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An Emergency Landing in a Beetfield

My radio was turned down and the whistle of the wind past the headset drowned out most of the chattering transmissions.

An overcast sky loomed above us at 3,000ft, and we were tuned into 129.825 - the Microlight frequency.

25 minutes earlier we had set out on a 46 mile cross-country from Northampton to Long Marston in Warwickshire. We had nearly reached the halfway point when the fun began.

I heard the unmistakable voice of my skyborne comrade.. "I've got an engine failure"; we had just passed Daventry to our right.

"Say again VR - Did you say ENGINE failure?"

"Yes, I'm on the way down."

After a quick reality check to realise that it WAS actually possible that a meticulously maintained engine could stop, I glanced briefly at the compass to discover where the wind was coming from.

It was South-Westerly, and I remembered that it had been a steady 5 Kts on the ground when we had taken off. I yanked the bar in, wound the trimmer off, and raced ahead to catch up with him, scanning the sky downwards as I did.

I spotted him pretty quickly, and he seemed to be descending a lot faster than I had anticipated. From my vantage point at 2,000ft it looked to me like he was about to touch down, even though he was still at 1,000ft AGL.

"I'm going to use this big field underneath".

" How does it look ?"

"Umm... Okay - keep it going - that's it - the wind is coming directly from behind the direction you are heading, so you need to turn 180 degrees and you'll be straight into wind".

Now, I must tell you at this point that Graham has a Flash II Alpha with a regularly serviced Rotax 503 engine, having recently also 'upgraded' to a dual carb system. The crank had also been changed at the recommended 300 hours only a few months earlier.

Alas, it had just stopped dead, without warning!

As he turned onto final approach, it was obvious that he would make it easily into the field, which was about 500 x 400 metres wide.

I watched him continue to touch down exactly in the centre. I heard a very relieved voice a few seconds later.

"How does it look ? - I'm going to land too", I asked hastily.

"I'm down.. but it's a bit rough. You should land on the edges, along the grassy bits. Do a low pass and check it out first."

In the ensuing excitement, I set up to land along the Southerly edge of the field, but was forced to overfly trees that were about 200ft tall on the approach. I pulled the bar in firmly to lose height and set up my flare and landing.

I remember thinking "Hmm.. this is a bit fast - how much more can I slow it down - what's going on ?".

I glided over the last few feet, pushing the bar out gently to lose speed.

Alas, the field looked okay from 20ft so I opted to put down.

Having flared off as much speed as possible I still thought it was a bit fast, but this all changed and I slowed dramatically once the sparsely populated beet had taken grip around the wheel spats!

I breathed a sigh of relief and exchanged a few choice words with myself, climbing out into the beet to check my airbourne chariot over.

Apart from the decorative hanging basket effect, everything checked out fine.

Over the fallen bird I went, to discuss and discover what had happened to the engine. A relieved pilot stood next to his trike, grateful to have executed a textbook landing in the middle of the 'field'.

"So what happened then - did it just stop?"

"Yes - I was just checking the fuel and it stopped dead."

"Hmm.. that sounds strange - you would have at least thought it would cough and splutter a bit. Are those Mag switches meant to be off ?"

"Hmm. Maybe I turned them off when I landed."

A puzzled expression crept across Graham's face and I suggested that he give it a pull to see if it would start. Surely, if it was a serious engine failure, it wouldn't even splutter....

Back in the saddle and helmetted up, Graham pulled the starter cord and.. Vrroom! The engine started first time!

"It's really strange; I was leaning over to check the fuel and was about to change tanks and it just stopped"...





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