We had made four takeoffs and landings and were taxiing back for a final circuit of the field. One more landing and we would be finished with the Tiger familiarization work. We were to depart the next day to fly southwest to the Mississippi River and spend the night in St. Louis, Missouri.
It was a hot day, so for cooler air, we opened the canopy while taxiing. On the taxiway prior to taking Runway 27, Valerie announced, “Grand Haven traffic, Tiger 1192 Echo, taking off Runway 27, staying in the pattern, Grand Haven.”
But she hesitated – she was not satisfied the canopy had closed properly, and was attempting to open and close it. But she could not.
I reached up for the handle and could not move it either. Together we made several attempts. Adjacent to the canopy lock are placards: “FLAG INDICATES UNLATCHED COPY” and “PUSH TO UNLOCK.” We pushed and pulled. We gave up.
Valerie had done her homework… had studied a borrowed Tiger POH and knew there was an exit in the baggage area, so she nimbly climbed over the front and back seats and into baggage. But… she could not open the baggage door either – we could not exit the Tiger! And it was hot. Steamy hot.
Still sitting in the copilot seat, I waved to George Brewer, our mechanic, who was mowing the airport grass. He had noticed our stopped propeller and was now walking toward us. There was a narrow crack on my side where the canopy met the windshield, so I took the airplane key off the ring and slid it through the crack.
With the key, George walked around and unlocked the baggage door. Valerie slid out, mighty relieved to be able to stand up and breathe easily again.
I was still sitting in the co-pilot seat and sweating. I was not a patient participant. I hollered, “Hey, get me out of here.”
Then came another struggle, for after George stepped up on the left wing, he could not budge the canopy. Then Valerie appeared on my wing and together, after much effort, they broke the canopy loose. Fresh air at last!
We turned the Tiger over to George who later called to say the canopy was working properly and the airplane was ready to fly.
Valerie and I went to my house and finished packing. Our navigation equipment included iPads with ForeFlight and Stratus ADS-B receivers, as well as paper charts for the planned flight down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and then east to Spruce Creek Fly-In Community, where we both had homes.
I actually felt rather good about the way we handled the situation, thinking we were cool and sensible in an emergency situation.
Little did I know that during the night I would have nightmares so vivid that I did not sleep and was literally unable to fly the next day. I was in that airplane with Mabel.
You see, my sister, Mabel Virginia Rawlinson, was a WASP in World War II and had perished in flames on August 23, 1943. She chose to take a flight in an A-24, the Douglas dive bomber at Camp Davis, North Carolina, knowing she would not be able to exit the aircraft should they crash. The canopy could only be opened from the outside. Mabel’s check pilot, Lt. Harvey Robillard, sat behind her and, when the aircraft developed engine trouble, they crashed it into the trees just as recent procedural orders had advised. Harvey, still in his seat, was thrown clear of the wreckage, was hospitalized for serious injuries, and lived to fly at Camp Davis again. Mabel could not open her canopy. Mabel burned.
We cancelled the trip and Valerie made a reservation to take the airlines home. Before she left, we went to the airplane and began our research on canopy jamming prevention. Time after time we took turns opening and closing the canopy. No problem. Why did it jam?
We need to discover just how it happened. We need to be aware of and exercise prevention maintenance. And we need to voice our findings. Many of us carry a hammer for such use, but it would be a last resort. Each and every pilot needs to know there is a way out through a door, a window, or a sliding canopy.