By: Dave Goulet
Hi, this is Dave Goulet from the Challenger factory. I thought you might like this little story of a forced landing I had some time ago.
This story takes place on a return trip from one of the Oshkosh airshows back in the early 90s. The plane involved was my Challenger II long wing with a Hirth 2703. The Hirth was not the most reliable engine at that time although they claim to have fixed all their little problems. Anyway back to the story.
Upon arrival at Oshkosh, we noticed the exhaust elbow had cracked clear through right near the ball joint. Well, of course we didn't have a new exhaust system with us and it was nearing time to head for home. We found some baling wire and wrapped it around the muffler clamp and the manifold to hold the two pieces together. It seemed that it would hold up till we got home, so off we went.
I was solo in my two seater and left with Don Zank and a couple of others in their Challengers. Everything was fine and we were all having a great time flying across Wisconsin. Eventually, I had to veer south to Moline and leave my flying buddies.
I was having a good time cruising on home and felt pretty confident with the way the Hirth was running, and even played around pretending I was a crop duster. All of a sudden, while at 70 mph and 10 ft altitude over a hilly soybean field, the engine suddenly became dead quite. Wow! What a time to have an engine quit!
Well, all I could do was land straight ahead, right into a steep upslope in the bean field. I full stalled at impact and the plane skidded up the slope about 6 ft. The beans were chest high and absorbed most of the impact. The nose gear and wheel pant was up between my legs and the left main was sheared off at the cross cable.
Now the rest of the story:
My broken Challenger was about a half mile from the nearest road so I waded though the beans for what seemed like an eternity and then walked down the road to the nearest farm house. The farmer there was working on a corn detasling tractor. As I told him of my hapless incident, he said, jump up here and we'll see if we can get the plane out of the beans.
He rigged up a couple of 2 x 6 boards on the machine and we headed out to the fields. He drove the weird looking contraption though the beans as though they weren't even there. He pulled up to my Challenger with those 2 x 6's sticking out like a huge fork lift. He lowered the "fork" under the Challenger wings and picked up the whole plane like it was a toy.
We may have looked weird before, but now we really looked weird as we drove out of the bean field and down the gravel road to his farm, weaving left and right to miss telephone poles and road signs with this Challenger long wing hanging out in front. About 30 minutes later he plopped the plane down in his back yard and offered me the use of his phone to call for a ride.
Well, to make a long story shorter, I got a ride home, and the next day went out to patch up my busted bird. The farmer who helped me would not take a dime for his splendid rescue, but he did tell me that the farmer who owned the field would contact me about damage to his bean field. Well, come to find out, the "beans" were seed beans and he would send me a bill. The damage came to $600, which I would pay happily.
By the way, the exhaust was not the problem. A wire from the ignition box broke, which caused the engine failure. After fixing the problem, installing new landing gear, and doing a good preflight, I took off from the farmers back yard and flew home without incident.
What did I learn from this? Well, for one thing, don't fly so low as to not allow a good landing spot if the engine quits. Well, that's what I should have learned, but I still do "crop dusting" whenever I get the urge, but not over beans or corn.
What did I do right? I landed straight ahead, flew the plane to the ground, and flared as best I could to get the airspeed slowed down before hitting the ground.
I also learned that it's no fun trekking through a mature soybean field on foot. Whew, I about died from exhaustion.
Safe but happy flying to you all.