Rocky Mountain High

, posted: 13-Oct-2008 17:09

Today for no reason, I brought up John Denver "similar artists radio" on (I listen to instead of radio).

A few hours of happy listening (and some singing) later, I thought it might be interesting to write a quick salutory blog on the anniversary of his death I was going to put in an alarm in my calendar to remind me to do so and so I checked Wikipedia, only to find it was 11 years since the songwriter tragically died today! In his timezone of course.  Funny how that happens, spooky coincidences.

A salute to you Mr Denver, very enthusiastic aviator, masterful musician and lyricist.

Denver got a bit of a bad rap over the accident which claimed his life, various accusations of alcoholism, irresponsible piloting etc were bandied about - as is unfortunately a bit common after air accidents where the pilot isn't around to defend themselves.  

Admittedly, some of this was deserved, John did have a problem with alcohol, and for all intents and purposes he was medically disqualified at the time and should not have been PIC (Pilot in Command) - but in his defense, there is no evidence he ever got behind the stick with booze on his breath.

Ultimately it seems likely that Denver's downfall was in a stupid design change in the aircraft (a Rutan Long-Ez) made by the previous owner, the fuel tap was put behind the pilot, so when John ran out of gas on one tank, he had to crane himself around to reach the tap, accidentally causing a loss of control.  It was quick at least.

Now there is a lesson to be learned of course.  Firstly that you shouldn't go changing the designs of legendary designers like Burt Rutan without good reason, but more importantly, you should be familiar with the aircraft you fly BEFORE you need to be.

Experience is that thing you get just after you needed it.

Eagles inhabit the heavenly heights, they know neither limit nor bound.
They're the guardian angels of darkness and light, they see all and hear every sound.
My spirit will never be broken or caught for the soul is a free-flying thing.
Like an eagle that needs neither comfort nor thought to rise up on glorious wings.
I had a vision of eagles and horses high on a ridge in a race with the wind.

Other related posts:
So long old friend.
"Sky High" At Wigram
CEO of NZ Flying School (Wigram) standing for Electorate

Comment by Joe Dubner, on 14-Oct-2008 03:27

You can call it a "stupid design change" (it isn't really and there is a good reason for it) but how smart is it to take off without enough fuel for the intended mission? Denver turned down an offer to add fuel before he took off.

Author's note by sleemanj, on 14-Oct-2008 22:24

What is the good reason for the change?  As I understand it, as designed the selector is easily reachable, and as changed it is not easily reachable.  Personally, I like my fuel selector where I don't have to fuss about to reach it :-)

Comment by Joe Dubner, on 16-Oct-2008 16:07

If the fuel valve is in the plans-specified location, it is necessary to run a fuel line from each tank forward through the fuselage to the valve and from the valve aft through the fuselage to the engine.

With the fuel valve mounted on the aft firewall, no fuel lines need run through the cockpit. The valve is actuated by a torque tube in the cockpit but only an aluminum tube needs to run through the fuselage.

(This "remoting" of the fuel valve is similar to the scheme in the VariEze). Some view the lack of fuel lines in the cockpit as a safety enhancement.

Like nearly any aircraft accident, this one was caused by a chain of events and blaming it on the location of the fuel valve ignores the other factors: Denver's decision not to take on fuel, his lack of knowledge of the fuel system, his failure to maintain aircraft control and ditch the aircraft, and the use of a vice-grip instead of a knob on the fuel selector valve.

With experimental aircraft, one can arrange things to suit his personal preferences so your desire to have it where you "don't have to fuss about to reach it" is certainly valid and I wouldn't try to dissuade you from that. But my point is that there was a logical reason for its location.

Comment by Carol, on 17-Oct-2008 14:32

Just a slight correction:

John was 53 years old at the time of his accident in 1997.

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James Sleeman
New Zealand

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