Since the January newsletter there have been two VariEze accidents.
The first accident was in Michigan, when a VariEze was attempting to land. It was slow on final, developed an excessive sink rate, hit hard then cartwheeled while bouncing about 30 feet into the air, and coming to rest inverted in a snow bank. Other than a small abrasion on one knee the pilot was not hurt. The EZ was substantially damaged. The pilot had 2.5 hours in his VariEze, all operating from a large airport. He had not flown in the previous three weeks due to bad weather. On this flight he was attempting to land on a 2850 ft runway with power lines and trees on both ends in a 10 knot cross wind. The runway was covered with snow except for a 45 ft wide path in the center and there were 3.5 foot high snow banks on each side. Ground witnesses reported the pilot attempted two landings but got slow on each and went around. On the third approach he once again got real slow in a nose high (estimate 30 degrees) attitude, developed heavy wing rock, and a high sink rate. He hit hard, spread the main gear strut straight out and then caught the snow bank and cartwheeled.
The second accident occurred March 7th. Just after take off from the Tims Airport, Austin, Tx. The take off and initial climb to a few hundred feet were observed to be normal then the aircraft appeared to lose control descending in a very steep angle and crashed about three miles from the airport. Both occupants died instantly. The aircraft had over 80 hours flying time. It had been tested extensively and had never demonstrated any unusual flight characteristics, according to the previous owner. Working with the FAA investigator we found no indication of structural failure, control disconnect or engine failure.
An examination of the canopy locking system revealed that the canopy was not locked at impact. The aircraft was equipped with the canopy safety latch and its damage showed the canopy was open approx. 1 1/2" and engaged in the safety latch at impact. There was no canopy unlatched (light/horn) warning system nor inside canopy closing handle installed. The aircraft was within the allowable gross weight and slightly aft of the oft cg limit. The pilot had just recently purchased the aircraft a few days before in Alabama.
He had a total of about 10 hours in the VariEze, mostly cross country time. According to the previous owner the pilot experienced considerable difficulty checking out in the VariEze, even though he had several thousand hours time and was Lear rated. Before the pilot left Alabama, the previous owner had made it clear that he was marginally qualified in the aircraft and should improve his proficiency before carrying passengers. Since the canopy was unlocked at impact it would indicate the pilot had failed to complete his take off check list and took off with an unlocked canopy.
It appears that the distraction of the canopy opening against the safety latch, combined with a possible panic stricken passenger (it was the passengers very first airplane ride) might have caused the pilot to lose control of the aircraft. There are three other documented cases of VariEze canopies opening in flight. All three were able to control the airplanes to a landing, even though they were holding it down with fingers outside the canopy frame (two inches open). With canopy open (2") in the safety latch, other than a moderate wind blast, VariEzes can be controlled and landed normally. The following is a first-hand account of such an incident by Les Faus.
"Burt asked me for few words about how it is to fly a VariEze with the canopy open. Mine opened at about 50 ft and 100 mph. I fortunately had a back seat passenger that I could rely on. Between the two of us we were able to close the canopy without too much trouble. With the canopy full open, the plane tends to pitch up and to the right. I put the stick into the left front corner and eased back and just held it straight until we could ascertain the damage.
The back seat passenger held the canopy closed while we flew 15 miles to another larger airport for landing. The airplane flys well with the canopy being held with your hand around the frame. About 2" open. At that time there was no safety lock on mine. The only damage to the canopy was the center arrow stock broken by the back seat passenger trying to close the canopy. If this happens to any of you, dont panic. The airplane in controllable and can be saved. It sure gets the hair up the back of your neck at the time though!!
Note: In 1977, Peter Krauss had a similar opening on take off while flying solo and he held it down and landed while using his right hand for control and throttle.
Any kind of accident is unfortunate. It would be even more so, if we did not try to find out why and try to prevent it from happening again. Possibly both of these could have been prevented if the pilots had carefully followed the procedures in the owners manual and newsletters. especially in the area of initial flight testing and pilot proficiency. We urgently request that the guide lines established in the operations of this aircraft be followed. Review them, be sure the warning systems are installed and operational. Follow the owners manual to the letter.
To review an Air Force adage on how to handle any emergency.
1. Maintain Aircraft Control
2. Analyze the situation
3. Maintain Aircraft Control
4. Take proper action.
5. Maintain Aircraft Control
Many have crashed light aircraft due to doors coming open, even though the airplanes fly acceptably well with the open door. Be aware of your proficiency and the capabilities of your aircraft and dont stretch either one. Never operate at the edge of any limitation unless you need to and your proficiency is excellent. This applies to everything - weight cg, red line speed, approach speed, airport size, allowable g - etc. Limits are just that -Airplane limitations. Flight near the limitations normally require more pilot skill on any aircraft, particularly highperformance ones.
There arent many things on the VariEze that a pilot can forget that will hurt him. Failure to extend the gear prior to landing will only cause superficial aircraft damage. But forgetting to lock the canopy can be a very serious problem. I see some EZs flying without the safety latch or a warning system and ask, why? The response is I am a good pilot, I always use a check list and would never forget it". Let me categorically state that no matter how good or conscientious you may think you are there will develop a set of circumstances that will lead into an error of omission. All of us here at RAF have, at least once, taken off without locking the canopy.
Each time it happened was when the "normal procedure was interrupted by something abnormal , such as a change in runway, followed by an immediate takeoff clearance. This can and eventually will, happen to you. Having separate, redundant latches that you have to close, will not protect you. You need the catch and warning to protect you when you forget. Some of you have found that the stainless steel SC1 catch (CP #17 pg 6) is difficult to carve out. We have released a drawing of it to Brock, so he can have them punched out and should have them available for sale.
We have seen several cases of EZs getting to slow on final , rounding out too high and landing hard. In one case this was attributed to an error of 30 mph in the airspeed indicator. This will not happen if you fly by attitude. If you cannot see the horizon over the canard you are getting far too slow - go around try again. One good technique is to fly at a speed that puts the canard three to fi degrees below the horizon. You should always be able to see the runway over the nose, then start the flare and fly it down to the runway in a controlled rate of sink to touch down, without ever flaring the canard above the horizon.
This will give the shortest distance, since an extended overflare will use up a lot of runway. Remember, if you sell your EZ, you have the responsibility to inform the buyer of any deviations from the plans. Also, be sure the new owner is thoroughly knowledgeable with the owners manual, operational procedures, newsletter and that he should keep up to date with a subscribe to the Canard Pusher. This is the only AD system and all VariEze operators must subscribe.