Back on September 5, 2000, Don was making a low pass down runway 17 about fifty feet AGL at Gillespie Field near San Diego, California. Suddenly and without warning, the airplane veered sharply to the right, and tried to roll inverted.
While he was fighting to stay in the air, Don was advised by the tower that something had been seen falling from the plane. Actually, the entire vertical stabilizer and rudder assembly had separated from the aircraft!
Don says, "I used throttle and elevator to manage speed with max left aileron to keep the airplane from rolling on its back. The V formed by the elevator in the up position probably helped give some directional control although the ship stayed in a tight right skidding turn."
Astonishingly, while maintaining control of the airplane, Don radioed his intention to land and called for emergency vehicles. After make more than one 360 turn at low altitude, he extended the landing gear and landed safely right on runway 17.
The tail assembly was later found on the airport property. Subsequently, an FAA inspector examined the components and reported that there was evidence of dry rot on the fracture surfaces.
These pictures of N60BW were taken earlier this year at Gillespie Field and Porterville. As you can see, the airplane still looks vaguely like a Mite, although the tail assembly is installed backwards so that the leading edges are swept back, unlike a normal Mooney. Also, the fuel tank is re-positioned to ahead of the cockpit, which was moved back two feet with entrance from the rear of the wing. The trimable horizontal stabilizer has been retained but the vertical stabilizer and rudder are now an integral part of the tail cone.
Don says the airplane is a great flying machine and is faster in cruise at a lower power setting than before. Understandably, it always attracts a "what is it?" group wherever it goes.
Photo credits: Don Henry, Dave Rutherford
20 October, 2002