Leg 3: Forced Landing

» . . . Story continues from Leg 2: Logbook

"Here's your sandwich, Mike," you say while throwing it to him from the seat of your cockpit. "I am ready to go!"

From an easy liftoff, you steer the airplane to the open skies of the west towards Cheyenne, Wyoming.

After another hour and a half of uneventful flight, you notice the clouds are beginning to thicken up around you. You wonder if this is the front edge of the snowstorm that is quickly moving east.

A big gust of wind suddenly lifts the airplane up, then down. The airplane is slip-sliding and bouncing around in the turbulent air.

Then the engine sputters . . . halts a moment, kicks in briefly, and quits. This happens on occasion, but your heart races just a bit as you realize that the storm front might be the least of your worries. With the engine out, there is no time to make it to an emergency landing field. The airplane is heading down and you do your best to keep it level in the stormy winds.

Refer to caption
Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.

The airplane breaks through the clouds, and you spy a field of winter wheat just ahead. There is a farmhouse and a barn to your left. You see a tree-lined river beyond the barn. You steer the airplane to clear the buildings, but five spooked horses run close under the airplane. You fear you might hit them. Looking out the other side of the airplane, you are relieved to see the horses racing off toward the barn.

Knowing that there is no more room to maneuver, you brace yourself as the airplane slams to the ground, cutting through the wheat. The downed airplane comes to a final rest with a jolt and lists to the left. The clock reads 3:18 p.m. Taking a few deep breaths and making sure that you are okay, you climb swiftly out of the wreckage.

You walk away from the airplane to think about the situation at hand, remembering that the mail is the highest priority. You need to decide if you can get the airplane flying again. If not, you must find a way to get the mail sacks to their destination.

You assess your airplane. The lower, left wing is crumpled and the front left side of the fuselage is badly splintered from the impact. With these broken parts and the dead engine, there is too much for you to fix on your own. Ship number 385 is a "wash-out," in other words, damaged beyond immediate repair.

Luckily, there are no signs of fire; you begin pulling the mail sacks out of the wreckage. Through the trail of crumpled wheat, you see a man coming toward you. "You all right there young feller?" the farmer calls out.

"I am, but the ship is badly damaged," you reply. You introduce yourself and explain that you are an airmail pilot and that you are sorry for landing on his property.

The farmer introduces himself, "Sonny Wyatt is the name. I am glad you are okay, but it looks like you ruined a big portion of my wheat field."

Refer to caption
Pilot Helen Richey.
- Courtesy of the Air Mail Pioneers

"The Post Office Department will pay you for all damages. Send us a bill when you figure out the cost. Could you help me get this mail back on the move? I need to find the nearest telephone to report where the airplane went down. Whereabouts are we?" you ask.

"This is Cheyenne County, Nebraska. I don't have a telephone," says Farmer Wyatt, "But there is a telephone in town – Sidney is about 7 miles east and has telephones, a post office and train stop. My sons and I will give you a hand."

Loading the eight sacks of mail on a horse and wagon, you are ready to head back east with the help of Farmer Wyatt. Before heading to town, you arrange with Farmer Wyatt's teenage son to pay him a penny an hour to watch the airplane and to keep any curious neighbors from touching it.

You manage to beat the storm to Sidney, where you phone in the news and tell the mechanics how to find your forced landing site. The mechanics will come and haul away the downed airplane.

The stormy weather is too strong now for another airmail airplane to fly into Sidney and pick up your mail sacks. Instead, you place the mail sacks on the next train to Cheyenne and you catch another going home to Omaha. At the first opportunity, you must fill in a regulation Report of Forced Landing.

Report of Forced Landing
Enter the story's details into this Report of Forced Landing. All airmail pilots had to fill out a report if their flight was more than 15 minutes behind schedule. Even days after a forced landing, a pilot still might not know the extent of the damage to the airplane, the final cost of repairs, oil, and gas as well as many other details on the outcome of a crash. Fill in as many blanks as you can.

» Fill in the Forced Landing Report

See some reports of forced landings:
» Ernest Allison
» Lloyd Bertaud
» William F. Blanchfield
» Frank H. Crozier
» Stephen T. Kaufman
» E.E. Mouton

Fad to Fundamental: Airmail in America