Thursday, July 19th, was a beautiful day to fly. Winds were light out of the northeast and few clouds were floating by at 5000 feet. I was excited because for the first time in eight months of owning my Quickie Q1, this would be my first air-to-air photo shoot. The plan was simple, visit my friends in Zanesville, Ohio, do some flying and come home to see my friends in Cincinnati that night! Little did I know this perfect day to fly would be my most challenging…
Starting around 9:00 am, I got ready for the day, drove to the airport and made my typical smoothie run when I head to this side of town. The airport is about 45 minutes away from me so I had time to think about the new battery I had just purchased and how this might affect my experimental plane.
The day prior, I was with the airplane to do some spot landing practice in preparation for Oshkosh but was grounded due to a dead battery. This plane is always hand propped, but requires a charge to operate the spark plugs’ igniter, rather than an engine driven spark from a magneto. So I charged the battery with jumper cables and was able to start the aircraft. Before flying again, I decided to call it a day and remove the battery. I ended by disassembling the aircraft to remove the battery and purchased the new one later that night.
So after my smoothie, I installed the new battery, tested the connections and found 13-14 volts versus the previous days 8.5-9.5 volts. With the new batteries ready to go, I reinstalled the tail section of the aircraft and put the engine through its paces.
Feeling confident with the performance of the aircraft – and trying to stick to my commitment of arriving in Zanesville around 1:00 pm – I jumped in and taxied out to runway 11. My takeoff, flight and landing were uneventful all the way to Zanesville; with an arrival just after 1:00 pm to boot. The only abnormal part of this trip was my left roll tendency due to a newly installed Go Pro on the canard just above my left main tire. The camera did not perform well and was subjected to constant vibrations, which cracked the housing and caused the mount to fail while taxiing into parking.
With 1.6 hours and a new landing in the logbook, I met up with Nick and Tony of Zanesville Aviation to catch up and prepare for our photo mission. Seeing that the Stinson (our photo ship for the day) needed some fuel, I rode along as Nick made the short flight up to the Richard Downing airport. I stayed with the aircraft while Nick got everything loaded up and then rode along for the return back to Zanesville. On the way back, I spent my time playing with the camera I brought for the photo flight to adjust the settings as best I could.
Once back at Zanesville, we discussed the photo flight and decided that Tony would fly, Nick would take pictures and I would position the quickie off of the right wing. We would meet north of the field where the terrain of rolling hills and wooded areas would provide the best backdrop for a northbound photo run, standard rate 180 and then return southbound to the airport. All in all, this flight should only take about 30 minutes to complete.
After a quick walk around and easy startup, I taxied out to runway 16 and took off with a climbing left turnout to head north. Upon reaching 2,500 ft (about 1,500 AGL), I joined up with Nick and Tony for the mission. Everything went great and we were able to keep a nice formation while nick captured some great pictures of the Quickie and me.
At the end of the flight, we decided to head back to the airport and I gave a rudder wag to Nick and Tony for a job well done. Immediately after, my power setting dropped by over 1000 rpm (3700 rpm vs. 2600 rpm) and began using about twice the fuel (1.8 gph vs. 3.0 gph). I was able to maintain my current airspeed (about 80 mph) and altitude (about 1000 ft agl) so I announced that I was having engine trouble and was planning a strait in for runway 16. When this started, I was approximately 4 miles north of the airport and noticed Interstate 70 that I planned to use if I could not make the airport. A moment after announcing my intentions, my rpm began to drop even further. Losing a steady 20-rpm per second I knew I would not be able to make the airport. Seeing a neighborhood between I-70 and my current position – now about 3 miles from the airport – I looked right, saw a forest and looked left to see a dogleg of a road pointed into the wind with fields beyond it. After deciding this was my best option, I told Nick my intentions over the Zanesville Unicom frequency and began a descending right turn down to the road. Narrowly missing some trees and not spotting any traffic, I lined up for the road with too much energy and although inches from the ground, knew I could not stop in time.
Noticing signs at the turn of this road, I decided to ask the engine for all the power I could to get over them. Luckily I had enough to get over the obstacles and across a large drainage area. Seeing only cornfields in front of me, I though to myself, “okay, it’s really happening,” chopped the power and flew above the top of the corn bleeding off as much airspeed as possible before dropping in.
The landing was abrupt and sudden, I have a very distinct memory of the canard splaying corn out in front of me and watching the nose strike the ground. This happened while traveling about 45 mph and affected less than 100 ft of corn. The momentum and angle of the crash caused the tail of the aircraft to gently continue over before coming to rest upside down with me trapped inside the cockpit; the canopy had shattered around me and I was suspended in my seat. After unhooking from my harness; I was unable to get out of the wreck. I checked myself and couldn’t believe nothing on me was broken… my shoulders hurt from the harness, I had cuts on my hands from holding the controls and goose eggs on my knees from hitting the panel, but I was okay! It was at this point; I noticed fuel leaking from the vent on the cap of the tank and my electrical system still on. I secured the aircraft as best I could and then shouted for “Siri” to call Nick. I was only able to talk to him briefly before getting disconnected but he knew I was okay.
After a few minutes of feeling around for my phone, my next call was with Jen at 911. The call lasted about 30 minutes and she stayed on the line until the EMS team was able to locate me in the cornfield. At only 300 lbs, the plane was not too hard to pull off of me, flip over to stop the leaking and free me from the wreckage. Nick and Tony were with the search team and after statements with the press, local and state officials, they offered to fly me home to Cincinnati in a 182-RG.
Of course I took them up on this chance to get back up in the air! I wanted to get back up before I had time to get nervous. So, from the right seat, I flew the 3 of us to Cincinnati for dinner. We discussed my plans to drive up with a trailer the next day and recover the plane and they took off for the night.
This was my first full day of flying the Quickie after its conditional inspection so I was caught off guard to say the least. During the inspection, a cracked exhaust manifold had been welded back together and reinstalled. Upon inspection of the wreckage, finding the same exhaust broken in a different spot seems to be the cause of my initial power loss. This break happened directly under the fresh air intake for the engine and the recycled air forced a rich mixture and initial rpm drop. I believe the vibrations of the broken exhaust then knocked my carburetors’ mixture screw lose and caused the steady rpm drop as it unscrewed. The combination of these items is still under review and will be inspected by the FAA in the coming week.