A dead stick landing and a chance encouter with Hal Shevers
Air Facts Journal

Our meaningful conversation concluded and the tall, distinguished gentleman smiled, applied a red-inked “Sporty’s Pilot Shop” stamp in the back of my nearly-empty ASA-SP-57 and added, “Happy Flying, Hal Shevers, 9/1/95.”

logbook

Hal Shevers applied a red-inked “Sporty’s Pilot Shop” stamp in the back of my logbook.

About an hour earlier, I was just to the east of Cincinnati, Ohio and overtop of Clermont County Airport (I69), home of Sport’s Pilot Shop, at about 1,500 feet hawking the wind sock to determine my landing runway. The UNICOM frequency was quiet and I saw no other planes in the pattern. I turned away to re-enter on a 45 degree downwind. As I banked back to the field came a startling assault of silence. The engine quit—politely and with no shudder—it simply stopped running. I was a glider.

This was the end of the first leg of my delivery flight home of my first airplane, a brand new 8KCAB Super Decathlon. Earlier at the factory, a blistering rush of activity included my first sight of the new ship, a quick factory tour, meetings, acceptance flight, loads of paperwork, t-shirts tried on, many questions asked and answered, and packing the airplane for the flight home. Along the way, I understood that there was no fuel pump at the factory field, but they had topped off my tanks from cans. Admittedly, I did not look.

super decathalon

My first airplane was a brand new Super Decathlon.

By late morning I had launched into the delirious blistering blue. I was running 75% for engine break-in procedures but, assuredly, had more than an hour excess endurance for a two hour and thirty minute leg on a CAVU day with light winds. Early on, I was consumed and mildly troubled by a few issues. The new-to-me magic Garmin GNC 250XL did not seem to recognize any waypoints that I entered. I was navigating by pilotage from a sectional and manually entering frequencies. Also, the ammeter seemed to be sticking to the negative side of zero—steadily discharging. Oh, and the two bouncing needle fuel gauges in the wing roots that had started off showing 3/4 full were decreasing to lower levels than I anticipated. No matter though as those mechanical float mechanisms were well known to be inaccurate. I would adjust them as needed once I reached my home mechanic.

Except, overhead at I69, I realized the gauges WERE absolutely reading correctly (hard on zero and showing no motion) and I was truly empty. Fortunately, my Navy training presented this situation as a challenge I could master rather than panic. I managed energy well with a good dead-stick landing and in fact, was able to roll off via the taxiway all the way to a parking spot.

I gave my fuel order at the lobby—please fill it up—and entered pilot nirvana of the display of all goodies known to flying in the Sporty’s storefront.

Hal Shevers

Hal Shevers is the Founder of Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

As I returned to the counter to settle my fuel bill, a friendly stranger asked, “Is that your Decathlon out there?”

“Yes, sir,” I answered proudly.

“It’s a beauty! Now, I’m a flight instructor familiar with the plane and I couldn’t help but notice that your fuel load was pretty close to the tank capacity?”

“Ah, indeed, yes, I was a bone-dry glider. No excuses, but let me tell you how it happened…”

[Expectation bias, deference to authority, distraction, complacency.]

I greatly admire and respect Mr. Shevers’s gracious, yet professional, demeanor in generously offering guidance to a visiting young pilot.

That airplane had a few teething problems that were quickly sorted out by my stellar mechanic and, over the next 400 hours, it launched me on my aerobatic career including winning Sportsman at Fond du Lac (KFLD) and my home International Aerobatic Club (IAC) chapter as well as numerous wonderful cross-country adventures.

But it all began with an experience brought on by my poor judgment with the lesson affirmed by a great instructor and gentleman, Hal Shevers.

extra

My first airplane launched me on my aerobatic career including winning Sportsman at Fond du Lac and my home IAC chapter as well as numerous wonderful cross-country adventures.

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