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Q-talk 93 - Crash Report Lessons Learned

Robin Nash East Sussex, England

Just in case you were beginning to think the aircraft was a figment of my imagination (sometimes I do!), here's a picture of our fateful take-off from Elstree back in 1985. That's me in the passenger seat. There is a lesson here.

This was our first flight with a member of the building group in command. My partner in the project, John, got the PI seat because he had checked out with our test pilot (Mike Searle). Mike had built and flown another Q2, also with a Limbach engine. John had more free-time than the rest of us at the time. We were all 150/200-hour pilots back then. Elstree is a general aviation field just north of London, where our test pilot had an engineering firm. It has a 656 x 30 metre (2152 x 98 ft) hard runway 08/26 with a serious down slope to the east - the direction we used for the departure. It was not exactly ideal for the Q2 but our test pilot regularly operated a Hawker Sea Fury in and out of the field, so the Quickie was hardly a challenge for him. My partner was nervous because he had only flown the aircraft two-up and was uncertain of it's flight characteristics solo. That's why I volunteered to go with him.

The plan was to transit to Cranfield, a much bigger GA field about a half

hour away, where there was a runway sufficiently large (1807 x 46 metres (5928 x 151 ft)) for us to get comfortable with the aircraft's handling. The take-off was uneventful - apart from a little over-controlling - and we had an easy 130 knot cruise at 3000 rpm with our 78 bhp Limbach 2000. On arrival we found ourselves on finals behind a very much slower aircraft. We were wallowing around at 75 knots with the nose up in the air, completely unable to see the runway - or the other aircraft. The only sensible thing to do was go round.

Just as we did this, ATC announced that the airfield would shortly be closing to incoming traffic due to an aerobatic contest that was about to start. This put my partner under some considerable pressure to compete the circuit and land as soon as possible (or so he thought). Next time around he flared high (maybe 2 or 3 feet), the canard stalled and the aircraft hit hard. He opened the throttle and began to climb but then said, "No, I've broken the canard." And let it settle back to the runway.

I couldn't see the left hand canard from my seat but he could see the crack and the wing collapsed on impact. The prop splintered into a thousand pieces and we slid off the runway in a gentle arc to the left, coming to rest on a conveniently sited intersecting runway, facing in the direction we'd come.

As I switched off the mags, fuel and ignition and reached across to open the canopy, he swore he would never fly again. The GU canard had failed at the end of the port stiffener. If we'd continued, it's quite possible that it might have folded at 500 feet with the obvious consequences. Apart from the broken canard, the aircraft survived pretty well. Only our egos were damaged and there was no fire despite our (almost) full tank - about 15gallons of 100 LL!

What did I learn from that? A lot. Firstly, my partner was a very strong and positive personality. We had a mutually accepted rule, which went something like - You fly, I don't speak. I fly, you don't speak. We maintained this joke that, I always knew what height and speed we were flying and he always knew exactly where we were. There was some truth in this.

On this flight, I learnt to speak out. If you're not happy with the other guy's flying, have a word with him. Later on, when you're dead, it might be more difficult. I volunteered to accompany my friend because he was nervous about the aircraft's solo flight characteristics. In fact, it's performance and flight characteristics would have been better in every way, when flown solo.

Secondly, never let personal friendships or rivalries cloud your judgment. The pilot on the day of the accident had always been the driving force of the building team - the one always pushing for completion. By contrast, I was accused of being the perfectionist who didn't care how long it took. I was always asking what the plans actually meant when they were sometimes vague or ambiguous. And our third partner was very much the mediator. John and I had (and still have) a good deal of respect for one another, so I never questioned the trendy ski goggles he was wearing. It was only when, a few days later, he'd performed another two-foot-above-the-runway landing in a Robin Aiglon at the Isle of Wight that we both realized that those trendy goggles, with their leather side patches, designed to protect the eyes from snow glare while skiing, were actually destroying his peripheral vision and hence height perception, while flying.

Finally, we should never have embarked on such a short flight, not only two-up but with full fuel, putting us close to max weight. Having done so, however, there was no need to be in such a hurry to land at Cranfield ahead of the aerobatic contest. We could and should have flown off for an hour or so, burnt off some fuel (and weight) and practiced some cloud landings to get the feel of it. I think we were both still a little frightened of the plane and overanxious to be safely back on the ground.

Next time it will be different. We now have the new canard and I'm fitting toe brakes, a pneumatic tail wheel and a forward hinging canopy. There's a lot of work still to do but I'll keep you informed.

You can order a printed copy of Q-talk #93 by using the Q-talk Back Issue Order Page.