With You Til 3000 Feet


It was a cold December morning as my roommate Tony and I drove toward the jump center. The Cessna 180 I had a job flying to feed my skydiving addiction was just touching down on the frost-covered grass. It was the jump center manager, returning from flying the days first load. “Ive got it all warmed up for you,” he said.


After a quick preflight, I climbed into the battered plane and ran the pre-start checklist. My roommate crawled in the back, along with two other shivering jumpers. Soon, we were taxiing to the end of the field; I performed a run-up on the go. We bounced down the grass and lifted off well before the end of the 1800-foot strip.

Reaching 7500 feet, I lined up and decelerated, pulling on carb heat, powering back to 70 knots, and dropping a notch of flaps. Suddenly, without even a sputter, the engine quit. I motioned frantically to the jumpers to go. They smiled and waved back at me. I motioned again. “Just go! The engine quit!” I shouted. Again they smiled and waved, finally disappearing below me. I turned to Tony, who yelled, “Take me around for another pass.”

I screamed, “Tony, didnt you hear me? The engine just quit! Go! Get out of here!”

“What? No way, man!” Tony said with a discernible grin. “Im staying with you-at least down to 3000 feet!”

The first thing I thought of was carburetor icing. The carb heat knob was fully out. Just to make sure, I gave it a little tug. It came out in my hand with the long cable dangling from the end. I didnt need to look any further for the problem.

It was then I remembered something an old ex-Navy pilot told me: Sometimes, its possible to blow ice off of a carburetor by priming a windmilling engine and causing it to backfire. “It will either backfire or, well, catch fire. Either way the ice will be gone,” he had shrugged.

I twisted the primer and started pumping raw fuel into the cylinders. One pump, two pumps, three pumps-bang! The engine backfired. Then it backfired again and sputtered to life. It was running roughly, but it was running. The altimeter read 3000 feet. Tony grinned, unlatched the door and dove out headfirst with a howl.

Worried about the engine quitting over the trees on final approach, I flew in hot and high. Too high! I reluctantly decided to go around, pushing forward on the throttle for enough power to stop descending, but not enough to climb. I flew straight down the field to pick up speed, then circled back just above the trees, nailing the landing and rolling to a stop at midfield. My knees shook.

After shutdown, the jump center manager looked at me and shrugged, “Whats the problem?”

“The carb heat cable is broken!” I replied with a conspicuous quiver in my voice.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Thats why I connected the cowl flap cable to the carb heat. You just have to pull the cowl flap knob to get carb heat. Didnt I tell you that?”

– Toby Bright


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