I'm Going DOWN !!!

I'm going DOWN !!!

These were the words I heard over my radio last Sunday Morning, words I always had hoped I'd never hear.

It all began when Nick, Ike, and myself left for our fantasy flight to Callaway Gardens in N.W. Gerogia. Callaway is one of those resort places where the restaurants will pick you up....and return you to your plane after one fabulous meal. All you have to do when you land is decide which of a dozen or so restaruants you would like to visit, and the chauffer takes you there.

We were airborne by 9:00 A.M., climbing into a cool, blue morning sky...very smooth. Our destination was only 71 miles away, and with a slight tailwind, we had an honest ground speed of 65 MPH. This flight is going to be great I thought as we leveled off at 2000 ft.

After about 15 minutes of flying we began approaching small patches of rising, broken ground fog. It was one of those rare instances when the sight of the ground, sky, and clouds below you, takes your breath away....too fairytale-like for words. We all flew in loose formation... in silence... for the next few miles...each just enjoying the feeling of being alone in this wonderland.

Suddenly I realized that our little puffy white clouds were beginning to get organized and bunch up on us. In just a short while we will be over solid overcast. "Nick?....Ike?....we need to circle down and get below these clouds" "Rodger....we'll follow your lead"

At 1000 ft I leveled-off just under the cloud base...but we were over ground that was 700 ft MSL. We found ourselves flying at 300 feet above tree-tops...and I mean TREE-TOPS....for as far as the eye could see. N.W. Georgia is the beginning of the apalachian mountains....and we had already begun to over-fly the vast forests that run for two thousands miles, from Georgia to Maine.

Just seconds after I heard Nick and Ike respond that they had me in sight ahead of them, I heard..."I'm in trouble"....."I'm going down" I could tell it was Ikes' voice over the radio....I quickly scanned for a landing site. "Ike....off my left wing tip, 1/4 mile...theres a field....can you see it?" I instinctivley turned for the field, but didn't hear a reply from Ike. "Ike?....there's a field just to my left".

"I've got it....I think I can make it". Just then I cought sight of Ike on his long approach into the only field we had seen in a half hour. I circled as I watched Ike fly a loose base, and then turn final into this field in the middle of no-where. I was glad Ike had practiced true dead-stick landings after I had soloed him....but this one was for REAL. He did great. >From the air it looked just like any other landing. "Good Job Ike"...I radioed. "Do you need help?"

I decided to land and help Ike figure out what was wrong with his engine. He assured me the little path I could see from the air was smooth enough to land on so I set up my landing pattern.

I landed VERY softly...but on the roll out my nose wheel found a rut...AND BROKE OFF!!! Great I thought....Now there's two of us stuck in the middle of no-where.

Ikes' problem turned out to be a loose ground wire on one of the engine coils. We had him fixed in about two minutes. My problem was much more serious, but after close examination, all that was broken was the nose wheel fork, and I knew I had a spare back at home field....bent, from the episode with the PP check out fiasco...but still servicable. I radioed to Nick to return home....find my old nose fork and tools, and call on the mobile phone.

We spent the remainder of the morning, and most of the afternoon repairing my plane in the field, and trying to flatten out the weeds in this field to prepare a runway for take-off. Ike had landed in 4 to 5 foot tall weeds....and this we had to make into a runway. The "smooth" little path that I had landed on turned out to be mostly an erosion wash through the middle of the field. With help from the hunters that had leased this land for deer season, and a few locals that showed up (local from where I'll never know)...we had beaten the weeds down for 400 ft. with pickup trucks and 4-wheelers. This was a suitable length for Ike, flying his 503 powered Flightstar Spyder, but I wasn't so sure I could get out of there with my Flightstar II.

When the monent of truth arrived, we held Ikes' struts and tail until he developed full power. At his signal we "launched" him. He SLOWLY began to accelerate, all the while swirving radically back and forth from the weeds clawing at his landing gear... but just before he reached the end of our make-shift runway...he lifted off. We all breathed a sigh of relief....but I turned to Ricky standing beside me..."Rick, I can't get out of here". "I know" he replied, without even taking his eyes off Ike as he climbed away. "Chad, I don't think you should try it, I just barely made it" radioed Ike. "Thanks Ike, good luck..we'll see you at home".

So there I sat, with a flyable airplane...but no runway to take-off with. This is the only time since I built the Flightstar, that I'm glad it comes with folding wings. We folded them, and towed the Flightstar down a dirt road for about a half mile to the nearest paved road. I finally found a runway. Never mind the fact that there were powerlines bordering the right side, and TALL trees bordering BOTH sides. There was room for my wings to clear if I held a perfectly true line as I climbed up between the trees. Atleast it was smooth...and long enough. Now if we can only get the thing re-assembled before the local sherrif comes along and puts a halt on our party. Flying from a public road is a no-no in this county. With help from the hunters, locals, Rick and Nick (they drove back with the parts earlier), in about an hour and a half we had the Flightstar airworthy again, sitting on the side of Hwy 19, creating quite a sight for the mororists as they drove by. As I was reaching for the pull handle, I heard a rumble. Looking up I saw a bright flash of lightening. We'll, we will just have to sit here til the thunderstorm passes. So Nick and I sat in the Flightstar on the side of the road, sharing our last cigarette between us, watching the rain pour down on us, and hwy 19...and wondering how much longer before the sherrif comes along.

After about twenty minutes, the rain began to subside, but the wind was still bending the trees back and forth like whips. I knew that in just a little while, the wind should die completely....at least I hoped so. We positioned Rick one mile north on Hwy 19, and two of the hunters 1 mile south, each with a radio. When the wind finally died I radioed to Rick "All clear?" "Go for it" came his reply. "Clear to the South?" "Clear" came the reply. I taxied out onto the highway and pointed my nose at the steeple on the church that was just at the bend of the road....a half mile away. I took a look up at the tops of the trees on both sides of the road. They were perfectly still. Full Power....a short roll....and I'm off....focusing my eyes on the imaginary center of the clear space between the trees....and finally I'm out of there above the trees and powerlines, and on my way home. When I met Ricky at our home field about an hour later, he told me the very next car that passed him after I took off was the SHERRIF. At least one bit of good luck.

So our little fantasy trip din't turn out the way we had planned. Back at home field, as the sun was dropping down below the horizon, I looked at Ike, Nick, and Ricky. They were all filthy with dried sweat, a little blood from thistles and thorns, and exhausted from the days activity.....but we were all smiling, laughing, and joking at all the misfortune we had experienced that day. I glanced over and saw all three of our little airplanes back in their hangars, safely secured to their tie-downs. All in All....we had a pretty good day of Ultralight flying.

Chad Hilbert

Epilog: I informed Ike, Nick, and Ricky....If any of you go down again, you better get on the radio and scream "I'm HURT....I'm Hurt" or I'm leaving you there.

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