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Learning Things the Hard Way!

There Are Lessons to be Learned Here. . .

written by Greg Gomez
with comments from UK Tech Counselor Gary McKirdy

[Editor’s Note: On May 5th, 2011 Greg Gomez crashed the 800 hour Q2 built by Jon Finley. Below is an article that Greg sent me describing his experience both searching for the perfect airplane to own, and the subsequent accident. First, I would like to thank Greg for taking the time to not only share his experience so that others can learn from it, but for also having the courage to open himself up to criticism.

It is easy to read through this article with hindsite and find fault. I think a better use of our time would be to reflect on the times that we haven't used the best judgement during our own flying careers. Do any of the issues Greg faced resonate on a personal level with you? I am reminded of the old pilot addage that, "A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that would require the use of his superior skills."

That being said, when I first received Greg’s article I was immediately struck by his unabashed candor and unbridled enthusiasm. I think it clearly illustrates the naiveté of some young individuals interested in purchasing finished Quickies. It should give all of us pause.

Greg was so enthusiastic about owning a shiny new airplane, and so over-confident in his own piloting skills, that he took off (his first solo Q2 flight) from a high altitude airport, on a hot day, with full fuel and a 180 lb. passenger. His final conclusion, even after the crash, is that he couldn’t have made many different choices, and wouldn’t if he had it to do over again.

I also lack any experience flying Quickies, so in the interest of Safety, I had Gary McKirdy read the article and make comments about what he thought might have gone wrong here. Gary McKirdy is a Quickie tech and flight counselor in the UK. Greg Gomez’s original article appears in BLACK, with Gary’s McKirdy's comments in RED.]

I just want to briefly state that I was asked to play “Devil’s Advocate” by Dan when he provided me with the following article. I have undoubtedly been hard on the guy, but I firmly believe that Greg clearly needs a LOUD wake up call. This is especially true because he’s written all of this AFTER having had seven months to reflect on the accident and what lead to it.

I truly hope that he will live long enough to look back as a wiser person at his past naiveté and appreciate being brought to account this way for his own good. My intention is not to scare him off but to thoroughly engage him. IF he still thinks this is a suitable aircraft for him to own and fly. IF he is willing to try to approach the task responsibly in the future, we should encourage him to start making use of all the resources now at his disposal through the excellent Quickie Builders Association website, particularly tech councilors and flight councilors so we can use our combined experience to keep an eye on him as a substitute for his lack of it.

His candid letter should be rewarded. A shout for assistance which is available, ready and willing if he can raise his game and successfully engage us. Dual flight however should only be carried out with somebody with more relevant Q experience than he has for quite some time.

Despite his "years of Quickie research" he was clearly unprepared and already well out of his depth trying to land the Quickie several times unsuccessfully before the alleged stick jam became THE issue in his mind. The stick jam was definitely not THE only issue, and I hope he is capable of looking a little deeper.

In addition, it’s worth mentioning that I believe he is living proof of a very successful EAA marketing campaign to promote experimental aviation in the U.S. He could even be described as a victim of it.

Where do I start? I guess the beginning. Well when I was born......................maybe I’ll start when the story applies to everyone. Reality check in red dude, please take note and take it in good humour!

I am a pilot, I always have been and always will be. There are things that can happen that might change that! Of course, I have not had my license my whole life but I have always had the “itch”. The first pictures I drew were stick figurer airplanes and black blobs with rotors on top (AIRWOLF).

It was only a matter of time until I was up in the air flying. My father was and still is interested in aviation but never really got into full scale by flying all the time and keeping current. I spent my younger years with paper airplanes, white wings, and plastic models.

As I got older, I graduated to RC airplanes and helicopters. I had to look out for myself and when you are young and trying to pay for flight lessons things take longer than they would if you could have everything your way. (That’s life, I guess.) Once college came around, I snagged a job, at my local airport, as a linesmen. With the job came a discount for airplane rental, so it was time for me to fulfill the first step in a life long dream.

There are different types of pilots. Different types of flying make more sense to me than others. When I was growing up everyone suggested that I should become a commercial pilot. But as experimental pilots know it’s just not the same as flying stick and rudder.

This next bit is very interesting, the enthusiasm is nothing but a dream and aspiration, it appears not to fit with the true reality of level of experience and understanding. There is a disturbing detachment for me. I am young and have not been around the aviation scene as long as others. However really connect with the ideals of experimental aviation. Experimental aviation really is getting to the roots of our forefathers. Do it yourself, work on it yourself. Get your hands dirty. By doing everything yourself you know it’s done right, you are saving money and you are making yourself smarter to the point were you are basically a full blown engineer (I use that word loosely). To have apparently never actually done any of this is to use all the words loosely!

Feel the aircraft, use torque tubes and cable for the control surface. Fly low enough to see the awesome sights. Down low you are seconds from a certain unlandable impact due to engine stoppage in a Q too, which is why we prefer to stay high!

Experimentals and Homebuilts have always held a place in my heart because of all options they have to offer. I have been out of school for a few years now, and at first, I was earning next to nothing. The thought of owning my own airplane was not even a possibility.

However, when things changed and higher paying jobs came around, the gears in my head started turning. I like the Cessna 152’s at my local airport, but if I were to fly once or twice a week that might average out to over $600 a month. Wait a second........ that’s for less than 6 hours of flying a month. That and I can’t take it on vacation or Oshkosh. Not to mention, who knows what that plane has been though the hour before you hoped in. Why wouldn’t this apply even more to the far superior bullet proof experimentals then? Any recent data points you can think of?

That all got me thinking. I am not sinking a ton of money into lessons anymore (or at least not right now) as if I was trying to obtain my license. Why don't I just buy a plane? I can afford it, maintain it, a noose is very affordable and easy to maintain too, travel in it, hanger it.

Getting a Cherokee or 152 was not at all appealing to me because I would have to pay some shop an absurd amount of money every time it needed anything. Just what were you gonna need with certified aircraft? Let’s be honest, great, honesty is a noble pursuit a 152 isn’t “flashy” enough either. I want to be THAT guy. All quickie owners know what I’m talking about. So you really just want to be flashy and like all quickie owners, any data points? You turn heads every time you pull it out of the hanger. There is just something about the Quickie that is amazing. For me it fits the bill. It has everything I could ask for: (Maybe too much by the sound of it!)

  • Small foot print (great for a community hanger, New Jersey hangers are expensive!)
  • Fast.
  • Burns hardly or no oil at all. Especially if you believe this and don’t put any in.
  • Fast.
  • Easy to maintain. Got any data points that might be useful compared to certified aircraft?
  • Fast.
  • Burns 4 to 5 gallons of fuel per hour.
  • Space for a small bag.
  • 2 Seater - To share the magic with the people you love.
  • And of course the WOW factor.. Trust me, the biggest WOW comes when bystanders witness you being brought down to earth. The bigger the bang the bigger the WOW!

The seed was planted years ago when I saw my First Quickie. I remember seeing the first one in a Photo, and then up close at Oshkosh. I thought it was crazy looking. It turned my head and I guess that's why I like it so much now.

All the years between me first seeing it, to now is a great feeling. As a kid the thought of ever buying your own airplane is daunting. Where am I supposed to get that kind of money? A year or two ago I started making good money at work, and I realized that I was soon going to be able to afford a plane and a Quickie at that. They can be cheap for a reason!

The fall and winter of 2010 is when my mind went into over drive. I had a full time job working computer IT for a Wall Street firm and there was always extra money left over from my paychecks. Even with me putting a fair amount into savings and the money I was spending on rent.

My first concern was price. Not value or suitability then? It just so happens that there was Q2 for sale six hours from me in Canada. I found it on barnstormers. It was $20,000 Canadian. The exchange rate of our declining dollar made it about $21000 US at the time. I could swing that. So in March 2011 I went up one weekend to see it, sit in it, and talk with the owner. I fell in love.

This Quickie had it all. A nice Jabaru 2200 engine, a Lopresti style cowling, a belly board, and the paint condition was a 9.8. I was sold. The only thing left to do was fly in it. Unfortunately, at the time we were unable to go fly because of the icy runway condition, and the fact that the plane didn’t have any insurance. (In Canada, all airplanes must be insured.)

That would have been my plane if it was not for a few things. That you were unable to sort?

I got very familiar with the import and export procedures trying to find a way to get the plane back here and get it all registered. The hardest part was my bank. I have great credit so the loan was a sure thing. There was one snag. My bank had to get the title of the airplane. In Canada their title system is different from what we have here in the states. It is very hard to try to find it or fabricate one. I tried everything. I just couldn't get the correct documents.

My chances of getting this Q2 were fading and I was getting frustrated with weeks of trying to get everything in order. But then a beam of light broke through the clouds. There was an ad on barnstormers for a Subaru Powered Q2. It turned out to be Jon Finley’s.

Jon is well known in the Quickie world and I had previously spent hours on his site reading and researching everything I could about Quickies, in preparation for purchasing one of my own. Not only was Jon selling his for about half the price of the one in Canada, but he also was located in the US, so I didn't have to deal with all the import and export paperwork. The only drawback really? was that I was in NJ and he was in NM. Nevertheless I had to go see this thing. So I bought a commercial airline ticket.

My trip to New Mexico was a nightmare. I bought a connection flight to save money, but the connecting flight left over 20 passengers at the gate because of a delay at a previous airport. To compound the frustration, I was not given a room for the night. It was already 11:00 PM and the new scheduled departure was 5:00AM. I didn’t want to pay for a room to sleep for 4 hours, so I spent the night on a bench outside the airport. (I don’t ever want to be homeless, very lonely). This delay pushed back the WHOLE trip. I left on a Friday and was supposed to be flying back on Saturday night. To get the lowest price for the flight out I had to fly out to NM with Continental airlines, and return on Delta. Delta didn’t care about my issue or that Continental had delays. I had to pay $300 to move my Delta flight up a day so I could take a look at this Quickie. It was just one of these situations that I was stuck in. So in trying to save money it cost money and time, which is also money. There is a lesson here and a pattern.

Finally, I arrived in New Mexico, rented a car, and drove the 30 mins to the Airpark where the plane was based. The first impression was exciting. It had both the requirements and options that I was looking for. The requirement was that the plane be structurally sound. I knew that if the plane was structurally sound it would be flyable. With more than 800 hours this plane appeared to have met the requirement with no problems. A good power plant is a must as well. Jon has been flying a lot with the Subaru EJ-22. Previously, I had done tons of research on auto conversions and Jon Finley’s is one of the most well known Subaru aircraft conversions. Jon’s Quickie had my requirements. So you had already sold it to yourself before you ever saw it, it had already satisfied the flashy test?

Then there were the options I would like to have in a plane: A really nice interior and paint job is always nice to have, but cosmetics could always be changed with less effort than something major. No data points to support this statement yet? You will soon have one however. Finishing can take longer than building or repairing! Also, I would like a Quickie with a clean airframe. That to me means an LS1 canard with none of the dirty vortex generators. Jon’s plane had a GU canard with vortex generators but that was okay. But perhaps with the big heavy Subaru above the GU canard the ground clearance might not be OK when banged around during early flight testing even without unnecessary weight of passenger and full fuel?

It’s not what I preferred but many people have had success with the GU canard. The optional parts could be changed later; I just didn't anticipate being forced to do the changes so soon. Anticipation, Observation, and Communication (and applying them to yourself to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses) are all very useful as a Q pilot. The plane was in good flying condition. . . but cosmetically....not that great.

In my opinion as the pilot of the plane, having everything working is the most important but to your passengers, having the plane look ascetically pleasing both inside and out is just as important. Only if your passengers are too concerned with flashiness over substance before they agree to get in.

Needless to say I figured for the price I could not pass up this opportunity. Jon took me for a flight in the Q2 Sunday AM early before the spring New Mexico Winds really picked up. He showed me the instruments, and let me take the stick. I was connected to the plane instantly. It was super easy to fly.

After a long talk mostly involving the plane and a little bit of life I decided to buy the plane. We shook hands and I handed him a check. Should have asked him to fly with you the first 2 or 3 legs before handing over cheque, even if it meant paying his airline ticket! It was then time to get back to the international airport and head home.

My plan was to go back to New Mexico and eventually fly the plane home with a friend. A few weeks later, I flew out with a friend for some testing and getting a feel for the plane. I had spent nearly a year before going out to see the Quickie researching, reading, emailing, calling, and learning about its tendencies.

I spent all day taxing the plane and EVERYTHING was going great. I literally got in the plane and could taxi it like it was the Super Cub that I train in. A few hours of taxing around the airport. No Issues. Then I decided to high speed taxi. Tracked on rails at 40, 50 and 60.

I had just bought it and at some point had to get it home. We wanted to fly it and see how the plane and I felt. If it was flawless and we had no reservations we were planning to make short hops weather permitting back home.

We went to a very late lunch in a very good mood. When we got back we did another hour of nothing but high speed taxiing. No hiccups, no scares, no weaving down the runway. We got out and the wind was 6KT straight down the runway. We didn’t have a 2 way radio. So he and I had a long talk about if he should go with me. I was wary of him coming but still thought it would be nice to be in contact with someone. He on the other hand was READY no fear and was ready to face whatever the fate was of that day and we actually had a spoken conversation about what we wanted to do should have got it in writing and if we wanted to do it together (little did we know). How would it feel if he had been killed and you survived?

So we did the final inspection and checklist, hopped in, and went.

We were off the ground and I had a bit of a "cobra" purposing and I felt the stick let loose from being stuck. I dismissed that at the time because it was no bother getting it unstuck with a little forward stick. I remember thinking “I’ll have to put some lube on that joint at some point.”

So we flew around for an hour, within gliding distance of the airport We climbed and did descents, low fly-bys, with a known partial jammed elevator and passenger? steep turns and got a feel for the pitch buck at high altitude and low airspeed. The whole time that thing was cake to fly.

It was hot with little airflow (the plane has nothing really going by the way pilot air aside from two small NACA air scoops in the canopy) both of us were a bit air sick after a bit of fun yanking and banking mixed with the heat.

We started practice approaches. Set out glide path and pulled the power. Right to the end of the runway, my confidence was soaring this plane is latterly fantastic and so far I felt immediately one with the plane. I flared and held it and then added full power to go around. I did this 3 times just to get used to the sight picture.

Then it was time to do it for real. The first attempt was way too fast. The mains touched and we were still flying. We were level and skipped like a rock, shallow and very far. (When I was taught tail wheel, I was taught that if I was going to bounce twice then go around.) I added power and went around. No Big Deal. For passenger too?

The second time I was too slow and we were sinking. I added power before the mains touched to cushion the touch down. The mains touched with more vigor (but I would not nearly enough to bend something other than the canard standard landing flex and certainly nothing like Dr. Steve’s solo video). He was much lighter weight. I was on the power and clearly that landing was not “THE” one so we went around.

The 3rd was like the first too fast. I was holding and holding and holding AFT stick to flare and let the plane bleed off speed. I was holding level for a long time with good pressure. I was definitely not just flying with my fingertips. In the excitement of the moment, I knew that I really was holding that plane off with some good muscle. I don’t think I could bend a pivot bolt or elongate the pilot bolt hole with just my arm strength.

When we touched, I was still too fast so I was back on the throttle. That’s when I realized that when I put the power back in and tried making a forward stick input after my long steady flare that I could not move the stick forward.

That was the scariest part. We went back into the purposing maneuver, about 10 to 20 feet off the deck, until the airspeed got back up and the plane stabilized itself. At this point, you would be so nervous and mentally overloaded, responsible for two souls on board, as to not be able to recall what really happened, this account really makes little sense. Going to a bigger airport with rescue services was, however, a very good decision made under stress. Did you or your friend make it? What was his flying experience if any and what was he there to do?

I controlled the plane’s climb and decent with power and reflexor from then on. I made shallow coordinated turns as I gained altitude and again stayed within gliding distance of the airport. Once at altitude I tried really giving the stick a good wiggle to see if I could break free whatever was jamming it remembering that I had a slight elevator catch on takeoff. The counter balance on my side was ok and free but I could not see the passenger side elevator or counter balance. I asked my friend to check and he did.

This is where the biggest mistake was made:

I asked him to try and move the counter balance. He put his hand on it and said it was stuck. I didn’t encourage him to force it free. If I had, I think we would have been alright and would have been able to find a temporary solution.

Flash Forward: He told me after the accident that he was nervous about really giving the counter balance rod a good push. He didn’t know if that could have made something worse and make the elevator completely fall off the plane or something crazy like that. I don’t blame him. Our state of mind and the possibility that something else could happen, makes you really think about everything you do. I don’t know if you have ever been in a real emergency situation but I can tell you it is VERY difficult to make decisions.

I should have told him just push it down. I don’t regret not telling him because I didn’t even know the extent of the situation. Maybe if I could have visually seen the snag, things might have been different. Nevertheless………………………

We had 15 gallons in the plane so we could have fooled around a bit more but being stuck in a plane with just your thoughts about how to fix the situation, mixed with thoughts of what could happen if you didn’t fix the situation made you want to just get on the ground ASAP. It was then when I remember the sticky elevator on take off. Lube was not going to fix this issue. A radio call for assistance in contacting the seller or another Q pilot would have been a good move with all the time 15 gallons on board afforded!

We who exactly? made the decision to fly to the bigger class C Albuquerque international airport about 20 miles away. We though if we had a bigger runway we would have better luck, and we did.

I made the emergency call and the tower cleared the airspace. When I think back on it, that’s when it hit me. This was real and it was happening NOW.

I lowered the power and started our decent. It was a very long (distance) decent, not because we were up crazy high but I made it that way so that I would more or less be level with the runway flying just above it before I pulled the power. I set the reflexor trim aft to kind of act like a flap to slow the plane as much as I could without the help of the elevator. We were flying about 3 feet above the runway, I pulled the power and pretended to hold it off and kept it in the center with my ailerons an rudder.

With no flare I was able to get it to about 100 knots and the mains touched super gently. We had way too much speed for touch down so we skipped like a rock again. We came down again but still too fast. We did bleeding off a bit more airspeed but came in at a shaper angle. So, equal and opposite reaction tells me that with the greater the angle we hit plus the remaining forward momentum we had, we were going back up again even higher...........and we did.

Now we came back down at an even steeper angle, just enough for us to catch the tips of the warp drive prop. However, this time we came down with more force and if I had a stronger canard we would have been up in the air again for another even higher and steeper blow with the ground and greater risk of injury/fire but the energy was transferred into the weakest part of the canard and then released in the form of a break and so that good design let you walk away unassisted!

We came to a sliding halt on the side of the runway. A good outcome, well done.

Everyone was ok. Not even a scratch! We got out and the first thing I did was walk over to the passenger side and give the counter weight a push. Sure enough….I moved it from its pinned position with relative ease and my control was smooth as butter.

Who knows? For all I know the airflow over the canard and all the pressure might have been able to pin it or something.

What is really on my mind is that Jon had a lot of time on the airframe and that it is too unlikely that this would happen to me on my FIRST flight in my super cool new toy without me doing something. Evidence and all signs suggest that I did something, bent something somehow but for the life of me I don’t know what it is. We really didn’t have any substantially hard landing attempts.

Maybe something was wearing after 800 hours and if Jon was flying he would have had to deal with the same problem.

I put the blame on NO ONE. As far as I see it. It just happened and I’m over it.

I keep replaying what happened to us over and over again. There is not a terrible amount of things that I would have changed if I had to do it all over again. I think we made some of the right decisions in the very wrong situation you put yourself in. Some could argue that we didn’t make the right decisions in the first place and that’s what got is in the situation, but they were not there. Why did they need to be there?

The on site airport maintenance service did a great job of taking care of my plane so that there was no more damage.

With the help of Jon and a friend of my boss’ who just so happened to be a retired military pilot and based at the airport (small world) they managed to break down the Quickie. Literally across the street from the airport was a huge pallet company. They were able to make a custom pallet for me and the plane was shipped back to me in NJ on a trailer. Had you been properly Anticipating, Observing and Communicating (honest with yourself), this was the obvious first option you could and should have taken having flown and bought the aircraft.

Upon arrival and disassembling I found to problem. It was a crushed spacer in the stick and elevator connection. That small crushed spacer allowed the counter balance enough play to get jammed under the aux tank. I also noticed that the spacer was hand made. I looks like it was made out of aluminum pipe, Not steel like the plans call for. So you now have a data point that maintenance is just as necessary and important with experimantals like Quickies, after several more data points you may find it even more necessary than with certified aircraft where years of experience on identical aircraft have eliminated most of the possible technical bugs. This will require constant vigilance since you did not build it.

I don’t know how it was crushed, but like I said before, it doesn't matter now, it just has to be fixed.

If I could go back I would have flown alone. There is NO doubt in my mind that I have the capability to pilot the Quickie. The question you really need to honestly ask yourself is do you have the right attitude to both maintain and pilot the unique experimental aircraft and engine combination you have bought. Can you anticipate likely problems before they occur? Are you observant enough to spot them if you fail to anticipate them? Are you honest about your experience base, knowledge and self awareness to be able to learn from mistakes? After your experience so far, is your vision of the future still to be a (the) flashy Quickie pilot?

I would strongly suggest that you should be able to answer yes, yes, yes, yes and no to the above. If not consider selling it to someone who can for your own sake and ours.

The plane is looking good. I now have the opportunity to turn the plane into something that I wanted to have in the first place. The far more important question is can you turn yourself in to the considerate, focused and sober engineer and pilot you are going to need to BE to operate it with any success. So far I am replacing the canard with an LS1. New interior paint, seats, new instrument panel for better knee space and instrument placement (the old one looked like Swiss cheese because John made a few changes over the years), dual rudder pedals with toe breaks (pilots side), new paint and a new tail wheel assembly with the help of Jim Patillo and the bell crank mod.

I want to share my story with everyone. Thanks for doing that, you deserve credit it was a noble intention. It allows me and others to play devils advocate to try to help you and others. I don't know if this will educate, entertain, upset, inspire or maybe all. Well, that's the short story of my experience. And remember your experience to date remains short. I have a lot more feelings and emotions that I can’t put into words. I look forward to a long story of your development and success if you can raise your game to the challenge.

Make no mistake; you are going to need to learn an awful lot very quickly and to progress in bite sized chunks to avoid choking to death. I sincerely wish you the best of luck. My best advice is that your progress should never again be remotely flashy or designed to turn heads.

You should however know that already. Think airmanship always. With a Q everything counts in large amounts.