He Now Flies A Harley
By: Russ Hauser

The names in this story (except mine) have been changed to protect the guilty as well as the innocent.

Tom had a real nice log home, a CH1, and had cleared off about 1,200 feet along the edge of his property. There were trees right up against both ends of the runway. Most of us who flew in and out of Tom's strip had no problem with it except for Rich, who had a tendency to use up the whole length of the strip with his CH1 because he'd come in over the trees too steep and fast.

One December day in 1999, Rich and I decided to stop over at Tom's for a visit. I was first in the pattern for landing. When I turned final, Rich came up on the radio and pointed out that Tom had cleared the trees near the end of the 1,200 foot runway so he (Rich) wouldn't have to come in as steeply as he always had. I just continued my usual approach, landing with a full stop and plenty of room to spare. I had just taxied back to the house with my plane pointed toward the approach end of the runway when I looked up and saw Rich's Challenger in the power lines surrounded with fireworks!

Neither of us ever noticed that the trees had completely screened power lines and, even though the lines were now exposed, they were still nearly invisible. From the air, their brown color blended in with December's dormant grass. Rich had come in with a normal approach speed this time but, with his snagging and breaking the power lines, he lost too much airspeed. His plane pancaked into the grass from the height of the power lines. I was frozen in place for a few seconds not wanting to go over to Rich's plane and find him with a broken neck or whatever.

It was then I noticed Tom running over to the plane and Rich getting out of the wreck without a scratch. He was very lucky but the Challenger was not. All the small diameter tubing on the bottom of the plane was smashed up against the main longeron tubes which were bulged at the back of the landing gear saddles. The gear was totaled and the wings appeared to be OK but the struts on one side were bent. We took the wings off, folded the tail and strapped everything on a trailer loaned to us by John. With John driving very cautiously, we proceeded to haul the remains back to our home field.

Along the way it became very windy and a gust struck the plane from one side, twisting the wings and fuselage on the trailer so that the wings were now hanging over the side of the road. Before John could stop, the wings caught a roadside mail box, ending any hope of salvaging the wrecked plane. The dejected crew finally arrived at John's house where we decided to remove the engine, prop, instruments, etc.

The plane had a Last Chance ballistic chute mounted inside the fuselage aimed to fire out the bottom. It had an arrow with a broadhead tip epoxied to the canister to help it tear thru the fabric. With the fuselage stripped of fabric and anything else useful, we carried it out to John's back yard to see how the long-out-of-date chute would deploy. With the fuselage laying on its side and the chute aimed at the back fence, Rich pulled the release. There was a POP and the canister was launched out to the length of the shroud lines with the chute still firmly packed in the canister. The mortar charge seemed too weak to have fired the canister thru the bottom fabric even with the aid of the arrow head.

Rich was doubly lucky in having survived the crash unscathed and never having to count on the chute to save his bacon. Rich's wife had told him to order a new BRS ballistic chute but he didn't want to spend the money. Rich now flies a Harley.

Lessons learned? After this happened, the guys in the club adopted the philosophy that there are always power lines to watch for at the end of whatever strip you're about to use, even a familiar one if you haven't been there for a while. As far as the trailering incident, we obviously didn't have the plane secured and try not to make that mistake again. In our defense, the fuselage was no longer Challenger shaped and didn't fit very well.

Russ Hauser