Get me out of here

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.

Grumman Tiger canopy open
That sliding canopy is a great feature on a hot day, but there is a drawback.

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.

Mabel Rawlinson
Mabel Rawlinson, the author’s sister, a WASP who died in an accident in 1943.

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.

4 Comments

  • I have been looking to buy an airplane and the Tiger was at the top of my list…but this article scares me to death. Especially since the baggage door can only be unlocked from the outside. Please let us know if you find out what happened? Did the rails need to be greased better? Is there a latch that can be installed on the inside of the baggage door, like a car trunk? Newer military planes have a blast cord running around the canopy that can blow the plexi out. Anything like that for civilian planes?

  • Tiger’s came with slide latches on the inside of the baggage door, not sure what was wrong with this one that caused her to be unable to open it. I love mine and wouldn’t let one case decide my choice. You won’t find stronger plane structure in GA. Every model aircraft has likely had a single case of something weird occurring. Glad this case wasn’t more serious.

  • Partnered in a Tiger; had the same problem. The canopy seal can stick to the canopy bow such that the small amount of force that you can apply with the inside or outside handle can not overcome it. Slipping something between the seal and the bow, possible from the outside only, should free it. The seal needs lubrication annually or biannually for longevity and flexibility. That should solve the problem.

    The canopy side rails should also be cleaned and lubed during the annual. Use only the highest quality silicone, liquid lube. The canopy comes off easily and should then be turned over to clean its rails. Also clean and lube the canopy tracks on the fuselage. The canopy should slide back very easily – one or two fingers.

    Also check in with grumman.net and grummanpilotsassociation.com for lots of knowledgeable support for your Tiger/

  • Bodies flex…I got locked in the lav one time, coming home from Germany..I sat down and waited a few minutes, and it finally popped open ..

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