|By Ed Burkhead
Here's my winter flying story. Some times it's appropriate to tell
stories on yourself. This is the season for this winter-cautionary tale.
"Ed, when did you join the Ercoupe glider club? This is the first
I have heard of it. Sound interesting. When you have a few minutes, write more. Warren"
Actually, it was my second flight in my coupe, which was also my
second flight after getting my private license.
It was winter. It was the winter of 1979 and it was the coldest and
worst winter I've seen. The runways were packed snow for three months,
then airplane sucking mud. The piles of snow got to be 7-12 feet high
one both sides of the runway, down the whole length. The runway kept
getting narrower because the first snow was only pushed out to 70 feet
out on each side of the centerline and we kept getting more snow.
My instructor wouldn't go with me (I think he was chicken) and he
said it flew just like any other plane, go ahead and fly. (This plane
has rudder pedals.)
He was mostly right.
My first flight in my Coupe was solo, my training flight. That week,
the temperature was running about -5 degrees at mid afternoon. Please
imagine my caution doing my three take offs and landings with a 60-70
foot wide runway, obstacles on both sides, packed snow surface only
moderately polished. The first flight went OK and I was exhausted for
The next day, I did a cross country, flying about an hour west to a
town where I used to live, than back to the airport.
About 10 miles from my airport, the engine stopped making the humming
noise. Within the next three seconds, I pulled carb heat, picked a
landing spot, planned for gliding speed, picked a field below and ...
The engine came back to full power.
I looked back at the last airport I'd passed about seven or eight
miles behind, then ahead to my airport. Behind required flying over a
town of about 10,000 people. Farmland ahead.
After a portion of a minute, the engine lost power again.
The stops got longer and the starts got shorter. I picked a field
straight ahead for an into-the-wind landing. Thoughts of the six o'clock
news and my mother's reaction danced in my head. I made no emergency
transmission since in my previous radio checks no one had been able to
understand a word I had said. I also didn't close the fuel valves or
turn off the master switch.
After gliding down for a while at the gliding speed I'd found in the
book and five or ten magazine articles, 70 mph., I realized I couldn't
make my field. Fortunately, the field I was going to hit was also clear
and smooth, just covered with snow.
At flare height, I pulled back on the yoke to find that it was
already within a fraction of an inch of the stop. The plane just kind of
leaned back a bit then whumppp! The rollout was about 60 feet in a foot
of dense snow. Though it was plowed ground, the wheels never broke
through the dense snow. It turns out that, in my 415-D with a quite
inaccurate airspeed indicator, minimum _indicated_ flying speed was 65.
I had made my approach right down to minimum speed.
Inspection after getting out showed no visible damage.
This is when the fun started.
I hiked a few hundred feet to the farm house across the highway. I
knocked on the back door and the farmer opened the door.
I asked if I could please use his phone to call a mechanic.
He said, sure. And was I broken down on the road nearby?
I said, well, actually no. I was in the field across the road.
He asked, what are you doing in the field?
I said, well, I was flying by and the engine stopped so I landed
there. Could I use that phone, now, please?
He said, !!Mabel!! (I'm not sure it was Mabel, but that's how my
memory recorded it.) He was flying by and landed in the field!
I thanked them for their offer of breakfast and dialed back to my
airport. The airport owner / flying instructor's wife answered the
phone. Hi, Jenny, I said, ummm could I talk to Dave (the mechanic)for a
Sure, Ed, she said. Ed? Ed, weren't you flying?
Well, yes, but I had to land in this field, ummm could I talk to
Ed? Said the instructor. What happened?
In the long run, the instructor and the mechanic were brought out by
a guy with a big pickup truck. Dave inspected the landing gear, the skin
showed no wrinkles, the engine mounts seemed perfect. Everything looked
normal, except ... We found a disk of ice most of an inch thick in the
gascolator. We pulled the fuel line from the header tank and no fuel
A trip to the gas station a few miles away got us come HEAT. Pouring
the heat into the header tank resulted in a gush of fuel after about six
seconds as it melted the ice blockage. We shut off the fuel valve,
reconnected the fuel line, turned on the valve and watched the ice flow
in the gascolator jiggle and melt in about a minute. We drained and
checked till we were sure there was no ice or water left.
Towing the plane to the highway wasn't too hard. Then we checked
everything again. Then again. Then I started the engine and it ran fine.
I did a full power run up. No problems.
The pickup went a half mile south to the top of an overpass. I was
sitting in the farmer's driveway with the engine running. When the last
vehicle passed out of the space between us, we both pulled out to block
the highway and I took off. Since the wind had picked up, it was now
about a 30 mph direct cross wind. That was an experience worth paying
for at the amusement park. But I knew to keep it down till it was
definitely ready to fly. When the wheels lightened up enough to start
skittering sideways on the ground, I pulled back on the yoke and up we
In the last vehicle to go by on the highway, a garbage truck, the
driver watched this in his rear view mirror. He found the airport and
signed up for flying lessons the next week.
The landing back at the home field with the new and improved wind and
white, semi-concrete, 12 foot, runway side markers added even more to my
In summary, before I bought it, the plane had received major
maintenance all fall and early winter, in and out of the shop with
partially filled tanks, all before I bought it. Tiny amounts of water
were drawn into the tank and they wouldn't drain because they were
frozen to the bottom of the tank. During the two hour flight, the ice
melted. It slowly refroze in the gascolator and the metal fitting that
goes through the fire wall, giving progressive fuel starvation. It may
be that at zero to 30 below zero, using a gas line anti icer might give
more value than fuel system damage. Anyone know of an approved aviation
In retrospect, I might have made it home by pumping on the primer.
But, I got lucky as it was so I'm quite happy enough.
And the six o'clock news never even heard about me.