Flying the past couple of days has been like watching the slumping Red Sox...lots of grounders. In fact it's been a one-two-three inning.
Yesterday I flew down to Logan to help with the SSA Region 9 North Soaring Contest, sponsored by my club. About 30 gliders are competing. The only airplane available was the Six, which would cost more, but there were two deciding factors to taking it. First, I could take a bicycle, which would come in handy. Second, I'm a pilot! I should fly places!
Launching 30 gliders (there was one relight) is a lot of work. The gliders were arranged on the runway (which was NOTAMed closed) in launch order. The three tow planes landed on the grass next to the runway, and two rope runners grab the rope with boat hooks and run in opposite directions, bringing the tow ring to the glider. The ring is attached and the tow plane goes. In the meantime, the next tow plane has landed, and the runners meet it and bring the ring to the next glider in line. It's the closest to the deck of an aircraft carrier I'll ever be.
Strike One! One of the tow planes hit a soft spot and bottomed out; its prop hit the pavement. The result: airplane grounded until its crankshaft is inspected.
Three hours later, the gliders were landing and we pushed them toward the parking area, making room for the next landing. My triathlon training for the day consisted of an unmeasured amount of running and 8 miles of bike riding. The bike came in handy.
I got home just a hair after sunset. I was back at the airport 12 hours later to fly with a student. He is doing final prep for his checkride, and things are really coming together, for him. For the airplane, it was a different story. The engine seemed weak during the takeoff roll, but that might have been the high density altitude. Coming back from the practice area, though, I noticed that the engine was only producing 2200 RPM or so, even though the throttle was at cruise setting. I played a little, firewalling the throttle and flying level. I only got 2400 RPM, not the 2700 RPM one would expect.
Strike Two! I called the maintenance office and explained. The Director of Maintenance sounded sad. "It's getting weak," he said. I was hoping for something different. But a Designated Examiner had also complained about it last week, and I guess my call was the final straw: the airplane is out of service for a month while they replace the engine.
The next student had some visiting family and wanted to do some sightseeing. In a different plane, of course. Except he had asked that the airplane be topped, and the extra fuel meant that we would exceed the maximum takeoff weight, by a lot. Two rides got turned into three ("The easiest way to carry a big load is to carry a lot of little loads").
We helped his mother into the back and he started up. I looked at the tachometer and noticed a little sticker saying "Oil Change Due 8131;" the tach read 8132. I told him to shut it down.
I called maintenance again. I was lucky: someone else answered. "Did the oil change get done without the sticker being updated?" I asked. This has been known to happen, although usually I discover it at 0400 and have to wake someone up to resolve the issue.
"Can we fly it?"
"Let me check. Are you in the office?"
"No, we're in the plane."
A couple of minutes later he called me back and gave us the OK. But Strike Three!, as soon as we landed they towed the airplane over to the maintenance hangar.
That's three grounded airplanes in less than 24 hours. A record worthy of the Red Sox.