Sunday, November 16, 2008

Broken Stuff

Sometimes broken doesn't mean broken, especially in aviation where, unless you crash, paperwork is the only thing they can hang you with.

The regular curriculum around here is to take private pilot students into Salt Lake City for some experience with Class B airspace. I start this exercise with the assumption that cross-countries are hard, and leave plenty of time to go over the flight planning, flight plan filing, and the like.

The first priority is the airplane: if there is something wrong, catching it early means that it can be fixed while you do the other stuff. And there was something wrong: the little sticker on the tachometer said that an inspection was due in less than 2 hours, but we were planning to fly more than 3. Students need to learn that a missed inspection (especially one involving an Airworthiness Directive) makes an airplane that appears to be perfect into a static display.

Sometimes maintenance pads the value on the sticker, so I called around waking up mechanics. I finally got one who told me that the airplane had 15 hours to go (he must have misunderstood the tail number), but offered to educate me about checking the logs. This was a dig but I let it pass.

So I asked someone from the line crew for the key to the maintenance hangar, but he said that it was impossible to get in. I have flown with this company for almost as long as he had been alive, but I did not know the current Secret Hiding Place for the maintenance key, so I called him on it. He offered to go check.

We turned our attention to the preflight planning process. I've mentioned before that I consider the computerized briefing through DUAT or DUATS to be the primary method, so we sat down at the computer and got a standard briefing. This is much less stressful to the student than talking to an expert on the telephone, and more information is retained. Not in the student's mind, but on paper. We also used the DUATS flight planner as a backup to his paper flight planning, and filed the first VFR flight plan for the day.

There was an extra hour available on the airplane, but there would not be enough time to do the planned triangle, so I suggested that we just do Salt Lake and back to be sure to land within the time constraint. So we loaded up with all of the charts and my portable GPS. (This airplane does not have a GPS, and probably never will, but you can't teach 2008 cross-country flying without one.) "Clear!"

Nothing happened.

"Nothing happened," he said. "Let me try," I said, so I reached over and hit the starter and of course nothing happened.

"Key out, master off, brakes on," I told him, leaving the airplane to investigate from the front. I'm not a mechanic, but maybe there was something obviously wrong with the starter. Nope. I turned the prop a couple of blades by hand and had him try again. I was very aware that I was teaching as well as troubleshooting.


There was no noise from the solenoid, so I poked around in back looking for it, but in this model the solenoid is under the cowling and pretty much inaccessible. The maintenance chief takes a dim view of CFIs removing stuff from the airplane...

"Chris is in the hangar," the line guy said, "I'll go get him."

Chris is in the hangar? There was a mechanic on the field all this time? Geez.

So Chris came over and poked around and declared us to be Broken. For real.

Luckily there was another airplane available, but this was a 172XP, the kind with the 195HP engine and constant-speed prop. So we did the constant-speed prop & fuel injection lecture, and I let my student take it once around the pattern so his first landing in the thing would be while he was fresh, not after his body was filled with Class B cortisol. And, we went back to the original plan, which meant a stop at Logan, where I keep my glider.

The flight went pretty well, Dan got the expected butt-kicking from the Class B experience, and we stopped at Logan to say hi to everyone. The gal (Hi Becky!) who works the line there said "I didn't know that you flew powered airplanes, too! I have so much more respect for you now," in her pleasantly sarcastic way. We checked the weather, watched a couple of auto-tow launches, and took off for home.

In the end we succeeded despite two kinds of broken airplanes. Persistence pays.

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At November 21, 2008 at 7:04 PM , Anonymous Brent Mayes said...

just found your blog and really enjoy it. Have Commercial Glider rating and help fly rides out of MMV. Just this year added Sport Pilot and proud owner of a Taylorcraft.
N290BA and N54469


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