David Tibbo was trying to buy gift cards for his friends Thursday evening for helping him move his vehicle out of the middle of the road.
The vehicle in question was Tibbo’s home-built, one-engine airplane, which they moved from the middle of McCarty Lane in Lafayette after he made an emergency landing Thursday morning.
Tibbo, a second-year Purdue graduate student studying aerospace propulsion, said he began building his homemade aircraft as a passion project after exiting the United States military in 2018.
“I spent 10 straight months building up this aircraft in a garage,” he said. “I had savings, I had time.” Tibbo said he worked 12 hours a day, six days a week to construct the plane.
But the plane’s electrical system was not complete until March, and he didn’t fly it until July.
Tibbo said that he took to the air on Thursday to test the plane’s wing flaps.
“I was happy with how the plane was flying," Tibbo said. "I didn't expect much to happen."
But something did.
“I suspect that the regulator rectifier failed,” Tibbo said, explaining that the regulator rectifier is a device that converts power from the plane’s alternator to the battery.
In any case, the engine died, and Tibbo found himself thousands of feet in the air without a functioning power source.
His first step was to find the plane’s best glide speed, the optimum speed at which a plane should travel to obtain an even glide.
“I hadn’t gotten to that point yet in my syllabus, so I had to guess,” Tibbo said.
He was pointed toward Purdue Airport’s Runway 28 and at first believed that he would make it there safely.
This soon proved not to be the case.
“I was able to see the horizon and the land below me, and I saw that the airport appeared to be moving away from me,” Tibbo said. “Which told me that... I wasn’t going to make it all the way to the runway.”
He next tried to land in a grassy field near Purdue and found that he couldn’t make it there either. That left him only one option: land on a street in Lafayette.
“Honestly, I felt bad at that point in time,” Tibbo said. “This is my plane, this is my project, this is my fun, and I shouldn’t have to involve other people getting hurt for what I'm doing.”
He then made it his priority to land the plane without injuring others.
Tibbo first aligned his plane to land on Sagamore Parkway, but discovered that the street was “swamped with cars.” He also needed to avoid two sets of power lines before landing.
He was able to pull the plane up over one line and then swerve down over another.
Tibbo aligned his plane with McCarty Lane and brought it to a halt in front of a stop sign near the Lafayette 7 movie theater. No one was injured in this emergency landing.
Tibbo said he is ready to repair his plane and take to the skies again.
“Nobody was hurt, I’m not hurt, the plane’s OK,” he said. “I’m able to investigate the electrical issues and that stuff (to) try again another day.”
Purdue University Police Department Capt. Song Kang said that police arrived on the scene to investigate the incident, but that the issue was not a police matter since no injuries occurred.