A student of mine was one week from taking (and passing) his private check ride in a Cessna 152. He was doing solo practice at a nearby uncontrolled airport. On one circuit, he reported turning from crosswind to downwind for runway 32 when a Malibu announced it was on a right 45 to enter the downwind for the same runway.
The student spotted the Malibu, told the other pilot he had them in sight, and said he would follow the faster Malibu. The Malibu pilot acknowledged and entered a wide downwind leg. An airplane on base for the same runway announced it was on base.
Just before the airplane on base turned final, the Malibu turned base and then quickly turned final. The other airplane on final asked the Malibu pilot if he was in sight, and the Malibu pilot said he did not see the traffic ahead.
Finally the Malibu pilot spotted the leading airplane and radioed that he was too close for a normal landing. The lead airplane offered to go around, but the Malibu pilot said he would make a left 360 for spacing. In the meantime, my student, No. 3 for landing, had watched the Malibu turn final and turned base when he was abeam the Malibu. He couldnt announce the turn because of the radio chatter between the two airplanes on final.
As luck would have it, the student turned base to final just as the Malibu began its 360-degree left turn. He reported he was on final and asked the Malibu if he was in sight. The Malibu pilot said he wasnt aware anyone was behind him. The Malibu pilot offered to do another left 360, but the student opted instead to make a right side-step go-around. He told the Malibu to go ahead and land.
A week later, I was working with another student at the same airport and saw the same Malibu overtaking another airplane on final because he was executing his base and final turns too fast. This time, the Malibu elected to go around instead of doing a 360.
I think my student taught him a good lesson about making left 360s at uncontrolled fields with left-hand traffic. However, I was disappointed that the Malibu pilot had not learned to space himself with slower traffic in the pattern.
Performing 360s for spacing is fine at an airport where ATC has radar and is arbitrating the spacing of aircraft. But its too dangerous at uncontrolled fields because pilots cannot see the big picture and aircraft without radios wont have the slightest idea what youre about to do.
ELT Puts Airplane in a Bind
While performing aerobatic maneuvers in my 1996 Super Decathlon, I felt some restriction in stick movement while doing a -2 g push. Fortunately the stick movement was still adequate to fly immediately to my home airport, less than 10 miles away.
Upon inspecting the elevator control arm, I was able to see a small silver rod wedged in it. I removed the access panel and discovered the auxiliary antenna from the ELT was the culprit. My ELT is mounted on the floor, just aft of the rear seat. There is a telescoping antenna held to the ELT by a U-shaped clip that can be removed and used if the ELT needs to be removed from the aircraft.
I have no idea how long the antenna had been loose, but it had worked its way to the tail and then up into the elevator. My guess is a lost pen could create the same problem.
Fortunately the antenna was soft enough to bend, as would most pens, I suspect. But, a lost screwdriver might have been a different story.
I have not only more securely fastened the antenna to the ELT, but it is now a part of every preflight. I also regularly remove the access panels in the tail cone to check for foreign objects.
Swell Time for a Vacation
Aircraft ownership is full of ups and downs – literally and figuratively.My aircraft, a 1978 C172N, lives in Singapore most of the time. Maintenance and support are a concern because finding parts and good mechanics with FAA A&P certificates can be a couple of real challenges. If I need a widget I either go on-line and order it or I make a phone call late at night to the USA. Either way, I then wait a week for the part to arrive. I have lots of spare widgets in my personal inventory.
My aircraft was going through annual and my mechanic reported low compression in one cylinder. We mutually decided to fly it for a while and see what happened. Three months later at the next oil change, compression was unimproved. We decided to bite the bullet and replace the cylinder. Other options were considered but this was decided to be the most expedient approach. Considering where we are, it has been my experience that replacement is a better option than repair.
The cylinder, piston and piston pin were replaced and the cylinders manufacturer recommendations were followed for break in.
A month later, my wife and I were taking the plane for a short trip to a resort for the weekend. Im a member of the flying club at the destination airport and the mechanic there had agreed to assist me with the oil/filter change that was due.
After completing the oil/filter change, we cut open the filter and found lots of non-ferrous metal particles. Could it be from the new cylinder? Some of the thoughts that went through my head:
If we had not cut open the filter we would not have seen any problems. We almost did not do this step because the filter cutter was real clean and we did not want to make a mess.
If there was a problem with the engine, how expensive would it be to get it fixed and how long will it take?
How were my wife and I going to get home? Should we fly the plane anyway? It had been running fine.
I had routinely been having oil analysis done after every oil change. I realized Id need to send this one by overnight express rather than regular mail. It was crazy how a few dollars crept into the equation.
I had promised a couple of people fun flights during the coming week. How was I going to fulfill the obligation?
My wife and I were going to stay at the resort that night anyway, so we went to dinner. My mind was on the engine. That night and the next morning, I started to analyze my thought patterns. I was really suffering from a form of get-there-itis. My primary concern should have been flight safety. As a CFI and FAA Aviation Safety Counselor, this is what I preach to my students and other pilots. Yet, when the problem was put at my feet, I started thinking of the problem in terms other than safety first.
It amazed me how easy it was to make excuses for something. Im in a hurry. The costs will be excessive. Ill be inconvenienced. The aircraft will be grounded for several days, weeks or months.
Follow up: We pulled the new cylinder and found nothing unusual. We ran it for two hours and pulled the filter. It came out clean. Another 10 hours and the filter was still clean. All operations were back to normal. We were not able to pin down where the metal came from but everyone involved said we should continue to fly and monitor the situation.
Heard Her Words, But Not the Meaning
I purchased my first airplane, a 1965 PA-28-180C, in March after getting my private certificate in February. It had been in the same hangar with the same owner and A&P for 20 years.
The engine had less than 800 hours since overhaul. I was flying eight to 10 hours a week all over Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. She never failed to start or run-up clean on the first try. Then sometime in June it began to take one or two tries to run-up clean. I simply thought it was the hotter weather and I was running too rich on the ground.
Then in August, I was on short final into Garden City, Kan. A strong vibration started in what felt like the tail. I added power and leveled off slightly and it stopped just as suddenly as it started. I looked out behind and told my passenger, who was trying to keep his composure, to do the same. The only thing you can see of the tail of a Cherokee is the outer half of the horizontal stabilator. It looked fine so I pulled the power and made a routine landing. On the ground I went through the entire plane but found nothing out of order.
We departed Garden City a few days later and landed for fuel after two hours. I added a quart of oil and took off. Twenty miles later the vibration started again, was a little stronger than the last time and didnt quit with a change in attitude and power. There was an airport behind us just a mile so I turned around and landed with no problem. The A&P looked it over and found a little play in the rudder cable connection. He said there was no immediate danger but I should get it fixed when I got home.
We taxied to take off but I couldnt get a good runup. I taxied back to the shop and the A&P pulled the cowling and felt the cylinders, listened to it run then gave it a usual run-up. It ran up clean.
He said that I might have a hole in the float. I told him that it leaned out just fine in flight. He said something about fuel flow at altitude then told me to run it as lean as I could on the ground and have it checked when I got home. I taxied back to the runway, it ran up clean and we took off.
One hour and 45 minutes into the two-hour leg home, the engine gave a big burp and almost died. This happened just as I was beginning to make my descent. The vibration returned after the burp and it was now obvious it was coming from the engine. It was strong enough to make it difficult to read the instruments. I pulled back the power to about 1500 rpm and called the destination CTAF, announcing my position and stating I would make a straight-in final.
The landing, although a little long, was uneventful. I had 4,200 feet of runway and only one shot to make it. If I missed I wanted to miss on the long side of the threshold, not the short side.
As it turned out, an oil ring had failed on the #1 cylinder. There were less than two quarts of oil on board when I landed. The piston was shot.
The oil ring had been telling me for nearly three months what was going to happen but I wasnt listening. The gradual increase in oil consumption, although ever so slight, went unnoticed. I made a good, logical assumption about the repeated run-ups it took to get clean.
I was wrong.
The Ground Rises up to Meet You
Last summer I flew a Cessna 172 across town to a nearby local airport to be kept overnight. I had to go more than 200 NM south to San Antonio the following morning and I did not want to drive for 4.5 hours.
The airport I was flying into that evening had a 2,500-foot runway, low intensity runway lights and no VASI. At about 10 miles out, I received an altimeter setting from Navy Fort Worth. By this time the full evening had set in. The runway had an embankment on the approach end and as a result you have to really watch your altitude on final. If you are too low, you would fly right into the sharply rising terrain.
On final approach, I began my descent and was well aware that the airport elevation was 990 feet msl. At 1,000 feet indicated, I held the pitch steady and refused to descend further. At that point, the runway literally came up to meet me and caused various squeaking sounds on the tires. I realized that I did not have complete aircraft control all the way through the flare-out. This incident reminded me of the necessity to regularly practice night-time landings.
Knowing something as seemingly insignificant as the airport elevation literally saved my life. So always consult the Airport/Facility Directory and get a briefing from Flight Service, even if its just an across-town jaunt. The FSS and the A/FD let you know about unlit towers and various other potential obstructions near your airport of operation.
Whered He Come From?
After preflighting the Cessna 150 and starting the engine, I turned on the radio and called Vandenburg Unicom for a radio check, which was confirmed. I taxied out to the run up area next to runway 5 and completed the run-up and checklist, all the while listening on the Unicom frequency. I headed for runway 05 and, just before reaching the hold line, I scanned the downwind, base and final for any traffic that might be in the pattern for runway 5. Not seeing any, I announced on the Unicom frequency, that Cessna 103LE, was taking active runway 5, for eastbound departure and proceeded past the hold line to the runway.
Approximately 50 feet before I actually entered the runway, I turned the airplane to the left for one last look at final. Much to my surprise, there was an aircraft on short final, just about to pass overhead. I hit the brakes and watched an 8- or 10-place twin touch down hot on the numbers. The airplane took the entire length of the runway to stop. It then sat on the end of the runway for about 1 and a half minutes before it finally taxied off the active runway.
During this time I made a call to Vandenburg Unicom and said that this is 103LE and that a twin-engine aircraft had just landed, almost causing a crash on runway 5. He was not talking to anyone and was probably not listening either.
I believe that had I not made that last second look at final I would not be sitting here writing this letter tonight. In thinking back over the events that took place, I believe the pilot was not on the Vandenburg Unicom frequency.
Since I visually scanned the downwind, base and final, before pulling onto the taxiway to the runway, the pilot probably made a right base pattern entry. A second possibility is that he did a straight-in approach and did not have his landing light on until he was almost to the numbers. Since he came in so fast, he was probably too far out when I first looked toward final. He did have his landing light on when I took my final look before pulling out onto runway 5.
I would like to suggest that from time to time FAA inspectors should visit uncontrolled fields and inform pilots who dont follow standard non-towered airport procedures of the risks they pose to themselves and others.