50 minutes of terror
On the 21st May 2011 I departed Brantford airport in my Glasair 3 on route to Oshawa, at approximately 200 feet the Gull canopy on the left side (pilot’s side) detached itself from the fuselage, there was a loud “BANG” I thought that the canopy had collided with the tail section, I continued to climb, very carefully checking for any control problems, there were none, thank goodness, I declared an emergency, and told all concerned that runway 23 was mine along with any runway at the airport, fortunately, two other aircraft heard my call and stayed away.
The aircraft was marginally controllable, a lot of buffeting, deploying the gear down and flap would also have some aerodynamic effects on the aircraft, (Attitude + Power = performance) I decided to increase the power to offset the resulting drag coefficient, the gear came down and The indicator showed three green lights, imagine having a gear problem at the same time.
Choosing a higher power setting certainly helped, now the deployments of flaps, little more power and flap 1, no appreciable effects, flap 2 nothing unusual, flap 3 and on final, the fear factor didn’t enter into the equation, I wanted a successful landing, I concluded the flight but very upset that this beautiful aircraft had been damaged, how am I going to tell the builder that his master piece was damaged.
Harry Weber was the builder, an absolute gentleman, he sold me the aircraft, but Harry Weber will always be the real owner. I had to bring the aircraft back to Oshawa for repair, I checked with Glasair about flying the aircraft back to Oshawa without the canopy, their first response was, “ you are lucky to be alive” , that certainly was reassuring.
They knew of only one other pilot who flew a G3 without the canopy and that was for about 20 minutes he was a high time test pilot, and airshow pilot, they did say that another pilot also lost his canopy, unfortunately He was unable to control the aircraft, lost control with two fatalities, pilot and passenger, so I guess luck was on my side.
Anyway, I decided to become a test pilot and fly the aircraft to Oshawa, upon departure from Brantford, the aircraft became quite uncontrollable, much worse that the first time. I called Brantford Unicom and told them this was not working and I had to land, albeit, the aircraft was manageable, I had a change of mind, if some other pilot was able to fly under these conditions, then surely I could do the same, and with this deranged thinking I decided to continue to Oshawa.
The folks at Brantford must have thought I was a little crazy, the flight back was possibly the worst flight that I have ever conducted, (I now refer to it as my 50 minutes of pure terror) excessive buffeting, I had to crouch down to avoid the buffeting and hear the radio, the instrument panel was shaking, the rear panel behind the pilots seat became unhinged and was flapping in the back, the aircraft wanted to go to the right, I used both hands, the left hand on the left stick and the right hand on the right stick and left pedal to maintain level flight, I was curious to know what would happen if I released the pressure on the sticks, I attempted this test pilot experiment only to be surprised as the aircraft veered to the right wings going 90 degrees to the vertical, I was able to bring the aircraft back to it’s level unstable flight path. It was now blatantly obvious that any inattention on my part would result in a right departure and a subsequent stall spin condition.
The active runway Oshawa was runway 30, it was gusting at the surface, so the landing was a challenge, but certainly safe, the crosswind component was within limits, I had to maintain a higher approach speed, the normal approach speed on the Glasair 3 is 80 kts, any slower and you become a flying manhole cover, with a higher speed the landing roll would also be in question, with the wind 270 – 25G30 I knew I would get some help from mother nature, sine of 30 deg is .5 so I crabbed 15 degrees and arrived on the port main wheel again luck was on my side with successful conclusion.
Someone once said I had a lot of experience, well, it seems all my experiences are from errors that I have made, I thought that I had secured the canopy, lesson learned, bottom line, fly the aircraft, inattention during this crucial phase of flight often results in disaster, regardless of the circumstances, fly the aircraft, my claim to fame now is that I am only the second fool to fly a Glasair 3 with only half the canopy. With four engine failures, and two single engine landing in multi engine aircraft, the departure of the canopy was by far the most serious.