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XXX Flight: LTG-2011-0703-1 in N37148 (BlueBird) for $
KCNI - KRMG - KMMI - Goforth (flying time 3:15)
Flight Notes:
Off to Jonesville, Virginia, to hand off Emma the PnP pup on her way to Pennsylvania. Woo hoo! :-)
As an added bonus, thanks to 61.51(e)i[iii] & 61.51(b)1[v] and 91.109(b)1, I get to log SIC time while Laura is under foggles building time for her instrument rating qualifications.
(David Thorburn-Gundlach)

(136)
From KCNI (Cherokee County Municipal Airport) 2011-07-03 12:32:29 to KRMG (Richard B Russell Airport) 2011-07-03 13:13:49 [00:41:00] with 0 day and 0 night landings.
Laura Thorburn-Gundlach (pilot-L) / David Thorburn-Gundlach (SIC) /
Leg Notes:
Had a lovely flight over to Rome to pick up Emma. Laura's first extended foggle time went well but was a lot of work. Yes, we'll be at this for a while!
Alas, we had to wait quite a while for Emma to arrive, but it gave us a chance to chat with the folks there and generally enjoyed the airport. After all, it's an airport :-)
(David Thorburn-Gundlach)


(137)
From KRMG (Richard B Russell Airport) 2011-07-03 14:08:34 to KMMI (Athens McMinn County Airport) 2011-07-03 15:12:19 [01:04:00] with 0 day and 0 night landings.
Laura Thorburn-Gundlach (pilot-L) / David Thorburn-Gundlach (SIC) /
Leg Notes:
Next came a straight and easy hop to McMinn County in Athens, Tenn, for refueling. Foggle work was easier this time, and Laura had no problem holding heading and altitude as instructed.
The left tank was low while the right tank was still pretty full! Hmmm... We have had that stupid fuel flow problem for a while now and H&L haven't been able to track it down yet. Grrrrr. Put 10 gallons, which should be easily good for 90 minutes by itself, in the left tank and while leaving the right tank as-is. But see below for more on that...
(David Thorburn-Gundlach)


(138)
From KMMI (Athens McMinn County Airport) 2011-07-03 15:30:58 to Goforth (Danny & Jane Goforth cow pasture (0VG)) 2011-07-03 17:00:05 [01:30:00] with 0 day and 0 night landings.
Laura Thorburn-Gundlach (pilot-L) / David Thorburn-Gundlach (SIC) /
Leg Notes:
Off for the final leg to Lee County in Jonesville, Va, just over the mountains. To make a long story short, this one didn't work out so well :-( As with so many things, lots of individually nominal events all lined up for a whopper of a problem (although, we're incredibly grateful to note, things really are much better than they could have been). Even though I was only SIC, and even though my job was to focus on the outside while Laura was blind, I feel like a complete failure as a partner and crew member. [How's that for a buildup, eh?] Since it doesn't do any good to just go off and shoot myself, though, let's learn from this.
We were going right over Tyson and Knoxville Downtown, so we decided to practice radial riding. The first thing we noticed is that we need more practice :-) Eventually we got better, but in the end we were up for 90 minutes instead of 70. One of those nominal things...
So we're flying along practicing and get a bit fixated on our instruments, which is not good. As a result, and because I have by now trained myself not to because they are wildly inaccurate, I'm not paying enough attention to the fuel gauges. Sure enough, though, I'm sure I would have seen the right gauge NOT moving while the left gauge DID head south. We didn't just have uneven flow; we had a blockage! [I probably would have picked that up back at McMinn if I'd had a dipstick to truly measure the fuel level, but I never got to make one and have been relying on the tab for checking, and we were above it.] Meanwhile, Laura noticed on the flight that BlueBird was listing a bit to the right but didn't realize that that was a fuel imbalance indication. Add a few more nominal things to the list. Anyway, we ran out of fuel about 10nm past our second-to-last airport and 6nm shy of Lee County. Defnitely NOT a good feeling!
We were talking with Atlanta Center and expecting to drop off of their radar soon as we came over the last ridge and descended toward Jonesville when, at about 12:55 EDT / 1655Z, we suddenly disappeared. It was at this moment that Laura and I were both trying not to hyperventilate! The controller advised me that we had dropped below radar range and I replied that that was because we had just experienced an engine failure and were looking for a field. She asked if there was anything she could do and I gamely replied that it would be nice if she could get some fuel back into our left wing but, otherwise, probably not :-) There wasn't even time to get anything useful out of declaring an emergency; we were in the middle of nowhere and tens of seconds from the ground. I thought I did a pretty good job of maintaining control, but Laura reports that my voice was more than a little shrill and jittery. Go figure! [BTW, I would love to have that conversation but, after everything else that this trip cost, can't justify paying the FOIA search and copy fee. If you know where I can find it online, please contact me.] Anyway, Laura was already going through her emergency procedures, setting up a glide, and looking around. All I needed to do was make suggestions, so I pointed out a couple of green patches that looked to me like possibilities -- albeit only the best of a lot of bad options, since we were still in pretty hilly country. She looked where I was indicating and said that she didn't see anything, for which I can hardly blame her! She did think that she saw something on our left, though, so I told her (the only authority I needed to exercise in this whole thing, you'll note) to commit to something and land.
Well, land she did, all right! Laura executed a perfect no-engine approach and soft-field landing, settling right into that cow pasture as if it were a normal airfield -- albeit, once we touched down, a bumpy roller coaster of an airfield. She rode the rudder pedals like mad, helped our crazy bank with ailerons as we slowed, and brought us to a gentle stop in a cow pasture. Whew! We were safe, Emma was safe, BlueBird was safe (and covered in cow pies; WOW), and the ride was over. After a deep breath, I called Flight Services, asked them to advise Atlanta that we were in one piece, and asked them to close our flight plan as we certainly weren't moving any farther. Then I called the local emergency services folks as we headed off across the field to the road and a house. They were expecting our call :-) and were glad that we were all right and sent a deputy over to our location. [Insert here the amazing stories of love and generosity of everyone we met, from the folks across the road to half the Sheriff's department to the State Trooper and the FAA/NTSB personnel to our mechanic back in Georgia to even the local Holiday Inn, that are waaaaay too long to include here. We are overwhelmed and grateful beyond measure!] The first thing we did was to drive those last few miles over to 0VG to hand off Emma for the rest of her trip. Then we filed a report with the State Trooper, who had met us there, and then we headed back to figure out what to do about BlueBird.
We should, obviously, never have been in this situation. We didn't see it at the time, but we had get-there-itis because of our need to complete Emma's trip. Worse yet, though, we *really* screwed up the next day :-(
Anyway, we called our mechanic to discuss ideas and possible causes, and he and his partner jumped in a plane and hopped up to dig in. Wow! They tore apart the entire fuel system and found no blockage -- probably because jouncing over the pasture had given things a good shaking -- but did find, after filtering all of the fuel, little grains of solidified fuel tank sealant which almost certainly bunched up in the right feed line and covered the screen. Ahhhhh... Yes, that would do it. So we got everything reassembled, with plans for an alcohol flush back home on both sides to take care of any other bits, but by this time it was evening. The next day, the FAA got the mechanic's sticker and our pictures and released the plane for flight. Great! But there's the matter of where we were...
In this tiny rural countryside, there's no way we could drive her down the road to the nearby airport (even on a flatbed tow truck) because of the wingspan and the close quarters. What to do? Well, you probably know that what we SHOULD have done was have a mechanic or salvor come and take the wings off and THEN truck her out -- and reassemble her at the strip. For all we know, our insurance company might even have paid for the work! But we didn't realize that... Meanwhile, after looking around and talking to some folks and walking and measuring, it looked a lot like we could just fly right out of this pasture. The owner was even kind enough to have mowed a strip for us to smooth the way. Great, right?
Um, not so great. We tried something we hadn't, under uncontrolled conditions, and it didn't work out nicely at all. You can read in the NTSB report that BlueBird failed to achieve liftoff and then failed to stop before striking a fence and some boulder detritus and bursting into flame. Worse, or at least more bluntly, we're now also the subject of a blog post about our stupidity. Well, heck; I hope someone else learns from our mistake for less of a price. As you can imagine, with a prop strike and a fire BlueBird was a total loss.
What next? Well, we sure want to get back to flying, but first Laura is going to need to heal and second we're going to need a plane. This may be the last post for a long while :-/
(David Thorburn-Gundlach)