Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'm back in California and now working for Aero Resources....... 1973

I now know where I am going to be at, for at least the next year.  My contract agreement paid a bonus at the end of a year which was an incentive for me to stay put.  I was still commuting back and forth between Lake Havasu and Los Angeles which was beginning to get old.  I went to George Morton  and asked if I could move back to Los Angeles.  He agreed, and the company arranged for a moving van to relocate me.  We did some looking again in the Long Beach, CA area, but opted to buy a house in Cypress, CA.  The house was small, but ideal for us. The location was directly across from an elementary school and it was about a one hour drive to Gardena, CA where Aero Resources was located.  Also this was close to the Compton, CA airport.  Not the best part of town, but a very nice airport.  Most of our engineers were from the aerospace industry.  We had some good people and we continued to make attempts to improve the J-2.  The noise problem was still with us and one day I  got a call from someone who was very irate that lived nearby, threatening to shoot at me if I didn't stop flying over his house. The  traffic pattern for a non controlled airport was already defined, so I had no control over altitude or patterns. This was Compton where the crime rate was very high, so I didn't doubt his word.  The airport was surrounded with low income housing and it was not unusual to hear gun shots fired in the course of the day.  I know the hanger we worked out of, had several bullet holes.
Mountains near the Big Bear, CA airport
This is one of those places you could be surfing in the waves at Huntington Beach, CA and one hour later you could be skiing on the slopes at Big Bear. The airport was kind of carved out of a flat spot on top of the mountain and then in the surrounding areas was mostly very tall Ponderosa pine trees in the range of 100 feet. Also a very nice lake off to the end of the airport.

Me at the Big Bear, CA airport

We had some performance limitations on takeoff altitudes and decided to do some flight test at the Big Bear, CA airport which was located in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest.  The airport elevation was 6750 feet above sea level and this was almost 3000 feet greater than our 4000 foot operating limitation.  It was also planned to do test flights for increased gross weight and to improve the fuel system.

Actually the J-2 behaved at altitude very well at normal gross weights, but when you added additional weight under the seat box, the aircraft became a lead sled.  I found this out after making my first takeoff of the day early in the morning.  As I started down the runway, I could tell the aircraft just didn't want to fly under these conditions.  Nearing the end of the airport runway, I was able to gain a few feet of altitude, but I could not increase my airspeed or height above the ground.  I have now left the end of the airport and I am skimming along over the lake.  This situation has happened to me before.  I am stuck in an envelope with no place to go.  If I were a little higher above the lake, I could lower the nose to gain airspeed and then increase my altitude.  But if I do this, I would have touched back down in the lake, and I know the lake water is very cold.  This always seemed to happen when you least expected it. Most of the time in a place where you could not correct the situation without having an accident.  If nothing is up ahead and you keep a steady tight grip on the flight controls, you could nurse the aircraft back into the air.  Which I did and then all was well.  I had to burn off some fuel, so I decided to fly away from the airport and see some of the mountains nearby.  Also this would take some of the noise away from nearby residents at the airport.  About 45 minutes later while flying over an area with nothing but tall trees below, the engine quit.  I have had engine failures before, but this one did not leave many options for a safe landing.  My first instinct was to check fuel.  I looked at the fuel gage and it indicated 3/4's of a tank.  I cranked the engine a few times, but still it would not start.  I selected the other tank and it indicated empty, so selected back to the fullest tank.  I'm loosing altitude now and no place to land.  I was prepared to make a crash landing in an open area with terrain that had sloping hills.  The J-2 because of the way it was shaped and designed,  it was considered to be a good crashable design.  If you can call that good!  I had once heard this statement made at a sales presentation.  In my books, no kind of crashing is good.  As I was preparing for my crash landing, I tightened my seat belts and pulled the chin strap tight on my helmet.  At the same time I put out a mayday to the airport and gave them my approximate position.  I still had a ways to go and out of the corner of my eye at the last second, I spotted an area where houses were going to be built later on,  in this location.  Also I could see a 75 foot circle of blacktop which I guess would be a cul-de-sac.  Only problem I could see now, is that this area was surrounded by more of those very tall pine trees.  Technically, the pilot had no control over the fixed pitch blade setting on the rotor system.  It was either a flat pitch setting during the start sequence or at a 4.5 degree pitch setting in normal flight.  But I had discovered early on in some of my test flights, that you could lower the pitch control lever and increase the rotor RPM.  Then when you were near the ground, you could let up on the lever and all the lift energy in the rotor was restored for a short period of time.  This would enable you to soften your touchdown just  like a helicopter.  A very unapproved procedure, but I was trying to save my bacon.  The increased rate of decent, allowed me to maneuver down in between the tall trees and when I touched down on the small blacktop circle of pavement, I applied the brakes and came to a stop in 13 feet.  While I was waiting for someone to arrive an elderly couple came up to me and asked when I was going to takeoff.  Of course this would have been impossible even if the engine would have run properly.  Still I am curious as why the darn engine quit on me.  After some checking, I found out that the fuel selector had been installed backwards.  Earlier during my flight when I selected the tank that indicated zero, it actually had fuel.  Had I attempted to crank the engine, it would have probably started.  But I didn't know this at the time and you are always taught to select the fullest fuel tank.  The Sheriffs department contacted me later and thanked me for not crashing, as they would have had to make a very lengthy report.  The aircraft had to be disassembled and trucked back to our plant in Gardena, CA.  This made for an exciting day and everything turned out okay.  All in a days work..............................

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