brilliant move, as it would have taken 5 or 6 people to push the Talon through the high grass to the paved driveway. The ATV pulled it out with ease.
By the time we took off the wings, horizontal stabilizers and elevators, and loaded everything on the trailer, it was almost dark.
As we were getting ready to pull out, the hay field owner showed up. She was full of amazement that there had been an airplane in her hayfield, and full of concern that I might have been hurt. She brushed aside my offer to pay for any damages, saying “It’s just hay – it will bounce right back up.” It was a long drive home, and at 1:00 a.m. I finally made it to bed.
The next day I went to the airport to figure out what had happened. Ed Griffen, who works on Rotax engines, began his investigation. It didn’t take him long to find out what had happened. First, a quick back-track. When I bought the Talon, it had a Rotax 532 engine. I changed it out for a Rotax 582 with an electric starter. The position of the electric starter prevented the rope pull starter from being used at all. We fooled around with various possibilities – considering pulleys and other mechanisms to be able to use the rope pull starter, in case my battery failed, but nothing worked. As we fiddled with it, it became more and more difficult to get the rope to rewind into its housing. So I left it lying on top of the gas tank, which is inside a fabric covering where I store my camping gear. I planned to take the rope off entirely when I got home, but didn’t take the time to do it before the flight to Arlington.
So…what happened was that somehow during my flight home, the rope got yanked – probably by my gear shifting around. The pull starter mechanism got engaged, the rope sheared off and got sucked into the fly wheel, which was spinning @ 6000 rpms, the remnants of the rope whirled into the engine triggers, wrecking them, the metal dogs got ripped off and were rattling around… Ed guestimated that the entire thing happened in seconds. He was surprised that the engine had enough time to cough three times before it quit entirely.
So…what did I learn from this experience?
1. Freak accidents happen.
2. Some freak accidents can be prevented. If I had rewound the rope, or taken it off, this would never have happened. I was too blasé (naïve?) about the possible ramifications.
3. My instructor was absolutely right. If something happens to your engine, fly the plane.
4. With sufficient experience and sufficient altitude, you can take time to find a good landing spot.
5. It takes more people and more time to put a plane back together than it does to take it apart.
The engine is repaired, the Talon is back together, and my next post will be about other flying adventures.