The Sum of all Fears!
..or when to shut down your engine versus waiting for it to fail!!
As most September days go, this was just a beauty of a day. Smoke from the ongoing Cariboo - Chilcotin Fires finally cleared out and excellent flying days are ours once again. John has returned from the US and we are playing with the Maule M5-210 on floats to get a bit more of a feel for this thing. Nice, big, solid, and thirsty it is everything I once wanted in an aircraft, but no longer have a desperate need for. My flying has come to an enjoyable point where Nellie (our BushCaddy R80) or a trusty ol' Zenithair CH-701S can pretty much fulfill most every job and desire.
But "Life is a Maule" and so off we go for more hidden away fishing holes on road inaccessible places of the Cariboo Mountains. Best playground in the world, at least we like to think so. As the day draws to a near close for the splash and dash games of being a float pilot on a high performance aircraft, I have yet to fulfill a sunset flight promise with Nellie and Hans, my fellow CH-701 Dreams pilot who's up for a visit from his new home in Cali, Columbia.
We've already logged all the refresher/conversion hours and are due for a fun flight, no particular destination or training regime, just a simple fun one hour evening flight. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Prior to our flight in the Maule earlier, I re-installed a modified alternator bracket which is longer, stiffer, better fitting to tighten the belt on the Subaru. With everything ready and snug, I was hoping for a little less harmonics coming from the electrical setup, not that it was bad, but it just bugged me a bit. I like smooth, no shakes, no hums other than that engine pulling me along without any hiccups.
40 hrs in and going, the last 25 with absolutely nothing to do other than checking fluids, and the usual belt(s) tight, no leaks, no chafes, no rubs under the cowling check.
Hans & me cruising the Cariboo in Nellie
1hr plus a little reserve of fuel on board, Spot Tracking running, and off we go entering for a backtrack on 33 from Bravo to warm up the engine and get us to the bottom of the grass runway at CZML. Hans on the controls, doing his run up and pre take off checks and next thing I know we are climbing out towards the N over 108 Mile Lake, along Hwy 97 for LaclaHache and Timothy Lakes. Everything is smooth, no hums, no shakes, no pumps, no thermals, just that perfect colourful fall evening. As we are working our way up towards Greeney Lakes we trying to figure out our route ahead, hey "..how about Ten-ee-ah Lodge" haven't been past it in a while?" Ok and so we avoid the right turn towards Timothy Lake (and the grass strip) and carry on semi straight due north. Another few minutes go by and me just watching Hans flying leisurely along over the pastures and trees as I am trying to figure out if I just got a whiff of exhaust or if there is a funny smell. About the same time we both hear a loud "tick" under the right cowling and I reach immediately for the controls. WTF ..was that, more or less. Engine Instrument still scan all in the green, but about that time another loud "TICK" and this time the voltmeter just goes to "0" and we guess that the alternator belt just decided to no longer deal with the extra tension. Now that's bad, really bad, since that belt also drives the water pump and with one eye on the temperature gauge its time to look for a suitable place to land. Luckily we just few past a farm with several fields, a lake and lots of room to fly a nice engine out approach. As I'm finishing the turn towards the fields my temp reaches 215F, up from the usual 190F and I decide to shut the engine off to prevent an overheat and totally ruin the Subie. You gotta love these big floaty wings on the BushCaddy as I literally have to force Nellie into a dive on short final to get down onto the fields in time/distance and also to pick up a little extra speed and energy to prevent a slow stalled drop in landing.
And in we go, away from the lake, across the drainage ditch for that furthest (dry in my thinking) field. Nose slightly up, decelerate, oops that grass is tall, decelerate, no matter, hold her off, three point and don't let go of that stick, 33mph indicated and Nellie finally decides to settle slowly into the deep grass. I've done this so many times, after all I teach this stuff over and over again, so no different so I thought. Wrong twice in the same flare, hah, ..and just as we think its all good and over, we get this breaking feeling, up comes the tail, next we look straight down at standing water in the grass, ..WTF ..did the water come from?, and with us getting forced down into the 3 point restraints we find ourselves hanging from the seat belts looking upside down into the direction we just came from. Could have been worse, at least we are not in scuba mode and don't see fish swimming by upside down, that's when you know you really screwed up.
"Hans, are you ok?" "Yes, but lets get out of here!" My thoughts exactly and with me giving him instructions to "hang tight" (lol) for the moment while I release my seatbelt, plunk down onto the ceiling and open the door on his side. And out we go, me first, Hans following not a few seconds later. While everything seemed to be slow going, don't think it took as even a minute to depart Nellie, now resting on her back in the deep grass.
|Look at the tailwheel track|
|There is no excuse for not having good helmets, good seats, good seat belts, and ideally an airplane built like the proverbial bricks...house|
All factors combined helped in us getting away without even a scratch. Add to this, training, training, training and route selection. Stay over roads, farm fields, away from urban sprawl AND always, always keep those possible emergency fields in mind. Connect them in your flight planning, the detour is worth it, the fuel cost is minimal. NO, this is not just a Subaru Problem, I've had issues with Rotax's, Lycoming's, and Continental's just the same. Roll in a couple a thousand of hours and you may find yourself occasionally in an unforeseen event. In all cases you will have the realization that you've just crashed while still in the air, so use the time to find the most suitable place and do everything in your power to make it as least painful as possible. Just my .02 cents of real life experience on that matter.
Nellie on her back, not looking so good since we trampled the roof a bit in our exit. Next secure the fuel and oil! Placing rags in the engine cowling for the oil and closing all fuel valves to prevent any possible air/fuel leaks. Mind you, fuel is lighter than water and we are standing ankle deep in watery Cariboo muck. Now I wish I would have left my 26" tundra's on the plane, but given the depth of the grass and seeing the hay bailing around each gear leg I doubt it would have made much of a difference. As we are leaving the plane with our belongings for the farm house we count our blessings, amongst them, not having been in the 701 with the nose wheel, that would have been really bad. Nor did we have as much confidence in the cabin structure as we do in Nellie's. All in all, we have had everything work in our favour during a really bad event and had a good outcome. Low stall speed, low mass energy of course also helped. Don't think we would have been as lucky and unharmed in a 172 or Cherokee.
With the accident site right under the regular flight line between CZML and CYWL we decided to immediately contact the RCMP and file a report. This was followed up by submitting the same and talking to the TSB. The next day we returned with them -RCMP- to inspect the site for possible fuel, oil spill(s) and to contact the property owner. Neither was found, no fuel, no oil, and the owner was off on holidays and only returned after we have had removed everything from the field. Every care was taken not to do more damage during salvage and to assure no spills of any kind. In my case, I rather do this alone than being sped along by folks with different agendas and calendars. Too often have I come across re-builds where more damage occurred on retrieval than the initial hard landing or crash, whatever words best describe your mishap. Take your time, I went back over a three day period to disassemble and prep for transport. Only then I asked for help to bring everything out and it was done over a 2 hour period with not even an added scratch. Thanks everyone for their help, Willis, John, Hans, Dick and you, the unknown neighbour we pulled from the drainage ditch on your quad. Nothing like showing up when the jobs done and needing a rescue yourself, eh!? :-)))
Sooo.., now why would that belt that ran the last 26hrs decide to leave me in 20 minutes? Time to ask Google to see if there is similar issues in the past. After about 2 hours of searching I came across an old post from 2006 with an issue on water pumps for the EA81. Turns out there are 3 different pumps for the EA81. One for the 1600, 1800, and a rebuilt version respectively. They are differentiated by the color of their pulleys as they differ in heights from the crankcase. I've ordered the last 2 pumps in stock from NAPA out of the Edmonton warehouse, all proud I got a spare, not realizing this fact and also blindly trusting that they are just a bolt on and all the same. Hard to tell without a ruler that it actually is slightly off and make a long story short, the extra tension over the misalignment helped to wear the belt to failure in a short period of time. Given the constantly higher RPM needed to run the Subie in aircraft applications it is recommended to change the ratio of the main crank pulley and this will be part of the engine upgrade over the spring here. And a slightly shorter engine mount to move the CofG a bit back, maybe?
As for Nellie, she is still in surgery, coming along slowly. One more Whoa to add to her repertoire but we do look forward having her back for more flying adventures. Stay tuned! Share! Subscribe! ..or even better, join us in the Cariboo for one of our sessions, fly ins, training, holidays.