Monday, September 26, 2011

Oil Pressure


Dale starts every flight with a prayer, and yesterday morning he prayed for good judgment. We were headed out to explore the local grass strips in the Ercoupe.

We flipped a coin to see who got the left seat, and I won. Last time we flew together he got the left seat, so I figure he'll get it for our next flight.

Our first stop was the beautiful Rainbow Ranch and its lovely turf. Dale did a nice landing and as we rolled out I scanned the obstacles to the West: the East is a small ridgeline, more than the 'Coupe can outclimb. I took the controls and we taxied back to the far end. "Tail in the Weeds!"

Throttle in and we're rolling. Airspeed alive. Check the engine gauges.

What?? Why is the oil pressure so low?? I aborted.

We taxied away from the owner's home so I could do a runup. We had oil pressure but less than desired. The temperature was rock steady and not too high.

What had we prayed for?

That killed the plan for exploring grass strips. We would either stay at Rainbow Ranch, or fly home. Which? This was on the edge: we had oil pressure, it was steady, and the oil temperature wasn't rising. Perhaps a stuck relief valve? Grounding the airplane at RR was an unattractive option, but not doing so required judgment.

We had enough runway and were surrounded by excellent landing fields, so an engine failure on takeoff wasn't that big a deal. We would climb out at Vx, watch the temp and pressure, and fly home a little higher to increase our landing options. We would not overfly the one town between the RR and home. There were dozens of fields in which to land, almost too many.

It was my takeoff and we launched. The pressure held steady and we climbed to altitude. The air was so smooth that I flew hands off, but more so I could focus on the terrain around us.

Quite soon home was in sight. The wind was calm, so we could choose the better way to land. If the engine quit landing north, we would be in the Walmart parking lot, but if it quit landing south we would be on the empty golf course. An easy choice.

I entered the pattern high to double check the sock. The pressure held steady. I flew a close-in downwind and announced a landing point about 1/3 of the way down the runway, aiming a little long on purpose.

We landed on the spot.

Now to figure out what's wrong.

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