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EAAer Lands Safely on Interstate in New Mexico

By Patrick Panzera

Jon Finley
Jon Finley with Subar-Sonic, his Quickie Q-2 that won the COPPERSTATE 2008 Best Alternative Engine award.

March 8, 2010A Quickie Q-2, owned and piloted by Jonathan (Jon) Finley (EAA 394580), made an emergency landing Saturday morning, March 6, on Interstate Highway 25, parallel to Mid Valley airpark (E98) in Los Lunas, New Mexico. Jon’s plane is powered with a direct-drive, Subaru automobile conversion and was featured in the March 2009 issue of Experimenter, EAA’s homebuilder e-newsletter.

After having flown hundreds of uneventful hours in Subar-Sonic (its nickname), Jon’s morning departure for breakfast with fellow EAAers was quite routine. Climbing north for 2-3 miles and over the village of Los Lunas, the engine suddenly and without warning stopped. The tachometer read 270 rpm from the windmilling propeller but switching systems from stand-by made no difference. Jon said his only option at that point was the interstate.

The southbound lanes of I-25 seemed more appealing due to reduced traffic flow so Jon lined up. “There was one truck on the road right below me and I am fairly sure that I just barely cleared him - I bet he had nightmares last night about that UFO dropping out of the sky right in front of him!” Jon told us. “The landing was pretty normal and I let her roll for quite a while so the automotive traffic behind me had a chance to figure out what had just happened and could slow down.”

Stopping in the middle of the two lanes, Jon jumped out and pulled his plane safely to the side, allowing traffic to continue flowing. Jon commented that the Interstate is really smooth; he wishes his home field was that nice.

It didn’t take long for emergency crews to show; state police, Los Lunas police, fire, ambulance, tow truck, and the media seemed to all converge at once. Jon managed to get a radio call out to his flying companions before he landed, letting them know that he was going to be late for breakfast, and it was a welcome relief to see friendly faces show up at the scene as a result of that call.

With the textbook landing there were no injuries to Jon or his plane, but it was reassuring that the response team would have been there for him had he needed them. The authorities called the FAA in spite of the fact that there was no damage and no injuries so Jon had to wait until they showed up before they could start loading the plane. During the wait, Jon’s friends were able to bring his truck and trailer, along with lots of manpower from Mid Valley Airpark to help load the plane. The state police were kind enough to escort them back to Mid Valley so the plane didn’t have to be disassembled; the load was 17 feet wide. The plane made it home without a scratch.

By noon, Subar-Sonic was back in the hangar and still not willing to start. Initial troubleshooting indicates that the problem may be due to a single nut coming loose and getting into some electronics. “The problem appears to have been a nut in the cockpit (no, not this nut),” he joked “Last time I looked at it was some 300 hours ago. Somewhere in that timeframe it worked its way off the bolt and fell onto a printed circuit board which seems to have defeated all of my built-in redundancy.

“At least that is the theory at the moment, and I can’t find anything else wrong. I won’t know for sure for at least several days but will let ya’ll know when I know,” Jon told us.

This is not Jon’s first interstate landing in an experimental aircraft. I-15 (near Helena, Montana) was his auxiliary runway in the early 1990s when his Quickie (Q-1) misbehaved.

Jon is scheduled to be a guest speaker at the Alternative Engine Round-Up (fly-in) at the JeanSportAviationCenter, Jean, Nevada, on March 28, 2009. For more information visit www.ContactMagazine.com/roundup.html

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