Cold Weather, Hot Mags


I enjoyed Decembers article, “Cold-Weather Ops.” I wanted to pass on a suggestion for virtually all pilots flying piston engine airplanes. The article states, “When you first get to the airplane, put the ignition key on the panel so people can see it….” The article goes on: “Checking to see if the engine is warm often involves rocking the propeller.” The reason given is that “with the key out of the ignition and readily visible, you are reasonably assured that the mags are not hot.” Wrong and possibly dead wrong!


I was fortunate to be trained by a high-time 18,000-plus-hour flight instructor. He ingrained in me the importance of doing a mag check during shutdown, prior to pulling the mixture: Turn off one mag and then the other to see if the RPM dropped as it should.

Although a mag check should be done during the pre-takeoff run-up, there is no guarantee that a wire might not come loose during flight. If that were to happen, the mags would still be hot and rocking the propeller could be catastrophic!

I earned my private in 1991 and I am an avid reader of your publication.

Gabe Zolna
Mission Viejo, Calif.

Good catch, Gabe. We should always treat propellers as “live” and only touch them with knowledge the engine could start at an inopportune time. Well have an article on propeller care and feeding in the near future.

Which Way Is Right?

I enjoyed Januarys Learning Experience, “The Right Way,” and took from it the need to be aware of my surroundings-especially terrain. I did, however, find one little tidbit missing.

It states that this was some time ago and I am not sure of the history of available information in VFR charts, but the author indicated having some trouble finding the pattern direction. Today, this can be found right on the chart itself. In the VFR chart snippet provided, it clearly shows a right-handed pattern should be flown for


Runway 27 and 30 (indicated by “RP 27,30” below the elevation, lighting, runway length and Unicom frequency information). I thought this might be helpful to some of your readers.

Michael Cable
Miamisburg, Ohio

You win the prize, Michael-we purposely used a current sectional for that image to see if anyone would notice (unfortunately, deep satisfaction is your only reward…). The episode described happened long ago, well before sectionals started carrying information denoting traffic pattern direction. The charting change was added to help prevent exactly this type of thing.

Rough Rider

I agree with Steve Irwins letter (Unicom) in your December issue regarding downhill, downwind takeoffs. I would suggest an additional precaution: Upon buying an airplane, and thereafter when a tire is replaced, have the wheel/tire assembly balanced and checked for concentricity.

I still remember taking off downhill with a tailwind from St. Vincent many years ago in my modified Stinson 108-3. It had “bargain” tires, and the greater speed caused alarmingly high vibration due to their imbalance and/or poor concentricity prior to liftoff.

Malcolm Murry
Baytown, Texas

Classic Cardinal

You asked why the plane crashed in your October Accident Probe, “Overgross.” Its really simple: The Cardinal is a lousy climbing airplane, even within its envelope. Overgross, it can only get worse.

While the Cardinal is a (relatively) fast plane, the laminar-flow airfoil used for its wing creates much higher drag at high angles of attack-like those seen during initial climbout than, for example, the airfoil used on the 172. When flying aircraft equipped with wings built around laminar-flow airfoils, a higher airspeed/lower angle of attack is necessary to achieve the same rate of climb. This quickly can be a problem if one is familiar with the 172s behavior and jumps into a 177.

Our Cardinal RG was definitely a three-person plane, max. I cant imagine loading four people in a 150-HP, fixed-gear example. Keeping your speed high on climbout was counterintuitive, but it was the only way to climb to altitude.

Mike Palmer
Via e-mail

Running Copter Scud

As any professional helicopter pilot will tell you, flying with the ceiling at 500 feet is not uncommon for us and, to a certain extent, youd be unfavorably looked upon if


you didnt. Its just part of the job. Granted, we can go real slow, but sometimes thats taken advantage of by employers. Either way, scud running (February 2009) in a helicopter poses less risk than for fixed-wing brethren.

Case in point, I once worked with an A&P who related a tale where a copter pilot launched and flew the flight in zero/zero solely by flying from one tree top to the next using only the magnetic compass for heading. Why it was so important to move the helo in that weather is beyond me, but its done.

I flew a helicopter flight from the LA basin to San Diego and back on a February day. On the way down, I flew the coastal route and noted a marine layer off shore. Knowing it would come in for my return flight after dark, I planned for the inland route, thinking Id be good to go. As I launched for the return-typical hurry up and go, without an updated weather briefing-I encountered low ceilings almost immediately after takeoff.

Definitely marginal VFR, I followed the inland freeway north. The terrain was rising but the ceiling remained relatively flat. Rising terrain, constant ceiling? Not good. As I flew along, I started following the freeway by cars headlights. Also not good.

Id flown this route before, so I was fairly confident of my position-until I passed a Border Patrol checkpoint. I knew there was a set of power lines passing nearby, but I didnt know their exact location. I then spent the most terrifying few moments of my life as a passenger waiting to hit the lines.

Divine intervention helped and nothing happened. The terrain then lowered, and I pressed on until the weather deteriorated further. I then made the only intelligent decision of the flight and landed out in a hospital parking lot. My wife picked up my pax, but not before she got lost getting out of the parking lot in the fog.

Driving down that part of the freeway, I look at those power lines and wonder if that night I flew over, under or through them, as the space appears to be big enough that I might have been able to do that. I still get goosebumps when I think about that night.

I hope this gives at least one of your readers something to think about before scud running in anything fixed wing: Just dont do it! There is no way you can fly slowly enough, no matter what you think.

Bob Lancaster
Via e-mail


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