Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

As the proud owner of a new medical certificate it was time to spend a sunny Saturday at the airport hoping for a new student.

The first thing I noticed, though, was a pressurized piston twin (let's call it an Queenstar to protect the guilty) sitting on the taxiway surrounded by the Lectro tug and a bunch of guys scratching their heads.

There's one Queenstar based on the field, so I went inside and asked the receptionist "Is that Bob's Queenstar out there?"

She kind of grinned.  "The left engine stalled as they were taxiing in, and the right was making lots of smoke."

Before you think "Oh that silly girl doesn't know what a stall is," keep in mind that she is a licensed A & P mechanic.  She meant that the engine stalled, just like a Chrysler Slant Six with a bad clutch on a steep hill.

At least it wasn't Bob's.  I looked up the N-number and saw that it had come from two states away.
Someone came in looking for them, and we buzzed him out onto the ramp just as the tug deposited the airplane in front.  A bunch of people came in followed by the line guy, picked up a small package, and went back out to put it into the airplane, setting off the alarm as they forced the door open.

While they were out we quizzed the line guy (not an A & P, but almost done with his Private).  What did they say?  They refused his offer to call maintenance, and refused fuel as well.  This was starting to sound bad.

I checked on flightaware and was surprised to see that this particular airplane hadn't filed IFR for more than two years.  Now a Queenstar is a fast pressurized twin, and the way you get the most out of it is to file for FL200 or FL210 and let 'er rip!  But these guys (who lived in a foggy part of the world) just waited for VFR and for all we knew they flew at 3500 MSL unpressurized.

They got back into the airplane and we all stood at the window and counted the starts.

Five tries on the left, with no sign of combustion.

The right engine started on the fifth try.

They tried the left nine more times.  This is not looking good, but there is so little that one can do after they've refused maintenance.  It was not funny.

But the left one got going and they started to taxi out.  No call to ground, but they stopped at the edge of the movement area, turned downwind, and started to do a runup.  Oops!  They throttled back and whipped around a started to do a runup facing into the wind.  I couldn't hear that the props were exercised, but there were more than the expected four magneto checks.  Then they went to full power, the airplane thrashing and bucking and backfiring.  More magneto checks.

They taxied back in and shut down in the fire lane.

"We've got a bad mag on the right engine," they said, and maintenance was called.

And disaster was averted.

[revised 9 Feb 2014]