Sept.24, 1995 approx. 7:30pm
"Maybe I should go with you", said my wife, but I told her it would just be a quick flight. I was excited going over preflight for the Long EZ. The flashlight beam darting about the exterior of the strange looking white plane. There is something special about flying over the glowing city lights on a bright moonlight night. Besides, I was going to try out my new strobes!
Everything looked fine on the ground and the plane was ready to go. I went over my EZ check-list for engine start up. I forced myself to go slowly over each item and check every possible thing! A little extra caution is prudent for night flights. "CLEAR..." rang out as I hit the start button and slid the throttle up gently to1000 RPM . My eyes sharply gazed on the next item on the list. I made sure I double-checked every item on the list. I just wanted to be so sure about every little item. The weather was a bit chilly, with a few small clouds low along the ocean. With an OK from the tower, I taxied to position, landing light, transponder, strobes, closed the hatch, and LOCK. Full throttle and down the runway I rolled. I squinted as the runway lights blared into my eyes as they swished under me. I knew 390EZ would quickly rotate and lift off because of my intentional light fuel loading. 10 gallons would be more than enough for the 15-minute jaunt around Palos Verdes. A 270 departure wound the Long-Ez up and around the airport keeping the runway in sight just in case something got out of hand. I leveled her out at 3500' and pulled back the throttle to 2400 RPM. Making a wide steep turn just over the Palos Verdes hill, I thought I heard a roughness in the engine, but all gauges looked OK. Cyl temp , Oil temp still cool. I swiftly made a pre-cautionary turn toward the approach end of the runway.
I decided to use Torrance runway 29L so I could take the shortest distance back to the airport. This would make a smooth and long final approach, one I have done countless times before. Passing over the reporting point I said: "Torrance Tower, Long-EZ 390 echo zulu Point Fermin for landing with Gulf" "Long EZ 390EZ straight in 29L report Thomas Bridge".
Flying in the night sky seems to play tricks with you sometimes. In my rush to get up quickly, I realized that I was too high and would have to lose a lot of altitude FAST to be at a the correct approach attitude by Thomas Bridge. I throttled back, nose down and WHOOSH! Instant 140 knots. WOW, at night everything seems to happen so fast! Watching the altimeter winding downward I chuckled "Yeah!" But, in the back of my mind, a voice said that cooling your engine quickly was incredibly harmful, so on the way down I pushed the throttle back up to 1/2. I noticed that the RPM is not coming back.
I said out loud,"HEY, What's going on here!"... I gave it full throttle, the engine was still sputtering. " NOT NOW, LITTLE PLANE!" Full carb heat...as I noticed I was getting close to the bridge... Nervously I blurted out... "Thomas Bridge...0EZ".. At the same time I tried various throttle settings. ITS GETTING WORSE! Quickly I change tanks and hit the aux. fuel pump. "Long-EZ 0EZ do you want the left or right (runway)?" "Left" Very nervous now, my words were short and I haven't told them yet about what's going on, I just can't believe its happening to me! "0EZ Cleared to land 29 left"
1200' and dropping. I now realize I will NOT make the airport.. This is the hardest point to deal with as you feel a quick jab of terror setting in...with a lump in my throat I said: "Torrance Tower - 0EZ is having engine trouble" "0EZ roger, cleared to land any runway" "I am not going to make it, um, I'm going to try to circle and land somewhere here, um over the dock area."
Now my mind is racing, what to do? A very real PANIC sensation takes over your body. A very strange "get me out of here, NOW feeling! " Just as strangely, a new sensation settles in and I remember the first item on emergency checklist. Trim for best glide...then the second...etc. now I'm in automatic mode...there is no time for panic. Just then I hear on the radio. "Long-EZ 0EZ squawk 7700 and ident." Thinking I don't have time for this, I quickly dialed in the number, and hit ident. I saw some bright lights in the blackness below and away from the airport, so I turn toward them. Still dropping I here the engine sputtering, ...all I could see were red taillights on the crowded freeway, no that's not a good place, power lines everywhere and black cold water.... that MAY have to be an option as I say out loud, "GEAR DOWN... '
All the landing options are small, I have to get the plane as slow as possible, I feel a little better that canard airplanes don't have the same stall character as conventional planes. "Long-EZ 0EZ, there are some parks in your area." Thinking, there are no parks near here at all! Maybe down in the blackness, but I can't see anything! I will NOT land where I can't see, so there has GOT to be a place to land! She is not gliding as far as usual. Watch that airspeed! I need a decision NOW! Over there! I see it....A landing spot! A parking lot near the boats. It's a small triangle shaped area, but well lit. Airspeed is too low... but I have to set up for this landing! Just like my sailplane days...you have only one shot, and it has to work. Wait, the engine is trying to come back .... SHIT..Still no good. "Yeah, ...I see some places where the cars unload. I'm going to try for there" Turning base. Power lines are everywhere; two smoke stacks on the right, oil tanks on the left, oh man.... Just then the tower says: "Long-EZ 0EZ, watch out for low level power lines, use caution." "We're looking"
I feel my whole body getting tight as I get closer. I have tried everything that I have learned! Now, just turning final, the PANIC is returning again. The plane is going too slow... and sink rate is too fast, I'm not going to make it to the landing spot! Horribly in my line of site, a silhouette of a gigantic power pole is rising into view! " I'm not going to clear this pole!" In desperation, I pitch the nose down, and head directly toward the power pole which gave me just enough speed to pull back and skim over the top, NO AIRSPEED but the landing spot is in full view. I now realize how incredibly small it is, surrounded by fences and cars lined up along the sides. Pucker factor is 10+. ...SLAM! I was down! I pushed the brakes hard as I could. Lookout, a fence! IT STOPPED! IT STOPPED! The energy used in clearing the pole, made the front canard stall and the whole plane pancaked down on the gear. At least a 20-ft. fall. The landing gear absorbed it all.
The engine had already quit. I opened the canopy and saw just 3 ft. to the fence and on the other side, a couple of feet from a whole bunch of new '97 Nissan Pathfinders. Not a scratch on the plane or me! Filled with amazement, I called the tower: "Tower, I made it!" "Long-EZ 0EZ, If that's you key your mike twice!" Obviously 10 miles away on the ground, they couldn't here me! .click,click "Long-EZ 0EZ, if you're alright, key your mike twice". click,click "Long-EZ 0EZ, thank you, and ...er you're in a parking lot?" .click,click "Long-EZ a duchess (twin) will be proceeding towards your destination, are you north of the 76 refinery?" .click,click "Long-EZ 0EZ, Ahh..I understand you're all right and on the ground, Ah.. That's good to hear, we'll see if we can coordinate something for you..." click,click "LongEZ 0EZ can you activate your ELT please?"
I removed the headset and climbed into the back and switched on the ELT. I then realized the landing didn't activate the ELT. Must have been smoother than I thought. Just then I heard the tower request a Duchess airplane above me to look for me...So I left the strobes on for a few minutes. Jumping out of the plane, I noticed my knees were knocking together. A security guard drove up; I felt my voice quivering just to say, "Hi!" She said " Nice landing!" I said, " "Where is a phone, I need to call my wife right away! Every second I'm sitting here, she thinks I'm dead."
Later, I measured the landing distance at 470 feet. It must be some kind of LongEZ landing record. The ground skid marks showed that the gear legs must have flexed outward at least 45 degrees. The following day the plane restarted with no problems to report, which leads me to believe it was carburetor icing. However, we found no water in carb before starting. After looking at the landing spot from a helicopter the following day, I realized I would be hard pressed to do that same landing in the daytime much less at night! So the final score for the landing is 40% procedure and 60% luck!
THE 10 THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FROM THIS: 1. Don't fly airplanes at night unless "emergency" 2. Fly high (altitude is your friend) 3. Always use carb heat on decent 4. Learning and maintaining emergency flight skills is essential 5. A few hours of sailplane lessons should be required of all fixed wing pilots. 6. Really commit to your landing point, and follow through to "Hit your mark" 7. If there is a next time turn off the fuel valve and master switch on final. 8. Retract gear on rollout to stop even faster (if required). 9. Get to know the glide ratio of your airplane. Maybe practice overhead approaches. 10. Finally, appreciate and love even more, the things around you, because life is WAY too short!
Afterwards: I walked around the plane and looked for damage. (Didn't even think to restart the engine, to check for carb ice) Just some scrapes on the wheel pants/tires on the pavement. Fire dept., police, and even TV news all came to "see what happened". It really does work when you set you transponder to 7700! Parked EZ there overnight, disassembled plane in the morning and transported out by truck and trailer. Back to the airport to reassemble. EVERYTHING checked out, but I did install Carb ice alarm sensor into carb.