Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2020 issue
As reported in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, warbird pilot and commercial and residential real estate developer, Chuck Cook of Ham Lake, Minnesota, lived to tell about his horrific accident that occurred on August 23, 2018, while flying his 1954 T-28 Trojan. Through the generosity of Greg Herrick, owner of Golden Wings Museum at Anoka County-Blaine Airport (KANE) in Blaine, Minnesota, Cook shared his story with 200 friends and fellow aviators on November 24, 2019.
Cook experienced an inflight fire in the cockpit and crash landed his T-28 while attempting to land. His story was one of survival, and his presentation was intended to share some afterthoughts to encourage other pilots to be prepared for such emergencies and hopefully prevent future tragedies.
Cook described that day as beautiful weather-wise, and that he was right where he wanted to be, flying in formation with his buddies en route to a formation flyover event. About 15 minutes into the flight, the generator fail light came on, so he decided to separate from the formation and return to his home airport (KANE).
After turning the aircraft towards Anoka County, he sensed a slight smell of something burning. He radioed his flight lead and asked if there were fires burning out west and he replied yes, there were. The smell was slight and very soon dissipated, so Cook did not give it much further thought. He then switched DC power from battery/generator to battery only. Cook explained that in the T-28, when you have a generator failure and the DC power switch is in the battery/generator position, you have automatic load shed of the secondary bus. When DC power is switched to the battery-only position, you re-energize the secondary bus, which provides power for many systems, including the speed brake, landing gear position indicators – and on some aircraft – the radios.
Cook’s direct flight home took him through Saint Paul Downtown Airport class D airspace, which required him to contact the tower and he was cleared through their airspace. After picking up ATIS at KANE, he then radioed Anoka tower. Other than the battery fail light, Cook said the flight back to KANE took about 15 minutes and was uneventful.
Upon reaching KANE, Cook entered the standard break-to-land position, and flew over the threshold of the runway at 1,000 feet above the ground, banked 60 degrees and flew a 360-degree descending circle-to-land procedure. After reducing power to 20 inches of manifold pressure, he deployed the speed brake.
Immediately, thick billowing smoke filled the cockpit. Cook opened the canopy to clear the smoke and announced to the tower that he had smoke in the cockpit. Right away Cook knew he had a serious problem, but feeling that he was too low to bail out, he elected to continue the turn to get the plane on the ground as soon as possible. Cook was being sprayed with a fluid, which at the time he thought was fuel. Following the NTSB investigation, it was determined from the chemical on Cook’s flight suit that it was hydraulic fluid. The spray was very heavy and was even getting up inside the visor of his helmet.
At 180 degrees of turn and in level flight and reaching abeam the runway threshold, Cook dropped the gear and flaps. That’s when the fire started and became ferocious, but Cook held the stick steady and continued the circle towards the threshold of the runway.
On very short final, Cook realized he could not continue the flare and landing and needed to do a controlled crash and get out of the aircraft as fast as possible. At about 100 feet AGL, Cook was veering left of course and saw the threshold of the runway in his peripheral vision. At this point he was losing his ability to see, so he decided to push the stick forward and drive the airplane home.
Cook remembers waking up to the sound of silence, but doesn’t remember exiting the cockpit, but he did, and he was attempting to put out the fire on his clothing when first responders arrived on the scene. After he gave them his wife’s name and phone number, he didn’t remember a thing until he woke up in the hospital two months later from a medically induced coma with severe burns.
Chuck Cook has gained a renewed appreciation for life, and appreciates the support he has received from family and friends – both old and new. When you read his full story, you too will have a greater appreciation for life!