Posted April 1998

Back in ancient Rome, if the commander of a legion gained a great victory, he would be allowed to enter the city in a triumphal parade. Wagons would show the haul of loot obtained, prisoners would be dragged wailing in their chains, and the General himself would ride in all his polished glory on a great war-chariot.

But with the General rode a slave. The slave was assigned was to keep the great victor humble. He'd remind the General that he was a human being, not a god. He'd claim the General's lorica made his butt look big, claim every good-looking woman who winked at the hero was actually a man, and wrinkle his nose suspiciously every time the chariot passed a stockyard. All during the great parade, the slave would remind the General that he put his toga on one fold at a time, like any other man.

Two thousands years later, we don't have slaves. We have airplanes, instead.

The day hadn't started well. I had to pull Moonraker's turtledeck off to do some minor maintenance. Then I noticed my goggles were smeared, and cleaned them with the same stuff I used on the windshield. At which point I noticed a strong warning that it caused eye irritation. I decided to slip the goggles up on my forehead if my eyes started to burn, but noticed that the hold-down strap on my helmet was nearly torn off.

Delay, bother. By the time I took off, the mostly-cloudy afternoon had lost the "mostly," and the wind seemed to be picking up. I decided to drop by a nearby airport to borrow a Chaptermate's ANR headset to see how it'd work in an open cockpit.

I fly into his home airfield relatively rarely. It's a classic Northwest gash-in-the-trees runway.

Even worse, the wind was from the south. I traditionally have trouble landing to the south at the that field. The runway itself is level, but the surrounding terrain slopes down to the North. The landing end of the runway is essentially atop a tree-covered bluff, which throws your height-perception off. Back when I bought my 150 (after not flying for seven years) I darn near crunched that poor Cessna several times, trying to land to the South.

All of that didn't occur to me as I entered the pattern for runway one-five. I had some slight trepidation, but mind was still someone distracted by the other problems of the day. And I'd been fly Fly Babies a long time.

Then on short final, I hit the sink.

The bottom dropped out. Airspeed evaporated like dry ice in the Sahara. The stick hit the aft stop. In the last, fleeting microsecond, I realized we were aimed for the very lip of the asphalt and wondered if it would flip us.


We hit with a slam I haven't felt for years. Moonraker rebounded into the air. Instinct finally woke up. The Continental roared. I kept us from hitting again, establishing a climb.

My gaze shot left and right. Both wings in place, landing wires no slacker than normal. No shouts on the radio about parts left behind. Doubts warred. I had plenty of runway left. Should I pull the power, land, and check the airplane over?

Just then I looked down into a face of a man who had been working on his airplane. I could see the grin. There had been two airplanes waiting to take off behind me.

Sad to say, that clinched the decision. I didn't want to be seen; I wanted to climb under a rock somewhere and curse the Wright brothers. I kept climbing and headed for home, just seven miles away.

In retrospect, I feel less guilty about my decision not to try salvage the landing. I was *definitely* rattled. I could have brought the plane around for another approach, but would have had to face the sink again. Probably better I took ten minutes to settle down on the way back to a familiar runway.

On the way, I kept wondering. The only shock absorption on the Fly Baby landing gear is the tires...and Moonraker has small tires. Was either of them flat? That'd mean a groundloop, maybe even a noseover.

A glance at the voltmeter brought another concern. Since my repairs two months ago, it has been solid as a rock. But now it was twitching. It wasn't going especially high or low, but it was jumping up and down. I switched off the generator. The voltmeter *still* twitched, although not as high.

What was happening? Did I have wires swinging back and forth, shorting out? Had the battery been slammed through the bottom of its box, and now was dangling at the ends of its wires.

The weather had continued to deteriorate. Raindrops splattered the windshield as I entered on the 45. The wind had veered, and was now a strong crosswind.

I was still jittery. I ended up staying much too high on approach, and ended up in a prolonged slip to get down on short final. We dropped towards the asphalt. I overflared. The crosswind waggled the nose. I added a bit of power, and managed to ease the wheels onto the runway.

My mind eased as the 'Baby rolled out normally. I rode the brakes and turned off at the center taxiway. Down the row of hangars, turn the tail towards my assigned spot, kill the switches.

And then for the first time, I remembered it. Moonraker's G Meter. I looked.

It was pegged at the maximum reading: +4.0 Gs.

With a feeling of dread, I unfolded myself from the cockpit and walked around the wing to examine the gear.

No damage. The axle *might* have a slight bend to it, but I couldn't swear the bend hadn't been there before. No cracks in the wheels, no gouges out of the tires, no stripped bolts, no broken welds, no snapped wires, and the bottom longerons where the gear legs attach flowed with nary a kink. The battery was still out of sight; it hadn't punched out the belly. I noticed the rubber cuff around the gas-tank filler tube. The cuff was about an eighth-inch above the level of the surrounding sheet metal. Either the gas tank flattened slightly on impact, dragging the tube down, or the metal skins flexed and shoved the cuff up.

Either way, that is one *strong* homebuilt.

I'd been feeling like hot stuff lately. Touch and goes had become routine in an airplane that many find difficult to land smoothly. Maybe I've been so full of myself that I haven't been listening; perhaps the airplane decided that whispering in my ear wasn't enough. There's nothing like a nearly-bent bird to point out both one's flaws and one's mortality.

Any landing you can learn from is a good landing. On that basis, maybe I didn't do too bad. :-)

Comments? Contact Ron Wanttaja.

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