Just Fly the Plane
By: Jim Hodges
Two years ago, while flying out of Dix Field, (a small private, banner towing field) down in Atlantic City, there was an incident during my landing approach, that I'll probably never forget. Every year, ten of us fly our aircraft for the Nights Of Venice Boat Parade. We had just flown the whole coast line of Atlantic City (along the Boardwalks) throwing candies out of our aircraft, down to the kids gathered on the beach for this event. After finishing, we departed the area to fly back to our home field.
Well, we encountered some mild to fairly strong headwinds but we made it back to the field and I was number three on final. I was set up on a long approach of about an eigth of a mile, and "looking good" as they say. As I overflew the trees at the end of our approach, the wind really came up.
So here I am on final, coming down over the trees and set up to drop below the tree line. The wind whipped up to a twenty mph crosswind coming from my left which I compensated for (and was doing quite well at my fifty mph, fifty foot altitude) when I caught a really nasty left-to-right gust of wind.
Handling it was a little more work now when suddenly, I was hit by what I believe was a small microburst. Now I'm holding at ten feet and thinking, "Bring it in hot". So I'm at ten feet, coming in hot, and the bottom just dropped out from under me.
I caught another bad cross-gust, which changed my heading towards a stand of tall pines on my right and about twenty-five feet off the landing strip. They ran parallel to the strip, and I was heading right into them. Suddenly, at ten feet and fifty mph, I lost all effective lift and bombed her in.
The nose gear crushed up between my knees, and tore my right main gear loose. Now for a real decision... do I wash (old Navy term) into the trees, and possibly get myself killed, or do I take her up and around again, doing it right this time? Well, I didn't hit the trees but instead hit full throttle, jammed left stick, and yanked the stick back hard! All this time, mind you, I had absolutely no rudder!! I hadn't realized it at the time, because I was fairly busy trying to save my butt and the plane.
I flew her out in a climbing left turn at sixty mph and gaining three hundred feet of altitude... kind of a mistake maybe. I also hadn't realized at the time that I had no right main gear. I found this out when I looked to my right and down, trying to give myself some idea of where I was. Well, I finally leveled off at six hundred feet, and started trying to figure this situation out.
I knew I had to land, or fly forever but, knowing that wouldn't work, I just flew the damned plane. I also found out how to fly a Challenger with NO RUDDER, using only elevator, ailerons, and throttle. Did you know that you make a three mile "S" turn this way? Well, I do now!
Ok, now we're up in the air again tryin' to fly, so we can land this wreck and have some coffee. The next eight minutes of flight consisted of constantly going between full and partial throttle, using elevator and aileron to roll her over in a turn, then hitting full throttle again with hard opposite aileron to pull her out of that heavy turn, all the while in this big "S" turn and trying to get my heading back to the field so I can land this plane safely...hopefully, without killing myself.
I finally brought her back to my landing approach and over the damned trees again. However, this time I made sure to maintain a sixty mph approach speed. I landed her on the left main, 'cause that's all the gear I had left! As she settled on that wheel, I jammed left stick to keep her up on that one remaining gear. The high landing speed put me at the end of the strip and into the tall weeds and burrs. CUT THE ENGINE... CUT THE POWER... CUT THE STROBES... HIT THE DIRT!!! After stopping, I un-hooked my harness, took off my helmet, disconnected my patch cords, and climbed out. Then I walked a 1/4 mile back to our site where my trailer was set up, had a smoke and a cup of rather strong coffee.
I'm proud to say, that the Challenger saved my life that day. I don't see how any other type of ultralight plane, or even a GA plane would have done that for me. Final damages came to $700.00 total. I had three broken, down tubes (they went when I hit the first time), which also left my main wings skewed to the left, none of which I knew when I flew her around again.
I had the down tubes stress-tested by a metallurgist who gave me papers telling me that they tested out as having been struck at a 4.83 G stress rating! I LOVE MY CHALLENGER 1, and Dave Goulet for designing such a safe aircraft. I made NO mistakes, in buying a Challenger Aircraft.
Thank You, Dave Goulet.
Jim Hodges " Fly Right "