Surviving a Bird Strike in an RV6
by John Perri, RV6, N345JE
By now I was well down the runway and decided a normal landing would be
difficult and most likely end in over-running the north end of the runway which is bounded
by a fence, ditch and road. Over-running the road would result in an altercation with
several large gas tanks. While throttling up and making a climbing right turn for a
go-around the engine popped and the vibration became more severe. My vision was becoming
impaired from the bird residue and a lot of blood. Later I came to realize that I
was the source of most of the blood, since the shattering Plexiglas had inflicted a deep
bleeding wound in my forehead. I looked for an alternate landing spot east of the field,
but found nothing but homes, businesses and more gas refineries which obviously did not
seem to be a good option for an emergency landing.
As a flight instructor, I always teach my students to concentrate on a
safe landing, and worry about damage to the plane later. I discovered this is easier to
teach/preach than execute when your own pride and joy is the subject of an impending
crash. I decided to land straight ahead to the north in a field I had walked some time
previously while finding a good landing spot in case of engine failure while flight
testing a friend's new RV-6A. Holding minimum power to reduce vibration I landed on a
northeast heading to maximize the length of the alfalfa hay field. The hay was very tall
and as luck would have it, was harvested two days after I converted the field into an
emergency airport. I maintained control during the entire landing until just prior to
stopping. The plane came to an abrupt stop, tipping over on its back.
A few hours later I found myself at the local FSDO trying to explain the
events of the previous day . They were quite content with my explanation and only reminded
me that in my haste to extricate myself from the overturned RV I had neglected to turn off
the master switch and the activated ELT. I agreed that I should know better since I teach
emergency procedures to students daily. I also kept trying to explain overturning a
conventional gear aircraft in the process of executing a soft field landing. The FAA
Investigator told me his findings showed that the landing was textbook perfect, and that
prior to stopping, the tall grass filled and broke loose one of the wheel pants causing it
to lock up the right tire. He also stated that "Chuck Yeager could not have kept that
airplane upright!" This served to partially soothe my wounded ego but did nothing to
prepare me for the continuous explanations and justifications for my actions in the months
to follow due to secondguessing by the Monday morning pilots.
John Perri 1/17/98
The swallows did indeed come back to California in the spring of '98, but my RV remained in Arizona. I was helpless to accelerate this project in order to be ready for spring flying. Many phone calls and more dollars were required to get this project completed. After a visit to Payson, Arizona in May, I became more anxious than ever, since it appeared we were so close. Herb Ross did a remarkable job on the rebuild and every time I tried to push him for early completion he reminded me that quality takes time (and $$$$$$$).
Next came the big day for the test flight which was delayed for weeks due to a ramp repavement project at Payson International. The City Council should have checked with me first. Finally an almost uneventful test flight above the airport then on to Tucson for paint. I had finished my business with the Artist formally known as Herb Ross, now it was on to the Paint Maestro at Hotton Aviation.
Don Fisher really knows his stuff, but gave me the bad news that this was going to take longer and cost more that I had expected. So "Whats new?" Some of the original paint was no longer available so we switched to Diamont (diamond dust) Paint. At this point I realized that Oshkosh '98 was going to happen with one less RV-6.
Don called several times about engine starting problems and several other little items. So on July 30 we ventured down to Tucson to help complete the project.
I was speechless when we landed in the mighty Bonanza and saw N345JE sitting on the ramp. A few kind words with the FBO owners and Don the Maestro, and I was ready to fire up the engine. Well, as they reported, there were small problems but soon life flowed back into each cylinder. A quick lunch, several of Dons stories and some touch-up paint, and I was ready for the real test.
Weather was a little less that ideal but I decided to stay close to the airport and burn some time off the Hobbs. Everything went flawlessly including the landing and an inspection pass behind some Military Iron. After a quick inspection I noticed a more that normal amount of oil on the bottom of the fuselage, but discounted it to the oil accumulator or something even less significant.
That night I went out to dinner (Mexican, naturally!) with my chase plane pilot Ron and discussed plans for our early departure the following morning to miss all the weather. After a few hours of sleep we showed up at the field early and proceeded to load 5JE with all sorts of baggage, spare paint and other stuff required for the journey back to Utah. With the exception of dodging a few low clouds (didnt want to get the new paint wet) the flight from Tucson to Page, Arizona was uneventful. A quick refill of the gas tanks (and clean off the oil on the bottom of the fuse) and we were on the way once again. A strong south wind made for a bumpy but quick ride back to Bountiful Sky Park. If you look at the picture of me taxiing back to the hanger, youre looking at one happy flyer that was glad to have all this behind him.
The oil leak got much worse on the next flights and lead to removal and replacement of the prop governor and gasket. I still have not gotten everything back to normal on Patience. I guess Im too busy flying to worry about that now. Thats what winter is for
Bottom line on the entire incident was 14 months and 50K to undo a little pigeon strike.
Finally I understand what the aircraft name really means...