Armed approach
Rifle used to land damaged aircraft

by Ralph Plath
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Mar 07/97) - Fast thinking saved the day for a Fort Simpson pilot whose landing gear broke on a pleasure flight this past weekend.

Veteran pilot Wayne Wilkinson had just taken off in his home-made aircraft at about noon Sunday from the Fort Simpson air strip. He was heading out for an overnight trip to the Horne Plateau when he heard a loud cracking noise.

"First I checked to see if the wings were still there," he said the next day.

After a little while, Wilkinson noticed that his front ski was hanging vertically and its front restraining cable had snapped.

"I was a little bit nervous, so I radioed the airport," he said. "The guy there was really helpful."

The radio dispatcher co-ordinated an emergency response team, which was waiting at the air strip within minutes.

Firefighters and an ambulance were ready in case something happened, giving Wilkinson time to think how he could land the aircraft.

Wilkinson decided he could land the two-seater if he used something to push on the back of the ski in order to keep it in its proper position.

"I tried with everything I had and finally grabbed the rifle as a last resort," he explained. "So I pushed it down through the opening and raised the ski."

Wilkinson radioed personnel at Wolverine Air to watch as he tried a practice run during a fly-by. Everything looked good from the ground so Wilkinson tried it for real the second time.

"Usually you need two hands to land the aircraft -- one on the throttle and one to steer," he said. "That's why the landing wasn't so pretty."

Wilkinson said he was never worried about his safety since the aircraft lands at about 60 km/h. But he admitted there was a chance the rifle could have hit him in the face upon landing or he could have injured himself if the aircraft crashed.

The 52-year-old Fort Simpson resident was lucky since he usually carries a much shorter rifle on day trips for survival purposes.

"I took the other rifle because I was staying overnight," he said.

Wilkinson said he owes a great deal of thanks to Fort Simpson Flight Services, the volunteer fire department, medical services, RCMP, Wolverine Air and other concerned citizens.

"They gave of themselves to see us safely down," he added.