WE ARE DOWN... THANK GOD!!
By: Brad Stiefvater
I first built my Challenger II in the early 90's. When I got it back to my field and had the flight test period (and restrictions) flown off, I felt that I was under pressure to give family members a ride. As I did this over time (the first year) little did my passengers know I was the more scared of the two of us in the airplane due to my inexperience. I will not do that again even though I had no close calls.
However, during my second flying year, my son and I went to a fly-in 50 miles away. We left at 4:30 in the afternoon and the thermals really sucked. They had me scared. Well, I waited till late evening to come home . We were about 20 miles from home when we hit a wall of turbulance that was invisible. I was at 700 AGL and it was a gust front that was way out ahead of a few non-threatening clouds. Well, I put the nose down and landed in a bean field. My son liked a rough ride normally but even he was scared. We waited out the wind and then took off again.
Quite a few summers ago, my wife and I went up for a nice, smooth, no-wind, evening flight. We had been flying for about 45 minutes when out of nowhere we hit a front of some kind . We were tossed around so badly my wife was yelling in the headset at the top of her voice. This thing had no warning or visible sign that it was coming nor was it predicted. I check the weather before all my flights and everything was okay. Even a local hot air ballon race was under way and they were caught in it. My wife was screaming in her headset and I could not think clearly with all this going on. So I told her I had to shut her headset off and unplugged it. When I went over our local sewage pond and could see white caps I knew I was in trouble. It was just about dark when I reached my strip (a pasture). I decided I was going to land directly into the wind and to hell with the runway. I kept 65 MPH on approach (something I learned on this list) and about 100 AGL we dropped 75 feet like a rock! The remaining 25 ft left me a kinda normal landing... WE ARE DOWN... THANK GOD!!
I reached up over my head to grab my wife's hands and she was shaking uncontrollably. I got out of the aircraft and went back to help her out. She got out and fell to the ground crying saying she had never been that scared in all her life (and we had been married 21 years) I was really wondering what the hell I was doing flying and why was I scaring my wife and myself so bad. I was scared but I do remember (from this list) FLY THE PLANE. I think God was my co-pilot on this one because I was not that skilled a pilot then.
For a long time I wouldn't fly unless it was fairly calm, like less that 10 MPH. Nor would I fly in thermals or if I had to fight for control simply because I like to fly for fun. Even here in South Dakota where we use log chains for wind socks, I usually can fly every few days if not daily. But at that time, I just would not fly in the middle of the day unless it was winter, cloudy, or there were no thermals.
POST SCRIPT: I read this story again when asked to send it in and realized how much my skills have changed. I will now fly in winds like our landing at LeMars, IA (with a 30mph crosswind) while returning from the factory's 20th Anniversary Fly-in. I'd have to add up my log book but I have around 1400 hours now in my C-2. What a difference a little time makes. :-)