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Old 10-01-2013, 11:21 AM
MedFlightDoc MedFlightDoc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: WI
Posts: 76
Default Emergency Dead stick landing

I hate to have to write this, but I've been urged by many to put this out there for others to heed warning. It's tough to even talk or write about, but I hope others might learn something.

My aircraft is a 1991 RV-6, with an O-320 and fixed pitch sensenich prop, with about 1275 hours total time and ~780 SMOH. Pretty standard set up. I've owned for about a year, and flown regularly including two flights the day before this all started and multiple trips in and out of OSH during EAA a few weeks before.

Flight #1: Nighttime cruise home after picking up my daughter from the grandparents house. Easy flight from Milwaukee Timmerman to Middleton Morey (KMWC to C29). Heading west at 2500', checked in with Madison approach, talking to my daughter when the engine suddenly stumbles and starts to lose significant RPM. I immediately knee jerk thought I had run a tank dry and reach down to switch tanks. As I'm doing so, the engine picks back up and acts as if nothing had happened. So quickly in fact, that I didn't think that the switching of tanks had even kicked in yet. I had almost full tanks, so a dry tank was of course not the culprit. Rest of flight proceeds uneventfully with no issues. Leaving me perplexed. CHT, EGT, mags, RPM's, volts, amps are all normal when I get home and do an extensive check and run up.

Flight #2: The next day, go out to airport in afternoon to check things out again. All is normal. No issues with temps, pressures, run up or static RPM. Ambient temps were in mid 80's (about 83-85 or so). Take off seemed normal until about 250-400' or so when engine stumbles badly, lose significant RPM. I do something I probably should not have (no need to chastise me, I've done enough of it already in the last month) and make the impossible turn and get it back on the runway. I chose this option mainly because I was taking off on 09 at Morey-Middleton (C29) and the city of Middleton and Madison is to the east. I didn't want to go down in the city. At this point however, the engine is still turning over as I sit on the runway and taxi off. The FBO mechanics heard the engine cut, piled into a pick up truck and came racing down the taxiway expecting to find me off the end of the runway in the field to the west.

I do a runup, and all seems normal now. CHT, EGT, amps, volts, run up and even full static run up are all NORMAL. Taxi to the FBO. We pull the cowl and nothing seems amiss. Sump the gas, no debris or water. Start to think if vapor lock might be the culprit? This aircraft does not have baffling to the gascolator, but does have sleeved fuel lines from the gascolator to engine driven fuel pump to carb.

The mechanics look thru as much as they can over the next day and a half. The fuel vents are clear, gas is not an issue. Everything seems normal. Start it up again and on the ground all the temps and pressures are normal, normal run up, full static run RPM check on both tanks (per the mechanic) were all normal with one exception: there seemed to be low fuel pressure gauge readings of barely 1 psi with the engine driven fuel pump, but would increase to about 4 psi (normal) with the electric boost pump on. Running it up to full power with the electric boost pump on would also then see the fuel pressure gauge drop some but the engine was running normally the entire time with no stumble or dropped rpm. We were starting to think the engine driven fuel pump might be failing, but this scenario seemed unusual (their experience had been that they usually just fail, not a "soft" failure with things still running normally).

This then led to the question of what exactly was going on. We also only had one more day to fly, as the annual was set to expire. The mechanics didn't have it pinned down and it couldn't be reproduced on the ground as everything appeared to be working normally...

I make the decision to make one more test flight to see if we can narrow it down more and get more information as we don't really have enough go on.

Flight #3: Evening flight the day after Flight #2. Do it all over again, completely thorough pre-flight, check gas, check everything. Starts fine. Warm up, taxi, all checks are completely normal as is the run up and even a full static run up with the exception that the fuel pressure gauge on the engine driven fuel pump is low (~1) but comes up to ~4 with the electric boost pump. My plan is to stay directly over the airport.

Decide to take off, slightly down wind on Rwy 28 so as to take advantage of open farm fields if something happens...

Take off, fully expecting to put my glider training to use and...nothing happens. Normal take off and climb. Orbit over the airport and everything is normal. Boost pump off, then on. Full RPM speed run, banks, turns...nothing happens. All is normal.

Decide to call Madison approach and get a transponder code to climb up over the airport, which they give me and I then try to provoke it by doing a full power climb with boost pump OFF to see what happens. It climbs right up to 4000' msl without any hint of trouble or stumbling. The fuel pressure gauge is still doing the same thing however (~1 without boost pump, 4 with it on) so at this point I'm thinking that the engine driven boost pump is dying and will need to be replaced. Call up Madison approach again, sign off and descend.

Then, at probably the worst possible time, getting to pattern altitude or slightly below, about 2 miles from airport (I had drifted out and away while descending) then engine stumbles badly. Quick electric fuel pump on, get a brief surge, then stumbles again with loss of significant RPM. Cycle it again quickly while turning back in towards airport and get a brief surge and then the engine DIES. At this point my speed had started to decay while I was trying to troubleshoot at very low altitude, so I abandoned further efforts to relight in order to concentrate on flying.

Thought I was going to make it to the runway by turning a very quick and sharp base to final while sweating my altitude and best-glide speed in the turn. I was approaching the runway about half way down, at about a 45 degree angle from the runway heading, heavily banked to try and make it when I realized it wasn't going to happen. Rolled wings level while still about 20-30 degrees off the runway heading and tried to dissipate as much energy as I could in a full stall landing in the rough prairie grass and farm field adjacent to the runway. Came down pretty hard, probably stalled a few feet too high but was doing ok for the first 50 feet or so but the vegetation and/or the lip of the runway concrete caught the gear, wiped it out and as I transitioned to the concrete came up on the nose as I thought I was going to go over on it's back. Slid the last 50 feet or so up on the nose on the concrete. So I actually did make the runway...AND when the engine died, the prop had stopped horizontal, so not a scratch on the prop...

All switches off, canopy open, exit very quickly...
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Old 10-01-2013, 11:42 AM
Rupester Rupester is offline
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Mahomet, Illinois
Posts: 2,195

First off, I'm elated you're OK and telling this story. But now I'm on the edge of my seat for Part 2 .... the Rest of the Story. My hat is off to you for your successful dead stick ...nicely done, even thought you do have some damage. As my brother likes to say, "Fixing the machine or getting a new is is only money. You can ALWAYS get more of that."

Again, glad your safe.
Terry Ruprecht
RV-9A Tip-up; IO-320 D2A
S. James cowl/plenum
(Dues paid thru Nov '18)
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Old 10-01-2013, 11:42 AM
rhill rhill is offline
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Valley Forge, Pa
Posts: 663
Default Kiss the ground... your alive!

Thank God, My friend your alive to tell the story!!! Its ruled a good landing!!!You walked away!
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Old 10-01-2013, 11:47 AM
jjhoneck jjhoneck is offline
Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 419

An amazing -- and terrifying -- story. Thanks for sharing it.
Jay Honeck
Port Aransas, TX
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Old 10-01-2013, 12:02 PM
MedFlightDoc MedFlightDoc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: WI
Posts: 76
Default Part 2: Emergency dead stick landing

After exiting the airplane, I realized there was not going to be a fire, so went back and gathered my things and especially grabbed my handheld I keep in the cockpit, to warn off anyone else as I was sitting on the side of the runway.

Called the Madison tower, told them that Morey runway was obstructed. Called the airport manager, who called FSS to get the runway NOTAM'd as temp closed. Got the airplane off the runway and out of the way.

Did all the usual things one is supposed to do in these situations. Spoke with the FAA and insurance. I can tell more about that process if anyone is interested.

After a sleepless night replaying it all in my head, two gentlemen from the Milwaukee FSDO came out the next morning to interview me and inspect the airplane. Both were utmost professionals, and were airworthiness guys. We talked at length about what had happened and they then pulled the cowls and started to dive into things to try and get to the bottom of what may have happened.

We talked at length about the various theories: vapor lock, engine driven fuel pump failure, gas contamination, etc, etc. It seemed to revolve around fuel to the engine, as the engine itself seemed fine in all of this. They had tools, and came prepared, so we then pulled fuel lines at the carb, then the engine driven fuel pump, then the gascolator (working backwards) and there seemed to be paltry fuel flow with the boost pump both on and off (couldn't really crank the engine up and check the engine driven pump for obvious reasons) and we couldn't get much fuel pressure to show on the gauge. We started thinking about a failure of the electric fuel boost pump as it had been making loud noises when turned on, but this seemed unlikely with the reading we had been getting.

Then there was an "aha" moment, asking about which tank I was running on. As is my habit, I usually start off on the left tank when I have full tanks and I'm solo to balance the wings out. We then checked left tank vs right fuel flow (just eyeballing the pressure gauge and how much fuel appeared visually from the line as we let it drain into a gas can), and there appeared to be a noticeable difference of right tank vs left. They then made a call to Van's and spoke to one of the engineer's about the fuel system take up in the tanks (I might add that I did not build this plane). We then shifted to inspecting the fuel tanks themselves and there did appear to be sealant possibly coming off of the far corners of the tanks from what can be observed, which isn't much I might add. The only counterpoint to this theory is that the mechanic who had done the troubleshooting is absolutely sure he tried the run up on both tanks...

The other counterpoint is that these events happened in three completely different phases of flight (cruise, hight power take off, and descent).

So the leading theory right now, until a post-mortem is done on the fuel tanks, is that there might have been an intermittent obstruction of the fuel line somewhere that then became complete, possibly from sealant coming off the walls of the tank and getting into the fuel line itself. We will see and I will post what is found out for sure here, but suffice it to say that everyone should go out and check that their tanks don't appear to be sloughing off sealant on the inside.

The two FAA FSDO gentleman I might add encouraged me to write this up (as have others) and post it on this forum (with which they were familiar) to generate some discussion and make people aware. They were the utmost professionals. I asked how often in their investigations of incidents and accidents do they encounter a mechanical "who dun it" mystery like this and they said only about 15% of the time. 85% are pilot error related. They were very complimentary towards my flying, which made me feel slightly better...

The damage to the airplane was primarily limited to the gear, and the engine mount (which many of you obviously are aware that the gear connects into). The bottom of the cowls got scuffed up as well. It is classified as an "incident", not an "accident" by the definitions of the FAA and NTSB. I will also NOT have to go through a "709" ride as it was classified as mechanical in origin.

Despite this, my days of flying experimentals may be over and it will be put up for sale as a project. The airplane will be going to Myers Aviation in Oshkosh, WI per the insurance company to get repaired. They will also need to look into the fuel system as well to get the final answer. I will put it in the classified section as a project for sale. Someone may get a good deal on an RV-6 project that will have a new engine mount and gear, but require attention to the fuel system.

Contact me if you might be interested in the airplane as a project. I'm open to offers or I might part it out.

I will post some lessons learned about this whole experience as well as a debrief...
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Old 10-01-2013, 12:13 PM
MedFlightDoc MedFlightDoc is offline
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: WI
Posts: 76
Default Part 3: Lessons Learned

A few lessons learned...

For those of us who didn't build, having a good working relationship with your mechanics is important. The FAA FSDO investigators went out of their way to go up to the FBO and talk to the mechanics and reassure them that they had not done anything wrong or missed anything.

Know your emergency checklists cold. You WILL NOT have time to pull it out (and it was right next to me within easy reach) if you have a low altitude emergency. The emergency part of my last flight was (at best guess) only about 30-45 seconds from start to hitting ground.

DO NOT spend much time at low altitude trying to trouble shoot at the expense of flying the airplane. In the first few seconds I was just stunned it was happening again, then the next 5-10 seconds flipping the boost pump on and off and trying to see if that would work (as I was semi-convinced at that point it was the engine driven fuel pump that had failed). When I did cross check the ASI, it was precipitously dropping past 60. I immediately pushed the nose over, and devoted my full concentration to flying the plane the last 30 seconds or so. I am absolutely convinced now, that many stall-spin accidents in these situations are guys trying to trouble shoot too long. On the other hand, had I had about 10-15 more seconds I might have been able to switch tanks and that might have helped, but I'll never know for sure.

Have a canopy smashing tool very close at hand. NOT in back, not behind the seat, VERY close at hand. I very nearly went over on my back and that was what I was most fearful of is getting trapped with the fuel now ON TOP of me (although I was wearing my nomex flight suit and boots from my work).

Pay for good insurance!

I'm sure I'll think of more...
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Old 10-01-2013, 12:15 PM
Mike S's Avatar
Mike S Mike S is online now
Senior Curmudgeon
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Dayton Airpark, NV A34
Posts: 16,100

You stated the plane was a 1991 vintage. That means it was probably started in the 1980s......

Do you know if the fuel tanks were "Sloshed""
Mike Starkey
VAF 909

Rv-10, N210LM.

Flying as of 12/4/2010

Phase 1 done, 2/4/2011

Sold after 240+ wonderful hours of flight.

"Flying the airplane is more important than radioing your plight to a person on the ground incapable of understanding or doing anything about it."

Last edited by Mike S : 10-01-2013 at 01:07 PM.
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Old 10-01-2013, 12:24 PM
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Don Don is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 696

Interesting write up and analysis. I appreciate your frankness and willingness to discuss the incident and congratulations on how you handled the situation.

I am curious about what time frame your RV was built and if you know whether the tanks were sealed with "slosh" or proseal? I've never heard of proseal coming loose but that doesn't mean it can't or doesn't happen. Sloshed tanks have been the subject of a Van's SB and are a known issue.

Thanks again.
Don Alexander
RV-9A 257SW Purchase Flying - O-320, Dynon D100
RV-9A 702DA (reserved) Finish Kit IOX-340
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Old 10-01-2013, 12:26 PM
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Mel Mel is offline
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Dallas area
Posts: 11,223

Originally Posted by Mike S View Post
You stated the plane was a 1991 vintage.
Do you know if the fuel tanks were "Sloshed""
I agree that "slosh" would be my first suspect. Also the slosh can easily cover the original "bench made" pick-ups. These are much easier to block with a leaf of slosh than the later screen pick-ups.
Mel Asberry, DAR since the last century. Over 1,000 certifications accomplished. Discount for Veterans, Law Enforcement, Fire Fighters.
EAA Flight Advisor/Tech Counselor, Friend of the RV-1
Recipient of Tony Bingelis Award and Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award
USAF Vet, High School E-LSA Project Mentor.
RV-6 Flying since 1993 (sold)
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Old 10-01-2013, 12:30 PM
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pmccoy pmccoy is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Orange County CA
Posts: 646

First off, I am glad you are around to share your story and experience. Nice job getting the plane on the ground. You walked away... that's a good landing.

Second, thanks for taking the time and effort to share your experience. We all take on the risks of flying with every flight. When things are going well, we can forget how quickly it can change.
Peter McCoy
RV9A N35PM S/N:91335
First Flight: April 2013
Hobbs: 400 hours after Oshkosh 2017
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