Turlock Fly-In

From ultralight-flight-errors@inslab.uky.edu Wed Feb 21 17:24:20 1996
Return-Path: (ultralight-flight-errors@inslab.uky.edu)
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 1996 16:50:36 EST
From: MR JOHN M TALBERT (talbert@stonemedia.com)
X-Mailer: PRODIGY Services Company Internet mailer [PIM 3.2-334.50]
Message-Id: (013.01746708.talbert@stonemedia.com)
To: ultralight-flight@ms.uky.edu
Subject: Flying Stories (long)
Status: R

Since a lot of folks out there have been stuck on the ground with the bad weather, I thought I would pass along a story I wrote last summer after one of my flights. It should go right along with Broomsticks stories of crash and destruction. Hope you enjoy it.

I arrived at the Lodi airport early in the morning on a beautiful Summer day, excited about flying my Challenger ultralight to the annual Turlock Fly-in. Jim, another Challenger owner and Ben, a Kolb flyer planned to make the trip with me. This was my first cross- country and first opportunity to fly with other ultralighters since moving to California. Imagine my surprise when GT Jim, GT for short, taxied up unexpectedly in his GT-400, and a Beaver from Sacramento on its way to the fly-in landed to refuel. After introductions and refueling, we departed the airport with the lone GPS equipped aircraft in the lead.

With only a 5 gallon fuel tank I didn't think I could make it all the way to Turlock, so we made a fuel stop in Oakdale about 40 miles south of Lodi. After refueling we departed safely and continued on to the fly-in. Im sure we made an impression on the spectators below, as all 5 of us passed over the runway, turned downwind, set up for the approach and landed safely. We spent the rest of the day admiring all the other aircraft, talking to fellow pilots and watching the aerial competitions.

After a full day of activities it was time to leave, so we said our good-byes and prepared for the trip home. Because we hadnt refueled in Turlock, GT and I would again require a fuel stop in Oakdale before heading on to Lodi. We had followed the pilot with the GPS on the way down, but he had departed earlier that day, so we would have to navigate home the old fashioned way. Ben, an excellent pilot and navigator was chosen to lead the way. About halfway to Oakdale I noticed that Jim and GT were veering off to the East. I thought we were following Ben, so I couldnt figure where they were going. Suddenly, I realized how valuable a radio could be when our group started to separate and I couldnt talk to the other pilots. As the separation increased, I found myself in a dilemma. Should I follow Ben, whos navigation skills were excellent, or Jim, whom I thought was more familiar with the route? I opted to follow Jim. If I had brought my sectional with me, I could have cross checked our navigation, but I had unfortunately left it back in Lodi. I made the mistake of depending upon the naviagation skills of other pilots to get me home safely. Before long Ben disappeared off to the West, and I chided myself for not bringing my sectional.

The Oakdale airport is located on the Southeast edge of Oakdale, and I thought I could see the city up ahead. As we got closer I strained my eyes looking for the airport, "It should be right in front of us," I told myself. I was scanning frantically for a runway, because I knew that I would run out of gas if I didnt land soon. As we passed over what I thought was Oakdale, Jim made a 90 degree turn to the West and I realized we were lost. I had no idea where the "real" Oakdale was and for a brief moment, panic swept over me. After regaining my composure, I started thinking about my options. My first thought was to gain altitude, figuring the additional altitude would help me find a suitable landing site if I ran out of fuel. Next, I debated whether to land immediately, or wait until I ran out of gas. I decided to land while I still had fuel, since the idea of a dead stick landing didnt appeal to me. I also worried about GT, who I knew was in the same predicament as I was. I didnt want to walk for help any farther than I had to, so I picked a pasture next to a home, circled down and landed safely.

I looked up after landing, hoping that the others had seen me, but they were no where in sight. I did catch the eye of a surprised homeowner who was out watering her yard. She was very hospitable and offered me a map, directions, and some gas. She showed me that I was only about 10 miles south of Oakdale, and with renewed confidence, I took off and headed straight for the airport. When I arrived, Ben was there, patiently waiting and wondering where the rest of us had gone. I explained to him what had happened to me, and we both expressed worries about GT.

After refueling, we took off and had an uneventful trip back to Lodi. We were surprised after landing when Jim drove up and told us that he flown direct to Lodi after realizing he was lost. He didnt know that GT and I had been following him and hadnt seen me go down. He also expressed concern that GT hadnt arrived yet and we all pondered what had become of him. Later that week we learned that GT had not seen my emergency landing and had attempted to follow Jim direct to Lodi without the fuel stop. GT can see his fuel tank in flight, so he kept a close eye on the fuel level and figured that he would land if the fuel got too low. GT assumed that if there was still gas in the tank, the engine would run until the tank was dry. Wrong! The fuel pick-up went nowhere near the bottom of the tank, so he unexpectedly ran out of gas 17 miles from the airport. He made a hard landing in a field and broke off one of his main gears. Luckily, a friendly farmer was nearby and was able to weld the axle back together. With some gas and a temporary repair to his axle, GT was able to take off and make it back to Lodi.

I thought about the events of that day and realized that our group had made some serious mistakes, and we were lucky that no one had been seriously hurt. I would like to discuss some of those mistakes and suggest some things we could have done to make the day a lot safer.

Our first mistake was not discussing group flight procedures prior to taking off. If we had properly planned that days flight, we could have avoided all the trouble we got into. Items such as route of travel, aircraft separation, forced landing procedures, and communication techniques would have been appropriate. When flying in a group, and especially when the group hasnt flown together before, ensure all flyers have a complete understanding of the route ahead and who will be doing the navigating. In addition, never leave your sectional at home unless you are thoroughly familiar with the route and have no doubt about your ability to get home without it. You never know when you might have to navigate by yourself.

How about communicating? If some aircraft lack radios such as in our situation, place the planes with radios in the lead and trail positions. This will enable the trailing aircraft to notify the lead aircraft if someone in the middle has run into problems. If no one has radios, work out some hand signals and fly in a formation that allows everyone to see each other. This is especially important in case your group will be flying over hostile terrain and someone went down. If needed, you will be able to accurately direct rescue authorities to your downed partners.

Fuel planning was another problem. When GT and I decided not to refuel in Turlock, it proved to be our most serious mistake, and resulted in forced landings. If small tanks limit your range, take every opportunity to top off your fuel supply. Also, be thoroughly familiar with the range and endurance aspects of your aircraft. Keep a close eye on your watch during long flights and be suspicious if it seems like you have more fuel than you should. Its possible for your fuel gauge to malfunction and give you false readings.

I have discovered that flying with friends can provide some of our most exciting and memorable events, but before taking off, ensure that you and your group are properly prepared. A little time spent planning before you leave will increase the odds that your trip will be safe and problem free.

John Talbert
Vacaville, CA

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