My first, and last,
by Mike Evans
The parachute in our
‘Kestrel’ had become rather uncomfortable and I had
persuaded my syndicate partners to agree to a
replacement. Luckily, John D’Arcy at Lasham was
selling his which was virtually new, having been
worn only half a dozen times, so we had a bargain.
It was a glorious spring day and I decided it was a
good opportunity to try out the glider after it’s
recent C of A, and the new ‘chute. Little did I
realise what a test flight this was to be.
Clunk! “What was that?” I wondered to myself. “The
undercarriage doors? No, I’d put nice new bungees on
at the C of A.” While I pondered what could be
wrong, the ASI flickered towards zero. Then the nose
started to go down and it wouldn’t come up again.
“Something’s happened back there in the tail”, I
thought, and started to consider the options. “Just
off tow at 2000 feet, glider still flying, no need
to panic, yet. I can’t just abandon our beautiful
glider; whatever will my syndicate partners say? But
I don’t like it. I don’t fancy flying a circuit and
trying to line up this 20-metre Kestrel for approach
if it’s flying like this. Controls seem funny. No,
I’m going to get out while the going’s good.”
Pulling the velcro
straps off, then the release levers, I jettisoned
the canopy. Expecting a blast of wind, I was
surprised to find how calm everything seemed.
Undoing my straps, I started to lever myself up out
of the seat, at the same time straining round to see
what had happened at the tail. Then, out of the
corner of my eye, something white went fluttering
away. “That’s it! I’m not waiting to find out any
more”, I said out loud.
remembered Derek Piggott’s story of how he once told
a student to bail out, but the student dithered and
when Derek asked him why, after they were safely on
the ground, the student said he was putting his
sunglasses away! My varifocal photochromic, very
expensive prescription glasses would blow away if I
jumped with them on, so I paused and put them safely
in the pocket of the glider.
There was still no
need to hurry. The glider was flying almost level,
and it was a beautiful sunny afternoon! “You can’t
stay here all day, admiring the view”, I reminded
myself. So, rather reluctantly, I climbed out onto
the wing and then, sadly, slid off into space. I
wasn’t at all scared, just sorry to be leaving poor
old ‘284’ to fend for herself, after all the
wonderful flights we’d had together.
But the next
moment, as I pulled the ‘chute handle and nothing
happened, I was rudely aware that I must act
quickly. I had forgotten to put my left hand over my
right before pulling the handle so had only taken up
the slack in the cable. Bending forward, a good
heave on the handle did the trick. Just like a big
friendly hand, the harness caught me very smoothly
and there I was, floating gently to earth.
Again I had time
to admire the view on this sunny afternoon, and
looking up, saw 284 demonstrating phugoids. “I hope
she times her final pull-up right”, I thought. Then
I concentrated on turning into wind. Watching the
drift, I grabbed a handful of cords and heaved.
After a long pause we gradually began to turn into
wind. Looking down, I thought that might have been a
mistake because we were getting rather close to a
All good things
come to an end, but parachute jumps do so very
quickly. One moment you’re drifting gently down, the
next the ground jumps up at you and ‘bang’ you’ve
hit it. In my case it was my back that had hit it
and I yelped. I’d missed the trees, but in their lee
there was probably a wind reversal and, hitting the
ground with forward speed, my shoes shot from under
me on the damp grass. Ouch!
I rolled around in
considerable pain, thinking I’d broken my back. (I
had in fact crushed my ‘lumbar one’ vertebra). Some
horses appeared and started to show interest so I
staggered to my feet and then ‘crump!’ the glider
hit the earth in the next field. I limped painfully
to the nearby farm but couldn’t make anyone hear.
The tug flew over, obviously looking for me, and
eventually saw me waving. In a few minutes a group
of Lashamites, led by DP arrived. “You did the
right thing”, I was reassured to hear Derek say,
although I was more interested in finding out what
had happened to my back.
from one wing which was destroyed, the glider was
not badly damaged. The front section of the canopy
had just a small crack – and my glasses were fine!
The rudder was missing and it took the Lasham team
some time to find it. The tail chute and its fairing
had become detached from the rudder – it was several
months before a farmer found them.
So, what caused
all this? The bottom hinge had failed (left, below),
causing the rudder to come loose and then depart –
the white object I saw disappearing. Before that,
the tail ‘chute must have deployed, slowing the
glider. This is almost imperceptible, unless you’re
expecting it, as when you’ve just deployed it for
instance. So, loss of rudder control started the
sideslipping and then the tail ‘chute brought us
close to the stall.
Could I have flown
it back to the airfield? Certainly, but I wouldn’t
like to have to try and line up the approach and
landing without a rudder. The longer span Kestrels
needed a modified rudder, so flying without one at
all would be most foolhardy.
I don’t think 284
flew again. We sold the wreckage to a glider
repairer, but Slingsby’s destroyed the wing moulds
when they stopped production so the only solution
would be another wing from another crashed Kestrel.
John D’Arcy had
the last word: “Had to test my ‘chute to make sure
it works? You’re not very trusting are you!”
Reflections: I was
lucky. I was high and flying level when I had to
bail out. If you’re unlucky enough to have a mid-air
there probably won’t be much time to get out, and
the glider may spin. So make sure you can get out
quickly, even from an unusual attitude. It’s a good
idea to practise landing properly, as you only get
one chance, and the ground suddenly hits you, fast.
Legs together, slightly bent, and roll over to
absorb the energy. I knew this but failed because my
shoes shot away from me on the slippery grass.