What Could Go Wrong?


As with most of these stories, this one started out innocently enough. My flying club needed to get one of its airplanes, a Piper Archer, out of maintenance and back to its home field, Big Airline Hub International. Another member volunteered to introduce me to the clubs Piper Tomahawk, an airplane with which I had no experience, and ferry me to Cheap Maintenance Municipal to retrieve the Archer. Wed regroup afterward and find our cars, etc.

The Tomahawk ride was uneventful, and soon I was preflighting the Archer. All the big parts were there and, since it had just come out of a progressive inspection, what could go wrong? There was more than adequate fuel for this wintertime night hop, the oil was good and clean, and I knew the way home. Piece o cake.


Soon, I had the Archer airborne and was talking to the local approach controllers, looking for flight following and a Bravo clearance. As I leveled off, I thumbed the very familiar electric trim switch to remove the building control pressure. Nothing happened. Almost simultaneously, ATC asked me to turn on the transponder. I checked to make sure it was on, told ATC about it, and made sure the trim system was energized and the associated circuit breaker closed.

“Well, were not receiving your transponder, sir; turn right 90 degrees for radar identification and say altitude.” Wunnerful. And the electric trim still wasnt working, even though all the switches were in the right place. Looked like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.

After ATC picked me out of the weeknight clutter, I cajoled a Bravo clearance and motored on toward the planes base, occasionally responding to altitude requests and using the manual trim wheel.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, and soon I had wheeled the Archer around in front of its tiedown. With everything ready for shutdown, I pulled the red knob aft and waited for the mighty Lycoming to shudder itself into silence. Nothing happened. I did it again. Same result.

I reached down and turned off the fuel as my ferry-pilot partner looked on quizzically-what was taking so long to shut down? After a moment or two, the fuel-starved engine shut itself down and I secured the cockpit. Climbing out, I colorfully shared with my ferry pilot the glitches Id discovered. We found our cars and ended another long day.

The next morning I got on the phone with the maintenance shop and made arrangements for the plane to go back. A few days later, I got a call describing the various problems: One, someone forgot to secure the mixture control to the carburetor. Why it had been disconnected wasnt readily apparent.

Two, some wiring connector at the trim servo also had been disconnected. Again, no one knew why. The transponder? Its “spike” antenna was broken off at the base, obviously by a clumsy technician.

Its a good thing the plane went in for maintenance. You never know what could go wrong if it hadnt.


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