We may as well title this post “How to break 4 hearts or more in 15 minutes,” because that’s all the time it took for our world at DCA to be turned upside down, literally.
This is a copy of the story written by Amy that ran in the May 2011 issue of Airplanista magazine (www.airplanista.com or find Dan on Twitter @Airplanista).
“Thursday, March 31st at Sun ‘n’ Fun 2011 started off innocently enough a security volunteer stopped by to show us some adorable white German shepherd puppies. After reluctantly handing the puppies back, we checked the weather and saw that we needed to check our tie-downs!
“We had brought two aircraft with us to display. 160AK, our light-sport eligible kit, and 2300S, our certified 2300-lb gross weight model. We added a second set of tie-downs to 2300S so we had a spiral stake with rachet straps and a Claw with ropes. We did not have a second set for 160AK.
“It was eerily quiet as the skies darkened and it started to rain. Then, you could see the trees start to thrash as rain went horizontal and sounded like hail it was pounding down so hard. We had not had time to fully close the awning on the trailer and it ripped off nearly instantaneously with a loud crack. As feared, 160AK pulled the tie-downs out without hesitation and started to roll backward towards the Epic display. Two of our crew members, Mark and Dave, ran over and grabbed the left strut as the airplane bucked in the wind.
“From my vantage point in the trailer, I peeked outside and could barely see 10 feet in front of me. I was looking to see how 2300S was doing and could only faintly see the tail. With little warning, 2300S gave just a slight waggle, and promptly pulled or broke the tie-downs and flipped over backwards, just a few feet from where Mark and Dave were holding down 160AK.
“There were a few select words that escaped my mouth and I’m sure I blinked a few times in complete disbelief. But there wasn’t much time to ponder as the wind continued to strengthen—we were left wondering how bad it could get—and Mark yelled for help as 160AK kept pulling backwards. I ran out and wrapped my arms around the lift strut and jury strut and hung on for dear life. At 115 lbs, I’m not a very good anchor in high winds but I was doing my best.
“I have never experienced rain like that before. It felt like being underwater, and it hurt! We did get some small hail according to the red marks I later discovered on the back of my legs but it was hard to tell when the transition from driving rain to pea-sized hail took place. When 160AK got light on her tires I clamped down harder and hung all my weight on the strut. I braced as much as I could, up to my ankles in water and sand. I tried to turn around a few times to see if there were airplanes or debris being blown towards us, but it proved useless. I couldn’t see more than ten feet and you couldn’t breathe. We couldn’t hold 160AK from backing up so Mark knew he had to get the truck—and quickly, before Dave and I could no longer hold 160AK from flying away or blowing into another aircraft.
“As 160AK bucked in the wind, with Dave and I stubbornly refusing to let her go, Mark raced to tie the tie-down rope to the truck’s bumper. By the time the airplane was tied to the truck, the wind had started to abate somewhat. What seemed like an eternity had really only lasted perhaps 10 minutes, but the impacts of the storm were much longer-lasting for us and many others.
“We could see that everyone on our team was ok, but 2300S was badly damaged and had damaged 160AK as well. 2300S’s tail had hit 160AK’s cowl and dented the nose bowl and baffling. Upon inspection (standing in four inches of water), we were fairly confident we could fly 160AK home but knew we’d have to dismantle 2300S and send her home in a trailer. We were based right along the flight line (the furthest display row forward up to homebuilt parking), and right in the line of greatest severity. With both airplanes pointed nearly straight into the wind (and being taildraggers, they sit at an angle of attack conducive to flight) and nothing to break the wind, we were in about the worst situation we could have been in.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye on our team. 2300S was the prototype aircraft upon which all of our certification testing was done. The certification process was 6 years, 3 months, and 5 days of blood, sweat, and tears—not to mention we had returned the aircraft to flying status only 10 days prior after some off-season maintenance. To say this was heartbreaking would be an understatement at best.
“Yet, it’s times like these where the true spirit of aviation shines through the brightest. Within minutes of the rain ceasing, complete strangers were offering to help and my phone was buzzing nonstop with offers to help from friends and Twitter users alike, and hugs abounded. Everyone banded together to help out, which truly warmed our hearts. Obviously, we couldn’t do anything that night as the grounds were closed for cleanup, but we were given a ride to a nearby hotel for the night. The next morning, we had a small army of people helping us dismantle 2300S and trailer the pieces off-site until we could be in touch with the insurance company. We even had an offer from our friends at Legend Aircraft to borrow a prop for 160AK. We didn’t need to take them up on it, but we have been truly lucky to have the greatest friends out there.
“It will be a challenging recovery, as this has certainly called some of our Oshkosh plans into question. However, I can guarantee you this—we WILL be there, and we WILL have fun! Hope to see you there! (Booth #270 by Exhibit Hangar A)”