Dead Sticking a Tiger

Up until this incident, I had flown in icing conditions, hit a power line, and ground looped a Citabria. It's amazing what muscle memory can do and how those cob webs in the back of your head are awakened when the engine stops turning.
  -  Gary

In April 2019 I purchased a 1976 Tiger, N7467B, from Jan Sheppard who was based at John Wayne Airport (KSNA) in SoCal. 

I had known Jan for 30 plus years.  Jan was dying of lung cancer and called to say he wanted to sell his plane to pay for Chemo-therapy.  He sent me some pics of his plane.  The plane looked pretty good in the pics.  I asked how much he wanted for his plane.  "I need $45,000." He told me.  Seemed a fair price given that the avionics were old, the interior was rough, and the paint needed to be touched up (from what I could see in the pics).  Jan then told me he was having the local mechanic change two cylinders that were very low on compression (the plane was in annual at the time).

Come to find out, the cam was bad.  The engiine had 1500+ hours on it.  Jan then lowered the price to $25,000.  I told him I didn't need another project.  I tried to sell his plane on the internet.  The only person to go look at the plane offered Jan $20,000.  Jan called me and said he's rather sell the plane to me.  So, with the help of Larry Massaro, I bought Jan's plane for $22,000.  Our plan was to do a quick minor restoration and sell the plane for $70,000 with a new engine.

The drive down to KSNA was saddened by the passing of a really great friend of ours (mine and Clytie's), Papa Duane on the same day we headed to John Wayne.  When we got to John Wayne, we met the owner of the FBO that had been maintaining Jan's plane for the past 20 years (he offered to take us to a hotel - allowing us to leave the Tahoe and trailer at the airport.)  In the morning, after a good nights sleep, the FBO owner picked us up and took us to the airport.  He also had one of his employees help us get the plane loaded.

Sounds good so far, right?  After getting the plane loaded the FBO owner (I wish I could remember his name and his company's name) gave me a bill for $1500 for shuttling us back and forth to the hotel, getting us onto the airport, and for his employee.  First red flag.

After we got the plane back to Auburn and got it unloaded, we put the plane in the corner of the hangar reserved for project planes and started tearing it apart, removing the engine for overhaul, and prepping the firewall for paint. 

A customer of ours, Ben, had sold his Traveler to a guy name Richard; He preferred to go by the name Rye-Chard.  Go figure.  Anyway, Rye-Chard stopped by a few weeks after I'd sent the engine from Jan's plane to LyCon Engine Rebuilders.  He liked the looks of 67B.  He told me he had a friend, Matt Ellis, who was looking for a Tiger.  I figured I had about $30,000 in the project at the time and told Rye-Chard I'd sell the plane for what I have in it, figuring I'd make money restoring the plane for someone else. 

Larry was good with that plan.  Matt came to Auburn October 1, 2019 and bought the plane with cash.  He also agreed to pay for the engine overhaul.  This sounded like a good plan.  After I showed Matt my plane, N28747, Matt said, "I want my plane to be a perfect as yours.  I want new avionics, I want a new interior, and anything else you think it needs."  So. that was the plan.

The instrument panel:  What I found was 10 circuit breakers in the plastic air-vent boxes, a storm scope that didn't work, broken switches, cracked plastic, and on-and-on. This plane was very rough. 

The upper firewall section:  After removing obsolete stuff that had been screwed to the upper firewall, I found no fewer than 38 holes. The upper section needed to be replaced.  I had extra honeycomb and installed it behind where the new upper firewall was going.  That took forever.

The bottom of the fuselage: I filled 87 holes after removing doublers for equipment that was no longer installed.

The top of the empennage: I filled 69 holes after removing 4 patches.

Wings: The wings turned out to be a real nightmare. I started by removing cracked Bondo on the forward corners.  Lots and lots of patching under the Bondo.  (Side note: when the wings were stripped for paint, both wings had extensive damage.  They needed to be replaced.)

All in all, I patched and filled almost 200 holes in that plane.  My God what a disaster.  Not only that, but the workmanship done at John Wayne was amateur; marginal at best.  So the story goes.

I got the engine back from LyCon and installed it on July 4th, 2020. It looked good, too. Matt seemed happy. The interior was coming along. The panel had been cut for a new overlay to incorporate an EDM 900 on the left, resessed G5s, mini iPad mount, and a new glovebox.  Then the add-ons started.

First, he had a perfectly good Power Flow. It just needed the short stack conversion. Then, he wanted the interior like mine.  Hell, my front seats cost me $1200 in 2003 dollars.  I had some 1978 seats.  I told him I'd sell them to him for what I paid.  Done.   He wanted the back seat, seat back to be replaced (it was rough).  Then, it was new windows. Then, it was new plastic.  Then it was a new headliner. Then, it was new plastic on the instruemtn panel.  Then . . . .

By the summer of 2021, he had well over $150,000 in the plane. The Garmin stack & instrument panel alone was $50,000 of it.

Matt amd his wife came down a couple of times, thinking I'd work faster and dedicate my time to their plane and not my own customers.  Comments from the wife like, "You see how much can get done when you work on our plane." were sarcastic.  By January 2021, Matt began sending texts and calling all the time because he wanted his plane.  I can understand that.  But, I can only do so much.

All of that background is for this. A real lesson was learned.

By June, Matt was getting to be a real pain-in-the-ass. Constant calls. By this time, I had done the first three steps in my checklist for a new engine installation.  The next step, Step 4, was a quick once around the pattern, land, check for leaks, check all hoses, check all filters, check all wires, and look for fuel leaks.  Step 5 was to be several trips around the pattern

On June 26, 2021, we were heading to the hangar to do Step 4 and make sure the plane was ready to fly.  Matt called and was very belligerent.  He wanted his plane at the paint shop before I went on vacation in a few days later.  I got really pissed off.  I stopped thinking, really.  All I could think of was getting Matt and his wife out of my life.  He still owed me $16,800.

When we got to the airport I pulled out 67B, did a quick once over, fired it up, taxied to the run-up area, did a quick run-up, shut down, opened the cowling, checked for leaks, everything looked good, got back in, fired it up, another run-up and I was off to Lincoln Airport.  It was to be a 7 mile flight.

It was also the first flight with the new engine. About halfway to Lincoln, the EDM 900 engine warning light started flashing.  I looked at the 900 and saw oil pressure was 25 psi and dropping. My legs started shaking.  My hands started shaking.  I pushed up the power to get as much out of it as I could.  Then, I started looking for a place to land. 

About a mile East of Lincoln was an open field. I pointed 67B at the field, side-slipped to lose altitude, and flew over the fence on the East end. It was then that I noticed the field had been plowed North and South.  I was landing to the West.  At about 10 feet above the field I began a 90 degree right turn, lowering the flaps in the process, lined up with the furrows, and touched down with at least 2000 feet available for a roll-out.  The furrows were not as deep as they had looked from the air.  It was 10:30am.

Roll-out was a non-event.  I let the plane roll and use up energy.  With the exception of a seized engine and oil all over the left side of the engine compartment and plane, there was no damage.  There weren't even any weeds on the landing gear.  I called my wife.  She was terrified that I might have been injured.

Two planes had seen me land and stopped to check on me.  One of them offered a trailer to move the plane.  I called Dave, Keven, Barry, and Larry to help with the plane extraction.  My wife came, picked me up, we went back to my hangar, got my tools, and returned to the field.  I had to cut off the lock on the gate to the field.

By 12:30pm, the plane was at the paint shop.  I'd have to find out what happened after vacation.

Nope. Matt went to Lincoln, paid a local mechanic to remove the engine, arranged with the paint shop to finish the plane, sent the engine to LyCon, and, basically, took over the project.

I talked to Ken at LyCon. They could find no leaks. I never did hear if the oil cooler had failed. I didn't have a chance to check hoses or do any real post incident investigation. I'll never know what happened.

Lesson Learned

The bottom line is: the next time a customer is an asshole and doesn't pay, I'm not going to get mad.  I will not be upset.  I'll simply put his plane in the back corner of my hangar where he can't get to it and I'll stop all work until I'M READY.