Long-EZ Runway and Visibility.
A Long-EZ crashed on takeoff from a small Minnesota airport. Conditions were clear, it was dark (about 1 hour before sunrise), the runway was hard surfaced, but covered with ice and snow, some large lumps of ice up to 4" thick. The runway was 2000 ft. long and ended near the edge of a lake. The aircraft was in excellent condition with approximately 60 hours total time, with 5 hours flown the previous day. It had been hangared and had no frost on the wings, however an eyewitness reported that the canopy was frosted over on the inside such that he was unable to see the pilot just before take off.
The pilot commented that it was no problem because his experience was that the canopy would clear as soon as he had some speed. It appeared from wheel tracks in the snow that he had a very extended takeoff roll, in fact rolled virtually the full length of the runway. He struck several hard lumps of packed snow and ice with nose and main wheels, which probably slowed him down. When he lifted off he did not climb enough and flew into the tops of some small trees off the end of the runway. The left canard and left elevator were torn off at this point, which caused the airplane to roll left.
The left wing then struck the ground and was broken off at BL57. The airplane rolled inverted and crashed into a frozen swamp on the edge of the lake. It then slid over a small embankment and broke through the ice coming to rest in four feet of water. The fuselage remained essentially Intact, however the pilot was killed instantly. The cause of this accident appears to be a combination of several things. 1) Takeoff attempt on an un-cleared runway with snow and lumps of ice. 2) Frosted canopy probably restricting visibility. 3) Total darkness with lake at end of runway resulting in "black hole" visibility effect at lift off, causing disorientation. As is often the case in accidents, one problem could probably be handled by an experienced pilot, but a combination of the right conditions can be enough to result in disaster.
Composite Structure Fire - There were no instances of fire on any VariEze type structure in over 200,000 flight hours of operation - until last fall. Heres the report from Ron Walter: "I pulled in front of my hangar, shut down the engine and put the plane on its nose. Looking back I noticed flames coming out the back and proceeded to get an extinguisher to control the flame. This was to no avail and resulted in completely destroying the plane within approximately 12 (more) minutes" A fellow VariEze builder arrived on the scene after the entire engine area and cowl were involved and he offered the following, cautioning that some is conjecture.
"At run-up area engine did not sound normal. After several tries at run-up he taxied back to hangar parking. Time of run was about seven minutes. On shutting down the engine with the idle cut off he noted smoke from engine compartment. He retracted the nose gear, got a small fire extinguisher and emptied it into the fire. By that time however the fire was out of control" "Fire definitely was well along in the engine compartment when aircraft was shut down. It might have been arrested if fuel valve had been closed when smoke was detected and fuel burned through engine. Initial cause was stuck float in carburetor which kept feeding fuel to point of overflow (conjecture)" "The aircraft was headed west and wind was from 240 degrees about 3-5 knots.
This fact inhibited the fire somewhat but I was surprised at the slow propagation of the fire, about 2 to 3 inches per minute forward on both wings. The heat softened the upper wing strake to the point that when the gas in the tanks ignited there was only a large "poof" - no contained explosion or shattering. Even at this point neither the outer wing spars nor the center section box, showed deformation. Obviously they were getting soft but no sag. Within the next minute the fuel from the tanks intensified the fire to where everything melted down and completed burning forward to the front cockpit.
At this point the main gear softened and gave up. Fire trucks arrived and put out remaining fire. Findings: Carburetor completely melted down to point of distortion recognizable, but thats about all. Firewall took a lot of heat before allowing fire to progress forward. Fuselage tank failed through sight gauge first. I could not tell whether the fuel feed line from the tank to the shut off valve had softened and burned feeding the fire. Engine mount distorted but intact. Top of wing tanks burned but bottom remained Intact until almost complete collapse of main gear."
Ron also shared with us a poem written after the fire by his wife.
"You were the diversion he needed in times of stress.
You were solace to him when he was not at his best.
When the world was too much for him to cope
He turned to you, and you gave him hope.
In the wee small hours when sleep wouldnt come
You were there - always something to be done.
You and he saw the world from a different view
When you soared together to the distant blue.
Youre gone now no more obsession.
Only memories left - the only possession.
You were the joy and the pride of his life.
I cant fill the void. Im only his wife.