Emilie Phillips updated September 25, 2019
Of all the places for the Bearhawk landing gear to break, a grass field in southern NH was much better than out in Utah, or even a paved runway. That being said, a hayfield next to a popular restaurant, isn’t the best place to leave a damaged airplane, so we needed to get the airplane back to a real airport quickly. Here’s how we did it.
1. Don’t have any major damage
Tyson, Peter, and Tom all inspected the airplane thoroughly to check for other damage. After the gear leg snapped above the axle, it caught in the brake disk. The wheel twisted sideways and slid through the grass, but it continued to hold the airplane’s weight. Both wing tips and the propeller stayed above the ground.
Peter’s video of the landing also shows no suggestion of other damage:
Click for video https://vimeo.com/362458826
Because only the gear leg was damaged, the NTSB does not consider this substantial damage, and thus does not require reporting. We could remove the broken gear leg, replace it with a good one, and fly out.
2. Prop the plane up
That evening Tyson and Peter couldn’t fix the airplane. They needed to secure it so the broken gear couldn’t shift or collapse over the next few days and cause more damage. They strapped the airplane down using three portable claw tie-downs. That was enough to keep it safe from mild winds. For piece of mind, they also put a hay bale under the wing.
3. Find mechanic friends
Tyson spent the next few days calling everyone he knew with a shop. The advice he got was to remove the broken gear leg and take it somewhere to have it weld it back onto the axle. Best of all, Tom & Jake had time that weekend to help with the Bearhawk and weld the part.
3. Custom board jack
On Saturday, Tyson, Tom and Jake set about removing the gear. The hay bale supported the airplane with both wheels on the ground, but they needed the plane higher to pull the gear off. We have two jack stands that we use in the hangar to lift the Bearhawk, but they wouldn’t work on a bumpy, sloped hayfield. Instead, Tyson modified a 2×10 to fit in the notch at the end of the wing strut. Two of them lifted the wing while the third person put the 2×10 under the wing strut.
4. Remove gear leg and axle
This went pretty much as it would in a shop. After removing the gear, they did some forensic analysis. They found evidence the gear leg may have been previously repaired.
5. Field repair the gear
Tom and Jake flew the gear leg and axle back to their shop in Maine to weld it back together. It wouldn’t be the final repair, but it would be enough to fly the Bearhawk home. They didn’t have any Bearhawk-specific jigs to align the axle and gear leg. They would have to align the wheel by eye.
Reinstalling the gear leg was quick. Once installed, everyone agreed that the right wheel was noticeably toed in. The toe in was later measured to be almost 15 degrees.
7. Test taxi
Before flying home, Tyson did a test taxi. He intended to do both a low speed and high speed taxi, but it taxied so poorly he quickly decided he would rather fly it than taxi it. Between the side hill and the aggressive toe-in of the right wheel, the left wheel looked to me like it was bent over at an unsafe angle. From up close, Tyson said it was just the softness of the big bush wheel. Everything seemed structurally sound.
8. Fly home
Actually, Tyson flew the Bearhawk to Jaffrey which has a much wider runway than our home base. On landing, he couldn’t keep the airplane straight. The best he could do was a controlled left slide. It took three of us to push it into the hangar. The left wheel was sliding sideways as much as rolling forward.
9. Fix it for real
We’ve ordered parts and will be replacing the landing gear entirely over the next few weeks.
All photos from the afternoon it broke
All photos from the field repair