Lessons Learned

Besides building the PT-19 and doing occasional yard work, I continue to fly as often as I can in the morning. Some of my time is spent preparing new planes and repairing as needed. Many of the members of our club meet almost every day at the soccer field in Holder.

Last week, Doug was flying FPV (viewing his flight with a tiny on-board camera) when the camera battery went dead. His Bixler glider had gotten so far away — and we dropped the ball in spotting for him — that it sailed away out of sight. We searched the area and a little beyond, but no luck. Doug has his name and phone number in it, and hopefully it will turn up sometime soon.

Today, I was flying the planes from my current fleet of small craft. Shortly after I took this shot, I fired up the largest of these, the “Wingo” at the upper right. I am considering using this as an FPV platform, so I’m trying to get comfortable with her flight characteristics. She’ll glide very well, but without ailerons, all turns are performed with the rudder, making it a little awkward and susceptible to losing altitude quickly.

I was flying at a fairly high altitude and frequently cutting the throttle to glide on the slight wind. Evidently, the upper-level winds were a bit more than I was experiencing on the ground and the Wingo slowly gained altitude and drifted farther away. It was soaring over the high-tension power lines before I realized it was too far for me to discern which direction it was pointing. I could still see it as a dot, but had to guess if it was pointed to me to bring it back. Finally, I gave up and killed the throttle allowing it to settle to earth on  its own.

As I memorized the tallest objects that it went behind (it was easily a half a mile or more–across hwy 491), it dawned on me that I had procrastinated putting my name and address in the plane. If I didn’t find it, the Wingo was a goner.

I grabbed my transmitter, jumped in my car, and headed across the highway. On the edge of the road were pieces of white styrofoam. I thought, “Well, I guess I can glue it all back together”, but closer inspection revealed a destroyed cooler instead. It was also revealed that I was standing in a large patch of sandspurs which quickly (and painfully) filled my socks. I didn’t have time to fool with that, so I just endured the pain and continued to search. Directly across the road was a huge fenced-in power substation. My white plane did not appear amidst the high-voltage equipment, so I parked on the little driveway that served as access for the power workers and spiraled outward from there. I searched the nearby woods and fields and tried my best not to add to my collection of sandspurs around my feet. Every few minutes, I would activate the throttle control on my transmitter, hoping to hear the responding whir of a propeller. Unfortunately, the high-voltage machinery gave off a steady hum that may have masked the sound of a prop.

After about 45 minutes, I decided to check-in with the guys, accept the well-deserved admonition from them for my stupidity, collect my stuff and continue my search on the way home. I was going to pick off the sandspurs before I left the flightline, but finally decided to just remove my socks and take care of it later.

I parked again on the little access road and explored the area beyond the substation, including a fairly extensive RV Park. I walked a little further northeast, approaching a cleared area on a hill. It was quieter as I left the vicinity of the substation, and I picked up a very faint noise one time when I applied full throttle. I headed closer to the clearing and was able to clearly discern the sound of my propeller. The Wingo had glided to a landing, about four feet within some woods — and it was right-side up.

Amazingly, it was completely undamaged as well! I gave the pilot a commendation, and doubled his salary.

I had dodged a bullet. This evening, I printed out my name, address, phone number, and AMA # on all my larger planes (like I was supposed to do). I will also be more careful to stay in the proximity of the flying field from now on. Whew!