Non-Fatal Accidents, 1995

Engine Problems, Panic, and Crash

Charlie Boehnlein has posted this story on the Ultralight Mailing List as well as publishing it in Ultralight Flying!, so I'm breaking with tradition and putting his name on it. He hopes that by making his story available it might help someone else avoid a similar accident. Thanks, Charlie, for such generous sharing.

From the Ultralight Mailing List:There was some discussion on the list at the time of your accident concerning the cause. Several people speculated that you suffered an engine failure early in the climb out and tried to turn back to the field. Is that right?

Pilot: Several of you have ask me to commit on my crash. I will try to responded in an educational format but forgive me in advance if I ramble on or get carried away in my recanting of the worst day in my life


By Charlie Boehnlein

The day was December 2nd 1995. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining and it was warm for a winter day. I had gone to Arnolds Airport in Springfield KY. to taxi test my HiMax. My good friends Frank Snider and Ray Shook were on hand to offer moral support. Frank was flying his Quicksilver and Ray was shooting video of the taxing events.

My high speed taxi work was going fine. I had spent several hours taxing this tail dragger before this day, it wasn't new to me. It felt very comfortable sitting in the ultralight while buzzing up and down the runway. I started as I normally did by slow speed taxing and worked my way up to higher speed taxing. The next step was building speed until I was able to lift the tail of the ultralight plane and taxi down the runway. All was well with motor and pilot. Full rpm's and low cht on every trip down the runway.

Now it was time for the next step. Flying low down the runway. This is the point that the nerves started to take notice. I went through the standard scenario's in my mind before each trip down the runway. What do you do if you gain altitude faster then you want to? Remember the runway gets short quick, watch your speed. What do you do if you gain altitude and the motor quits? What do you do if you bounce the plane when setting it back down? Should you go around the pattern if you run out of runway and you're too high? What's the stall speed? Should I three point the landing or wheel land it? Keep it low, keep it low. Remember the stall speed, watch the cht and rpm's. You know the normal kind of thing you think about (smile).

I felt I had the answers to all these questions. I felt it was automatic. I felt I was ready to go for it. Go for it I did. The first few low altitude flights went just fine. My confidence was growing with each run. Then came that final run. The one that ended up being the last every for the HiMax and almost the last every for me. Before I tell you what happens next, let me tell you what I have flown in the past. I have flown Cessna 150 and 152 planes, a Piper Cub, a Quicksilver MX, a Aeroplane XP (Easy Riser wing) and my Flight Design Trike. I have had a few hours flight time before December 2nd.

The next part is easy to describe but hard to explain. I have had several months to think about what caused this accident and the reason can only be explained as THE HUMAN FACTOR. This flight started just fine, full rpm and low cht. The tail came up easy and down the runway I went. This time the ultralight jumped up in the air quicker then before. I was airborne and running out of runway quickly. It was decision time. My choice was to fly around the pattern. On climb out, about 100 feet up the rpm's dropped down to 5800. This would have been enough rpm's if I had been flying at a normal attitude. The reason for the drop in rpm's was not know at the time and I can only guess now what caused it. The result of the dropping of rpm's was panic on my part. Could it have been that I was hanging on the prop because of a nose high attitude? The controls became mushy and I was not climbing. This added to the panic. In my panic I never once looked at the two airspeed indicators I had on this ultralight. My instinct told me to get back to the airstrip.

This was another mistake. I could have landed straight ahead in an open field. Think panic, I didn't make the correct decision once again. I thought it's stalling and put the nose down a little and made a turn (gotta get back to the airstrip). Mistake after mistake, remember this was panic not logical thinking. Those of you that have ever faced panic know what I mean. This was the first time I have ever panicked in my life. It was almost the last chance for it to happen. Got to get back to the airstrip, one more turn at stall speed and the left wing made a sharp dip down followed be the nose of the ultralight.

I remember saying to my self " O God here it comes " .

I woke up with the fire department putting me on a spine board. It was down hill from here for the next week or two. I will spare you from the details of this part of my adventure but to say that the good Lord was with me or I would be in my grave instead of writing this story. It has been over two months since that day. I'm recovering slowly but surely.

What caused this accident? Panic, a total brain locking panic. What could have prevented it. Who really knows, all I can do is make a few suggestions so that maybe it won't happen to anyone else.

Makes lots of off field landings each year so that you don't develop the "Got to get back" to the airstrip syndrome.

Get reoccurring emergency landing training each year from your local BFI so that you're better prepared for the inevitable.

Get two place training in any new stile of ultralight you are going to fly. If a two place isn't made by the manufacture of the type you are going to fly, consider another ultralight or the next best and closest ultralight to your model. Then talk to lots of people that fly your ultralight.

Panic, I don't know a cure that's quick enough to do any good once it sets in. You will have to ask someone that's lived through it after having it happen more then once.

Watch that stall speed, keep smiling and keep peace with the man upstairs.

You could be "that other guy" things always seem to happen too.

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