by Stu Simpson
The sky was immaculate; a brilliant blue with the sun high and bright to the southwest. The wind was a bit stronger than I’d have liked, about 10 knots out of the south, but it would likely diminish as the evening progressed. Tractors and combines worked the open fields below as me & the Beeve ambled northward. I thought I might make my way to the Airdrie area to drop in on Jim Creasser. Apparently, the engine gods thought otherwise.
I was following the power lines, just outside the Calgary control zone, when my trusty (soon to be untrustworthy) Rotax 447 quit. It didn’t quit all at once, mind you. No, it lost about 99% power first. THEN it quit all at once.
I was reminded of an ancient Chinese proverb that states; one man’s engine failure is another man’s glider practice.
My first reaction, more of a reflex really, was to push the nose down (that’s my training coming through). My second reaction was to look for a field in which to land. Fortunately, I had half the province to choose from. My third reaction was to let loose a tirade of foul mouthed cursing and swearing that, no doubt, turned the sky even bluer.
The field of choice was one with only a few swaths cut into it. It bordered a road and even lined up with the wind. But I wasn’t going to make it. The wind had pushed me a little further along than I figured. Silly me. I’d have to settle for a cow pasture.
It was quite a predicament, really. I was too low for the grain field and too high for the cow pasture. With a solid grasp of the fact that I was certainly not going to go any higher, I began a hard side-slip. The wind roared around the windscreen, causing my eyes to water and taking my breath so I couldn’t swear anymore. About a hundred feet off the deck, I levelled out and set my glidepath. It seemed I was still miles too high.
My flight instructor preached many years ago to always assume there was a fence between two fields, even if you can’t see one. He was right. And I was heading right toward one.
The Beeve had waited until we were past the middle of the pasture to quit flying. The ground was rough with hoof marks and gopher holes, but was easily managable for the Beeve’s landing gear (miraculously, there were no fresh cow patties in our way). Which brings me back to the previously noted barbed-wire fence. We were approaching it at a prodigious and somewhat unsettling rate, the Beeve being without brakes and all.
I had to stop. So I did just what Fred Flintstone would do – I stuck my foot out. And sure enough, the extra drag was all it took. Me & the Beeve came to a stop about 20 feet from the fence line with no damage to either of us.
I unhooked my harness and radio leads and clambered out of the cockpit. Setting my helmet in the seat, I started to look for reasons why the motor might abandon me.
That’s when I noticed the stampede of cows (charolais, to be precise) heading straight for the Beeve. Images of trampled dacron and mangled tubing flashed through my mind. I knew I had to save my plane from these cloven-hooved, cud-munching prairie-devils.
I figured the best defence was a good offence. I likely smelled pretty offensive right then, but I didn’t think body odor would do the trick. So I ran right at the herd, yelling and screaming and waving my arms in the air. They didn’t even blink.
Suddenly, images of trampled leather and mangled limbs flashed through my mind. And I knew I really didn’t give a damn about saving my plane from these cloven-hooved, cud-munching prairie devils.
I turned and ran as fast as I could toward the fence. I scrambled over it, hoping the cows would notice the narrow wire and not trample through it to get me. The cows were kind enough to both ignore the Beeve and not trample the fence in order to trample me.
After catching my breath I realized the cows were likely just curious and perhaps not as malicious as their thundering charge might have indicated. But at the same time, I wasn’t willing to venture back into the pasture to find out. So I plunked down in the grass and waited. Maybe the members of my new-found bovine fan club would prove to be fickle in their adoration and move on.
Ya. And maybe pigs will fly.
So there I sat. The fearless aviator forced down over enemy territory and now held hostage by a herd of heifers. Bummer.
Then I noticed a truck coming through the field. Two men inside greeted me as the truck pulled up. I explained the situation as they tried to hide the smirks on their faces. They said the cows were nothing to worry about, not even the bulls in the herd. They offered their help, but I politely refused, and they drove off, wishing me good luck.
With a wary eye on those fattened farm fiends, I reluctantly plodded back to the pasture where the Beeve sat. The cows watched intently as I neared the plane and spun the prop. The motor caught immediately, sending them scurrying in the other direction.
Ah ha!, I thought. Now I’ve got a weapon that’ll keep these beasts at bay. The herd watched from a more respectful distance as I set to work trouble-shooting. The motor had no trouble idling, but would go no higher. As soon as I added throttle, it croaked. And the cows moved closer again.
I fired up once more, but the cows, realizing this little yellow monstrosity would likely do no harm, continued to wade in for a better look.
It’s hard to examine a carburetor and look over your shoulder at the same time. So I decided to extract ourselves from the situation. A gate in the fence, about fifty feet away, would be our escape route. I picked the Beeve up by the tail and wheeled it over to block the gate. Strangely, the cows stayed put.
I unlatched the gate and wheeled the Beeve through, the wings barely clearing the gate posts. Then the sudden thunder of hoof beats reached my ears. The cows were making a break for it!
I ran for the gate at full speed. If any of the cows escaped, the owner would bury me in cow pies. I won the race by mere inches. Panting, I picked up the gate and yanked it closed. The cows watched their path to freedom dissolve before their eyes.
Victory for me!, I thought. But that sentiment was short lived.
If you’ve ever tried to close a barbed-wire gate, you know they’re much easier to open. This gate was no different. Except that it was exceptionally tough to close. It took 15 minutes of hard labour to get the wire hooked over the top of the gate post. All the while, those dastardly cows hovered nearby, ready to charge should the gate pop open again. And I still hadn’t found my engine trouble.
Finally, after about 45 minutes on the ground, I was able to work on my engine. And after a few more minutes, I even found the problem. The clip that held the carb jet needle in place, had sawed right through the needle. This caused the needle to drop into the jet and kill the motor. These needles have three notches on them and since I had set my clip in the center notch, I still had one left.
It took about 15 minutes more to get everything re-assembled, started, and ready for takeoff.
As luck would have it, someone had put a road right outside the gate I’d fought so hard with. So when everything was set I firewalled the throttle. A couple hundred feet later we lifted into the rapidly darkening sky and turned for home. I couldn’t help but wonder if the cows had as much fun down there as I did. After all, my engine failure was the most exciting thing that happened to any of us that day.