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QuickTalk 17 - PILOT REPORT

Statistics seem to indicate that pilot error (PE) is the biggest cause of aircraft accidents. My first-hand experience on this subject further indicates that the typical PE accident is the result of a combination of errors. This usually begins with placing oneself in a nasty situation and then making things progressively worse, sort of snowball fashion.

Preparing for that first flight is a very lonely time. The best-intentioned friends become your worst enemies. The only question you hear is "When are you going to fly it?" Instead of "When will you have everything functioning to perfection?" You really have to resist the force of forward inertia to stop and think.

I had five hours run-in time and had made one runway liftoff. I decided to go out and practice some more. Mistake Number One: The wind was 10 MPH down runway 3, gusting to 20. The first liftoff found me at a wobbly 20' altitude. I got back down with half the runway to spare. I went back determined to keep the altitude down to 10 feet. Evidently this time a gust of wind caught me just at liftoff and put me right up to 40'. Since the airport is surrounded by forest, the turbulence was quite pronounced at this altitude. I was probably over-controlling the ailerons also. Mistake Number Two: I decided to continue around the pattern to compose myself, although I wasn't mentally prepared to fly. As I approached the far end of the runway, the engine suddenly started to vibrate and the RPM dropped to about 2400. I only had about 60' of altitude and it was apparent that I would settle into the mature poplar stand at the end of the runway. Mistake Number Three: I made a 180-degree turn to the left, remaining just inside the tree line to the side of the runway. Then, through some freak seismic activity, the ground jumped up and struck me.

I impacted at about a 30-degree angle in a swampy area studded with hummocks, bounced once, and came to rest in about 15 feet. Both left wings separated at the fuselage. The engine tore off the firewall and fell to the left side of the fuselage. In so doing, the throttle and carb heat cables snapped down across the instep of my left foot and pulled my foot 90 degrees left. The impact of my arm against the stick fractured my right thumb. My head must have punched through the canopy because my forehead was all cut up. The fuselage was destroyed right up to the pilot's seat. I was fully conscious and in no great pain. Except for the broken ankle, I could have stood up and walked away. There was a timber crew cruising the woods at the end of the runway for the express purpose of removing those trees I was so desperate to avoid, and they came running. An ambulance was summoned and I was removed within a half hour.

I have since put compressed air on the cylinders and found both exhaust valves and one head gasket to be leaking. I had had considerable trouble getting the Onan engine to run consistently on two cylinders due to a bent and poorly seated left exhaust valve. I had reground the seat and valve, finding the right exhaust valve spring to be much stronger. I swapped springs from side to side. This allowed the engine to run for the first time on both cylinders below 1400 RPM. I intended to buy a new pair, but...

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