A bad days flying is better than a good day in the office

The day started normal enough, light winds from the North, high overcast, and fine temperatures. April is a good time to get a checkout in a new airplane and I had been looking forward to learning to fly a new design. The Light Sport Aircraft category of aircraft and are becoming popular all over the world. As a flight instructor, this makes new opportunities to check out some new pilots in these sport airplanes. The airplane that I was invited to fly was a TL-2000 Sting Sport Aircraft.

These aircraft are made in the Czech Republic and are good quality composite designs that look great and fly equally as well. All that I had to do this particular morning was go flying with the owner so that he could see that I was competent in order to validate the insurance policy.  The walk around and familiarization was typical but this design did sport a few new features for me including the operation of a new engine a Rotax 100 hp 912ULS. This is a popular four-cycle engine found in many certified training aircraft and has a good reputation among operators. I was enthusiastic about learning a new engine and looked forward to the flight. The airplane started well and we taxied out to our run-up and completed it in the normal fashion, and then called for takeoff. The airplane accelerated well and we lifted off Northbound to the training area about 15 minutes away. Enroute we tried a few steep turns and two stalls with and without flaps to get a feeling of the handling characteristics and then turned towards the airport. During our rejoin to the airport the engine began to run a little rough and since the mixture is controlled automatically we adjusted the choke selection and the engine began to run normally.

These aircraft are made in the Czech Republic and are good quality composite designs that look great and fly equally as well. All that I had to do this particular morning was go flying with the owner so that he could see that I was competent in order to validate the insurance policy.  The walk around and familiarization was typical but this design did sport a few new features for me including the operation of a new engine a Rotax 100 hp 912ULS. This is a popular four-cycle engine found in many certified training aircraft and has a good reputation among operators. I was enthusiastic about learning a new engine and looked forward to the flight. The airplane started well and we taxied out to our run-up and completed it in the normal fashion, and then called for takeoff. The airplane accelerated well and we lifted off Northbound to the training area about 15 minutes away. Enroute we tried a few steep turns and two stalls with and without flaps to get a feeling of the handling characteristics and then turned towards the airport. During our rejoin to the airport the engine began to run a little rough and since the mixture is controlled automatically we adjusted the choke selection and the engine began to run normally.

Just then I saw a small amount of black smoke appearing from the left side of the aircraft and I said to my flying partner, “hey there is black smoke coming from the cowling over there”. I pointed to the front left side and he said that he sees it too. I said in a calm voice “Leon we got a Fire On The Ground, lets get out”. As Leon got unstrapped I did a Fire On Ground Procedure and shut the airplane down with the fuel off, throttles idle, master off, and we abandoned the airplane. This took all of 2 minutes since having the engine fail and one minute since detecting smoke.

By the time we had extracted ourselves from the plane, the fire had broken through the top of the cowling and was at a stage that could not be contained. Within 4 minutes the top of the cowling was covered in flame and the windscreen was now beginning to burn. I said to Leon, ” I think we have lost our airplane Leon, unless we get a fire truck out here this instant, the airplane is going to burn to the ground”.

We moved away further and the fire continued to rage, Leon went off to call the fire services and find out if the tower had called the town fire service. In the meantime I kept a safe distance and watched the fire rage. After 8 minutes the fuel tank ignited with a light poof and then the engine fell off the front. Shortly after that the airplane dropped on it’s tail and continued to fully burn. After about 14 minutes, the Fire personnel arrived and proceeded to put the fire out fully. After 20 minutes it was all over and done with, the airplane all burned except the tail section is all that remained.

I joined Leon and we went about the business of dealing with Transport Canada Inspectors for our statements and later that evening the area was cleaned up and the black burned aircraft hauled away to a compound.

I now think about this situation and I was glad to be on the ground when the fire occurred, had we not done a second run-up we would have been 1000 feet in the air with a full engine failure and a engine fire in the front end. I also think back about the first thing that made me a little uneasy about the airplane was the rough running engine on the previous flight, but that indication was not significant enough to make me terminate the flight before the second run-up. Sometimes indications of trouble are so subtle that we fail to respect the health of our engines. I also suffered with a bit of Halo Effect in that I was so enthusiastic to fly the plane that I neglected to listen to my experience voice and make a point to check my enthusiasm from time to time to reflect on situations more thoroughly before rushing off again with what obviously was a sick airplane. 



Sometimes our haste makes good judgments go away. However, our redeeming effort was to not neglect another run-up before launching off into the air without a proper run-up. It’s that run-up that saved us from a more difficult day.

Bruce
Air Under Your Chair
or the Hot Seat.