Monday, November 30, 2015

Barnyard Landing

One day I left the landing strip with a full load on board this old battered and beat-up Stearman. I was flying about the average ferry altitude of a couple of hundred feet, headed out to spray a field of cotton. The tired old engine made a muffled cough, backfired and quit cold. 

 Now a loaded Stearman without power has a glide angle like a brick with a feather tied to it. Within 10 or 12 seconds I was on the ground. I didn’t even have time to turn parallel with the furrows. I hit the hard dry dirt doing about 85 mph across the furrows of a newly harvested maize field. Bumpity, bumpity bumptiy, enough to rattle your teeth. It seems that the engine had decided it didn’t like the impure fuel we were using.

Not all my flight interruptions were caused by engine problems though. Sometimes there were other causes. About four days later while flying for the same operator near small town of Brownfield, Texas I took off at dawn and headed for my assigned field when I noticed the tips of my propeller was making little contrail rings. 

It was early fall. We had had a cool air mass move in the night before and this was a warning that temperature and dew-point were getting too close together, but I figured I would at least have time to get my load out. 

I arrived at my field and made several passes across it when fog began to form around me. I thought, "Uh-oh, I had better get this bag of rags on the ground pretty soon."  I pulled up and headed back to the strip, but before I got there I found fog banks closing in on me all around. 

I saw a newly mowed alfalfa field directly in front of me. I quickly decided to put the plane on the ground - and just in time. Before I could bring her to a stop I entered a thick fog bank. I rolled to a stop and I kicked the tail around.

As I peered into the mist I discovered that I had stopped about 15 feet from a small barn or tool shed. I shut the engine down and just as I did so a back door on the shed flew open and a Mexican hired hand stepped out. When he saw me his eyes bugged out and he threw the hoe he was carrying up in the air and lit out like the devil was after him. I had to laugh but can’t say as I blamed him. Who would expect to step out of the barn and suddenly see this big biplane rolling toward you out of the fog?

I was very pleased to be on the ground. Eventually I was able to hitch a ride with a passing farmer and he took me back to my base. 

When I walked in, my bosses eyes got as big as the Mexican’s and he said, "Roberts, this is the second time within week you have returned without you airplane." He was vastly relieved to learn that his plane wasn’t damaged and admitted, "I’m pleased though that you are on the ground and not on top of this pea soup milling around up there looking for some place to land."


  1. Have you ever counted how many emergency landings you had to make? Would be an interesting number.....