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Sometimes Aircraft Failures Evidently Teach You
By Ian Brown, Editor
June 2019 - We probably all have stories to tell about things our aircraft have taught us. This is the first in what hopefully (with your help) will be a series of articles about lessons learned from our experiences.
I hadn't flown in a couple of weeks, and my stepson Paul agreed to fly with me from Venice, Florida, to Paulding, Georgia, near Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. He flies for a major airline, and I was delighted that he agreed to make the trip with me.
All was normal on the climb out as we leveled off for a beautiful view of the west coast of Florida. Pretty soon we both noticed a lot of breeze in the cockpit, and when I looked around I was alarmed to notice a 3-inch gap in the back of my RV-9A slider canopy between the fuselage and the structure of the canopy. We made a U-turn and landed to check what had happened. Convinced that the canopy had not been fully secured at the rear retaining pins, we snugged it down tight, making sure that everything was lined up and secure and took off again. About 20 minutes into the flight the same thing happened!
The canopy seemed to be holding well at the front catch and the side rails so we elected to land at a Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport (KBKV), which was about 15 miles ahead of us. Paul was familiar with the airport, and we landed safely. As we were taxiing toward the FBO I spotted an open hangar with some activity going on inside. As we approached, I was delighted to find that it was EAA Chapter 1298's hangar. Shutting down the engine, we hopped out and went to introduce ourselves, and to see if there was any help available.
We met several EAA chapter members, one of whom was Merle Wagner, EAA 351905, who was busy working on his own project, but was willing to stop what he was doing to take a look at my canopy.
Inspecting the canopy attachments, the nylon slider block was missing the parts that hook under the slider rail, and the side pins had torn through the nylon blocks in which they are supposed to be held captive. It's not clear whether the slider failed first and then the side blocks, but there were very fine cracks in the material at several places on the slider block so one could assume that it failed first. As it happened, the front latch and the side runners held very well, but the absolute worst case could have been loss of the canopy and vertical stabilizer.
I will resist the temptation to go into great detail about all the steps Merle and his friends took to help us — from calling a member to have him deliver some nylon block, to cutting and milling replacement parts for the locating blocks and the captive slider block — but suffice it to say we were on our way by shortly after 6 p.m. Our deep appreciation goes to Merle and his friends.
As a bonus, on the way back, ATC routed us directly over Atlanta's hub airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, so we got to enjoy brilliant views of downtown.
Since the slider block is almost invisible in normal use, and very difficult to inspect, it seems that extra care should be taken to make sure it's in good condition on every walk-around and especially on annual inspection. What's more, I learned that an annual inspection should be more than just following a list. Your eyes are your best tool, and a very bright light is really helpful. A friend once told me not to use an old-fashioned trouble light. He said, "They're just that, trouble!" Using the brightest LED flashlight you can find is a very good idea. It might have helped "bring this problem to light" a lot sooner. In the author's experience the best time to inspect this RV slider block is with the canopy closed, viewing it from inside the cockpit.
The purpose of this article was to explain what was learned from the experience so that we can all be safer pilots. We hope to see contributions from you soon.