Guinness World Record
Zara Rutherford, only 19, recently completed her ‘RTW’ (‘round the world) flight, with many stops, in Wevelgem, Belgium, on Thursday, January 20, 2022. She was flying SOLO and has set a Guinness World Record in the process!!
Congratulations, Zara!! She flew a Shark Ultra-Light, a small single engine aircraft built by Shark.aeros.r.o., certified in both Germany and the Czech Republic, that was modified for this flight. She took off on this journey, August 18, 2021, and she finished 155 days later. This is simply amazing. She is an inspiration to many! It should be pointed out that both of her parents are also pilots.
What is she looking forward to next? She says she’d like to become an astronaut! Naturally.
This being January, and with the rest of the year ahead, looking forward, let’s see what we can do to make 2022 safer than 2021. What can be done to reduce the number of aircraft accidents, especially fatal accidents? This is no small challenge.
The NTSB has released their preliminary report on the Learjet crash that occurred on December 31, 2021, at San Diego’s Gillespie Field. A big question is why the pilots elected to circle-to-land, at night, in marginal weather? This is never a good idea.
Having said this, in my previous job, in my work as a simulator instructor I have performed this maneuver countless times in the simulator, during my own training, using a nighttime ‘visual’. My clients have practiced ‘circling’ many times, as well. We used Memphis, TN, (KMEM), because KMEM meets all of the required criteria for a circling approach.
When I took my Citation recurrent training at LOFT Aero, in Carlsbad, CA, in December, in their Citation Ultra simulator, we used JFK Int’l Airport in New York (KJFK). It also meets the FAA’s circling requirements. The Circle-to-Land instrument approach procedure is required by the FAA to be completed during training. The airlines, with much larger jets, do not allow their pilots to perform the ‘circle-to-land’ maneuver. They only fly ‘straight-in’ approaches. However, we spend time carefully ‘briefing’ or discussing the approach and what is required beforehand, so the clients know what is involved.
Was this crew simply anxious to get home? Probably. Did this influence their fateful decision to attempt this maneuver, instead of a safer, straight-in approach? Probably. But we’ll have to wait and see what the NTSB says when they finish their investigation and issue their findings in about a year or so. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about this accident?
As is reported in the Safety Trends story in the December 2021 issue of Plane & Pilot Magazine, looking back, what can be learned from the accident record?
The good news, GA flying is getting safer. Is there any bad news? Well, the accident rate has not changed or improved much lately. Is that bad? Well, it’s not getting any better. It’s basically been flat for several years. The reports cover the years up through 2020. It’s too soon to know anything about last year. And there was the terrible accident literally at years end on December 31, when a medivac Learjet, crashed while maneuvering to land, at night, in marginal conditions, at San Diego’s Gillespie Field. All onboard perished.
In the Safety Trends story, is there a typical accident? While accident reports vary widely, it generally comes down to pilot error, or a mechanical problem. After that, its’ weather, which could be continued flight into IMC conditions, with a pilot who is not instrument rated. The results of this are usually fatal. According to statistics, 66% of accidents are related to pilot error, 18% are mechanical, and the remaining 16% are something else.
There’s really nothing new here. We continue to make the same mistakes. Complacency sets in and we see the same mistakes being made over and over. It’s cycle that repeats itself, with alarming regularity. What can be done about that? Hard to say.
Some pilots are simply more safety conscious than others. This is just human nature. And some people are more conscientious than others. Many pilots will only do the minimum to stay current, if that. Egos get in the way: “I don’t need this!’. This mindset is hard to change. So, with that said, our challenge is to find a way to change this way of thinking, if possible.
What are your thoughts on any of this? This is not rocket science. What can be done to make a change in the thought process of some, who will likely be the culprits that cause an accident?
Do you have Air Traffic Control Mike Fright? Are you unsure about what to say, or how to talk to ATC?
Want to get over Air Traffic Control Mike Fright? You are not alone. Many are unsure of what to say.
As an experienced CFI (Certified Flight Instructor), I’ve seen this with students and heard it many times before. It can be intimidating, especially at busier airports where they issue clearances at a rapid-fire pace. I can help.
How to deal with Air Traffic Control Mike Fright
You have to know what to expect. Then, think BEFORE you ‘key’ the mike/push the ‘PTT’, “push-to-talk button”, and know WHAT you are going to say. Avoid long pauses (…ahh), which only tie up the frequency for everyone else.
Follow this simple formula:
- Who you are calling (facility or airport name), and the ‘controller’ position; Long Beach Ground, Tower, or Clearance, for example. Don’t just say ‘ground control’, or Long Beach Ground Control. That’s very amateurish.
- Who YOU are (aircraft make/model and ‘N’ number, i.e.; Cessna or Skyhawk 12345). In the US, you don’t have to include ‘November’ in a US registered aircraft. Only outside the US is that required.
- Where you are/your position (if in flight 10 miles north etc. or position on the ground, Transient ramp, FBO, etc.)
- Your intentions (what you want to do…reposition to parking, taxi for takeoff…takeoff/land, etc.)
Air Traffic Control will reply with your call sign and instructions on what to do, as appropriate, using their terminology. This is all referenced in the Aeronautical information Manual, (AIM for short) Chapter 4, Section 2, (4-2-1 thru 13)) Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques. You reply by acknowledging and reading back your clearance, that you understand what you are expected to do, using appropriate terminology.
Here is an example.
You; “Fullerton Ground, Cessna 12345, Transient Parking, VFR West bound (direction of flight), Taxi with Alpha (ATIS code)”.
Fullerton Ground; “Cessna 12345, Fullerton Ground, taxi Runway 24 via Alpha.”
You, reading back; “Cessna 12345 taxi runway 24 via Alpha.”
The reason ATC talks fast is:
a. They might have several aircraft to communicate with, so they keep their transmissions short and to the point. Concise. Notice ATC also leaves out most ‘prepositions’; remember those from English class way back when…as they are extra words that take up time on a busy frequency. It makes a difference.
b. They give this clearance 100’s of times each day, to every pilot who calls for taxi clearance. They don’t have to think about it.
Suggestion: as stated above, before calling; note your position, either on the ground or in flight. Where are you and what are your intentions? Now you know what to expect from ATC. Then, using shorthand, either write down the important elements of your clearance on a pad of paper, OR if using an iPad with ForeFlight, and maybe an Apple Pencil, you can draw it on the airport diagram using the highlighter feature on the app. That way you have a record of your clearance.
Any questions or thoughts about this? It’s standard phraseology. It works anywhere. The AIM also spells out radio use at non-towered airports. This can be found in the AIM in section 4-1-9.
What has stumped YOU with using the radio? Or is there any particular airport or ATC facility that you find intimidating? Let me know. I can help.
How long since you’ve done any cross-country flight planning?
Maybe your flying is local in nature, less than 50 miles from your home airport for the $100 burger, so it’s been a while. Well, there are common problems that some pilots encounter with cross-country flight planning, among them, basically; not understanding weather well enough; inadequate fuel planning, and not checking the weather again while en route. Add to this, being overly confident the weather will improve. Overflying fuel stops, and fatigue. And the 180° turnback.
An aviation magazine, “Plane & Pilot”, published a list of common mistakes with cross- country flight planning a while back.
Here they are again:
- Not checking the weather or getting a good wx briefing
- Flying too low and CFIT.
- Inadequate preflight inspections
- Inadequate preflight planning
- Failure to use IMSAFE checklist
- Running out of fuel. Thinking Distance, not Time!
- Distractions with technology in the cockpit
My approach to cross-country flight planning
I have not flown a long cross-country in many years. Most of my flying in recent years, in my airplane, which has bare-bones avionics, and just a basic ‘6-pack’ for flight instruments, has been limited to local flying in the LA basin, for breakfast or lunch with friends. Always for fun. Seldom was any flight planning required. Just a check of the local weather, TFR’s and NOTAMs, though I would call 1-800-WXBRIEF just to avoid surprises and make sure I covered my bases. I was reluctant to take it a long distance simply because it is not well equipped for that kind of flying. Flight planning for long cross-country flights is different. Of course, it’s more involved, depending how far you go. I’ve done it, but many years ago when flying for an airline. Not recently.
But, after buying my 1970 Cessna 150, almost 2 years ago now, in October 2019, that started to change. Suddenly, I started to branch out and fly to a few more distant places, and then with friends, I was flying farther for lunches, up and down the California coast, from San Diego to Santa Barbara, for example. Then, fast forward to this year. Because of the pandemic, many activities and events had been put on hold. Then, as this year progressed, various organizations started to plan activities and events, including AirVenture, in Oshkosh. With that in mind, I began to think seriously about flying my 150 back to Oshkosh and AirVenture!
This was a BIG step for me! I had never considered this before. But I had flown enough cross-country flights to enough places in Southern California, that my confidence had grown to where flying back to Oshkosh was doable!! So, with that in mind, I started planning.
So, how to approach this? My approach? Carefully, and conservatively. I’m flying a Cessna 150, which has very limited capability. Basically, low and slow with limited range/endurance. It’s just a two-seat trainer. First, consider the airplane you are flying, and its’ capabilities. How much speed, altitude capability (turbo-charged?), and what kind of range/endurance does it have? And what is your comfort level? Seriously. How long can your bladder comfortably last? 2 hours, more or less? Depends how much coffee or water you drink.
For the 150, with about a 95-knot cruise speed, and a 22.5-gallon usable fuel capacity (~5 gal/hour), it is limited to about a 2 hour/200-mile range, give or take. And then depending on the winds, headwinds, or tailwinds, that will obviously make a BIG difference. And, in a smaller, slower airplane like a Cessna 150, headwinds or tailwinds will make more of a difference.
I don’t want to push it. The general rule of flight planning: land with at least 1 hour of fuel onboard. The FAA only requires 30 minutes for Day VFR, 45 minutes for night VFR. Ref. FAR 91.151, VFR fuel requirements. Remember, these are minimums! Again, FAA regulations are minimums. You want to exceed these. So, plan to arrive with at LEAST 1 hour of fuel on board. You will think much better with adequate fuel reserves, and you will have more options available to you if you land with more reserve fuel. That’s always a good thing!
Also, very important for this kind of flying, especially in the summertime when afternoon thunderstorms are likely, is to leave early in the morning, at daybreak, if possible (weather permitting), well before the heat of the day and convective activity, and then plan to be on the ground by mid-day, somewhere, before the afternoon thunderstorms begin.
For flight planning, I primarily used ForeFlight (FF). And for this trip back to Oshkosh, I also purchased paper charts/Sectionals (yes, you can still get them), covering the expected route of flight, as a backup. I also used the website, www.airnav.com, which is a great resource, for checking FBO’s, and local fuel prices, and can also be used to check lodging for an overnight stop. And I also used the www.1800wxbrief.com website. So, generally speaking, I would use FF and open the flight-planning window at the top, then input my 150 and start inserting airport identifiers and navigational fixes in the flight-planning box. FF then tells me the distance, time and fuel required for each leg. So, it’s easy to see how long a given flight will take. I would plan conservatively, limiting each leg to about 1 ½ – 2 hours, or less depending on the availability of airports with fuel and services.
Using social media and more
And I actually decided to use social media for this as well. I posted the question on a Facebook airplane group: what route(s) do you recommend from the LA basin across AZ and NM on the way to AirVenture? And the answers I got were, basically from the Phoenix area, head southeast and then follow the 10 freeway across southern AZ and NM and then head north to Albuquerque, and from there It’s east to Texas, then north and east across the plain’s states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa to Wisconsin. Good information!
With that in mind, I worked out a tentative flight plan, with as many as 15 or 16 ‘legs’, that would take about 3 days, depending on the weather. I tentatively planned on 4, 2 hours legs each day, including fuel stops. I would be waiting out any bad weather in my 150, safely on the ground. I also watched the weather very closely, and decided to plan a northerly route also, just in case.
Then, as luck would have it, and as I have mentioned in a previous blog post, my 150 suddenly developed a bad cylinder (#3), and was grounded, and could not be repaired in time. So, I reached out to another pilot friend who was also planning to fly to AirVenture. He readily agreed to have me fly with him. I simply modified my flight plan for a Cessna 170 performance numbers instead, which is slightly faster, and has twice the fuel capacity. It worked out well. We decided on flying 90-minute legs, and then we stopped for fuel, food and a pit stop, as needed.
And because I had not flown this route before, I would self-brief using my iPad and ForeFlight, and would then back that up with a call to Leidos (1-800-992-7433), and talk to the weather briefer, to see what they could tell me. The idea being to avoid surprises!
We kind of followed the plan I had made, except that instead of going south and following the 10 freeway, we took a more northerly route, following US 40 instead, over northern AZ, and NM, before reaching Albuquerque, NM, (KAEG) then onto Santa Fe (KSAF) for lunch. Then we headed east, stopping in Tucumcari, NM, (KTCC) on the way to Amarillo, TX (KTDW) for the night. Then it was north and east across the plain’s states, stopping at Liberal (KLBL) and then Hays, KS, (KHYS) then Lincoln, NE, (KLNK) and then east across Iowa. It took us 2 days to get to Clinton, IA, (KCWI) and the Cessna 150 fly-in. We had a short but fun 1 ½ days there, and then a short flight northeast to Juneau/Dodge County, WI (KUNU) for the mass arrival into Oshkosh on Saturday.
On the return trip, due to frontal activity, and thunderstorms to the south of Oshkosh, we decided to delay our departure by one day. So, we left on a Sunday morning. The weather had improved considerably by then. After taking off from Oshkosh, we flew about 45 minutes to the small town of Portage, WI, (C47) and landed there for a quick fuel stop. Then onto Des Moines, IA (KDSM) for fuel and lunch, then onto Manhattan, KS, (KMHK) for the night. The next day we left early and pressed onto Dodge City, KS, (KDDC) then to Dalhart, TX, (KDHT) for lunch, and fuel, then onto Santa Fe, NM (KSAF) for the night. Finally, the 3rd day, we departed Santa Fe, early, then onto Gallup, NM, (KGUP) for fuel, Flagstaff, AZ (KFLG) for fuel, then Lake Havasu, AZ, (KHII) where it was a sultry 109°, for lunch, then Twenty-Nine Palms (KTNP) for fuel, and finally, El Monte, CA, (KEMT) and home!
What a trip! Lots of fun, lessons learned, seeing small town America at each stop. It was fascinating to me as well as I watched the terrain changing below us on our way south and west across the country. You don’t see this when you’re in the flight levels on the airlines. I still enjoy this!
Any questions or comments on any of this? Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently had the experience of working on my Cessna 150. It was fun to get out my wrenches and do some airplane maintenance on this vintage airplane. Let me tell you how this happened. About two weeks ago, I had flown my Cessna 150 to nearby Torrance Airport, KTOA, on Sunday, June 27, for what is called ‘Display Day’, to get an exemption from the yearly property tax on vintage aircraft in Los Angeles County, which my airplane qualifies for. Wanting to take advantage of this, I made the short 10-minute flight to KTOA and parked my airplane in the display area. I found the appropriate folks taking care of this, then got the required sign-off on my paperwork.
The next day, I was going to fly to nearby Corona Airport, KAJO, about 40 miles east of Long Beach, which is close to where an aircraft supply business, Aircraft Spruce is also located. The plan, fly out and pick up some supplies I had ordered, instead of driving. Simple enough. Except that after starting my Cessna 150, 7KY, it just ran rough. Very rough! Strange. It was fine yesterday. Now, today, this? I suddenly realized I was not flying anywhere. Stuff happens, but this was strange. I pulled the mixture knob out to cutoff (yes, old technology) and shut it down, and then just sat there for a minute. Replaying what I had just done in my mind. Hmm. What could be wrong? I don’t know. Let’s try this again. So, I went through the starting process, and it was Deja vu. Same thing. Hmm. Trying to trouble-shoot, Is this a fuel problem or an ignition problem? It’s starting, so it’s not ignition, but its running rough. The engine RPMs are fluctuating wildly. A fuel problem? Or something else? Pull the mixture and shut down again. Give it a minute. Try one more time. Same thing. Shut it down. What is going on?? I’m stumped.
So, after initially fumbling a bit, I looked through my small collection of tools, that have, up until now, mostly just sat there, on a shelf in my shed. I picked out a small stubby Phillips head screwdriver and went to work loosening and removing the fasteners that hold the upper cowling in place. And then lifted it up and removed it, carefully setting it on the ground. Looking at the upper engine compartment, everything seems to be intact, nothing is loose. No obvious signs of trouble. Hmm. Ok. Put the top cowling back on and reinstall the fasteners.
Get out and drive down the flight line. Is anyone else around that could help? Usually someone is around. Not today, right now. Monday mid-morning. Darn. Ok, I text my mechanic, Hunter, who is temporarily out of action with a back problem. I explain my situation. He replied, suggested a few things, including a fouled plug. Spark plugs. Carbon deposits. I always pull the mixture and lean it out on the ground. Ok, assessing the situation, and aware of the time, I had spent a while on this, and no progress. Time to move on. Close up the airplane and leave.
Fast forward. I’ve told my pilot friends about this. The word is out. Three days later, on Thursday, July 1, a friend has loaned me a few tools for some airplane maintenance. I decide to take on the task of removing the upper cowling and then removing and cleaning the spark plugs, all 8 of them, and then reinstalling them.
No, I have not done this before. But, I tell myself and someone else, jokingly, it’s not ‘rocket science’. I can do this. I’m not intimidated. It’s a matter of learning the procedure, the process, and what’s involved. What tools to use, how things work, etc. Airplane maintenance, mechanical stuff. I can do this.
Now, one more time, get the Phillips Head screwdriver and remove the upper cowling. And then the lower cowling. Removing the fasteners holding it in place, and carefully setting it down on the ground.
Then, one at a time, with the wrenches loaned to me and a ratchet and extension and a spark plug socket, I went to work, carefully removing eight plugs (2 per cylinder on piston airplanes for redundancy, an FAA requirement), and plug wires. The upper plugs were generally easy to remove. The lower plugs required more time and effort. Some were on really tight. Plugs were placed in a special sparkplug tray with numbered ‘holes’, both upper and lower holes for each cylinder, so they go back into the correct cylinder.
Guess what? This is FUN! My young nephew Milo would be proud of his uncle, who has not normally done this. Milo loves tools and machines! But I plan to start doing more work on my airplane, as the opportunity arises. I am seriously enjoying getting my hands dirty, working with the tools, and learning the mechanics of the engine and airplane. YES! I’ve had this ‘itch’ for decades. This is LONG overdue for me, LONG OVERDUE! I am finally getting to do this!! You can’t work on modern cars anymore. They don’t even want you to. Fortunately, with older airplanes, it’s different.
For some perspective on this, this Cessna 150 was built back in 1970. Over fifty years ago! So, it’s really 1960’s technology. Nothing fancy like we see today in cars, and more modern aircraft, like fuel injection for example, where more and more is automated. It’s a simple 4 cylinder, horizontally opposed, air-cooled, carbureted piston-engine. Only 100Hp. And it’s very reliable. It’s perfect for me to learn the basics of engines and airplane maintenance, which is part of the reason that I bought this airplane in October 2019.
So, after removing the plugs, my friend Kenny and I walked down to where on the flight line we have equipment in a shed, for jobs like this, cleaning the plugs. He carefully cleaned the plugs, one at a time. Then I walked back to the airplane and reinstalled them. This, of course, takes longer. And the bottom/lower plugs are a pain…because of various engine components and accessories that are just ‘in the way’ of the sparkplug ‘holes’ for each. This is all part of working on an engine, airplane maintenance. But still FUN!!
Finally, after a while, they are all installed, though, not properly ‘torqued’ or tightened to FAA specs, for normal operation. I can start the engine, to see if it will run, but I’m not going anywhere. Ok, so I start it up, but, again, no change. Still running rough. Hmm. Ok, shut it down. It’s something else. I’ve done ALL I can. Not sure what’s going on. Learning. It’s a process. Diagnosing engine problems. All told this process of removing, cleaning and then reinstalling the plugs took about two hours. A good investment of my time. Now I know how to do this.
A day later, as the word gets out among friends on the flight line, another friend who is also a mechanic has come down and carefully pulled the propeller ‘through’ several times, checking the cylinders for compression. A good cylinder will require an effort as the propeller is pulled through. A bad cylinder will offer little resistance, because of low or no compression. And, as he expected, and explained to me, it likely has a bad cylinder, and probably a stuck valve, in number 3-cylinder, which is the ‘aircraft’ front right cylinder as seen from the pilot seat. Now we’re getting somewhere. Progress.
So, the airplane is now considered ‘AOG’ or ‘aircraft on ground’, in other words, grounded. And at this point the required FAA Annual inspection is fast approaching, the next week. So, there’s nothing more I can do. Another friend helped me put the upper and lower cowling back on, and tighten it, so it is ready to be towed over across the airport to where the ‘annual’ inspection will be completed.
Now this week, the annual has been started, and as I write this, it’s Tuesday, July 13. I had a chance to talk with the mechanic, Steve, who is doing the work. He’s really good. The airplane is generally in good condition, but on a 50-year-old airplane, there is always something that needs attention.
He reviewed his list of squawks with me, and then we discussed the engine and number 3 cylinder, the biggest problem. He explained that the exhaust valve is in fact, stuck, and would not move. So, he recommended that he remove the cylinder and send it out to an engine shop that specializes in engine and cylinder overhaul and repair. Of course, I agreed. So, his crew removed the cylinder and sent it off to the engine shop, which is in the area. This will add to the cost of the annual, of course. I’m ready for that. All part of it.
With any luck, it will be fixed and ready in a day or two. Hopefully. If not, my departure for AirVenture and Oshkosh will likely be delayed. A day, maybe two. Just the way it is. I am taking this one step at a time. In the meantime, I am learning more about the mechanics of the airplane, the engine, stuck valves, airplane maintenance and more. It’s all good. Many lessons learned, for me. This is just bad timing.
And it’s all part of aircraft ownership. Fly safely!
After a yummy breakfast at the Airport Café, with my training Captain and Instructor, Bob, and his brother Tim, both of whom are retired airline captains and are now DC-3 pilots, flying Flabob Express, we went out and inspected the airplane. We did a ‘preflight’ or ‘walkaround’ as we call it. They actually kidded me about my smart decision not to wear a white ‘T’ shirt, (who knew?) under my blue Chambray sport shirt, (I was wearing a grey T shirt) because with all of the oil, grease and grime in and around the wheel wells and the engines, some of it was bound to get on my T shirt.
Aircraft with ‘radial’ engines, like the DC-3, are well known for leaking oil, not in flight, but rather on the ground, when parked. It’s just the way radial engines are. There’s usually an empty oil pan below each engine to catch the oil. And the DC-3 holds 29 gallons of oil. Remember, this airplane was designed and built back in the 1930’s. It’s pre-WWII. A much different time. So, a white ‘T’ shirt would quickly get dirty and show all the grease and oil stains! They told me I ‘passed’ the first test, not wearing a white T shirt! Yeah!!
You actually have to duck down and then carefully walk into the wheel wells, where there is a lot of stand-up headroom, and avoid bumping your head ‘ouch!’ on the oil cooler (which is directly in front of the wheel well, and is below the engine, in the slipstream) to accomplish some of the pre-flight tasks.
After this, we went back inside to an air-conditioned conference room and Bob used a PowerPoint presentation about the airplane as a point of reference, to discuss the systems. We also of course discussed flying the DC-3, various power-settings, configurations, how it handled, and how things generally work, for about 2 hours. They had sent me a manual in advance, which I had read through.
The airport we are flying out of is called Flabob Airport (KRIR), and is about 40 miles east of Long Beach, in Riverside, CA, aka the ‘inland empire’ in SoCal. It was renamed ‘Flabob’ Airport in 1943 by Flavio Madariaga and Bob Bogan, so as to avoid any confusion with the other airport in Riverside. The name of the airport was derived by combining the first three letters of their first names.
Flabob is a small airport, with one hard-surfaced runway, 3,200’ long, and is typically not very busy, thus no need for a control tower. It also has a nicely maintained grass runway, which is rare anymore, parallel to the hard-surfaced runway, for use by single engine airplanes if they so desire. Their insurance requires that they have 2 qualified pilots in the pilot’s seats when flying into or out of Flabob.
Since I’m being trained, and am not yet ‘qualified’, I was standing right behind them, in the cockpit, where a small ‘jumpseat’ would normally be, typically for training, or a ‘deadheading’ pilot or FAA Inspector, except that this DC-3 does not have a jumpseat. So I was holding on, watching them, with my headset plugged in so I can hear their communications via the intercom, and know what’s going on.
The plan was for us to takeoff out of Flabob, and then, when at a safe altitude, above say, 2,500’ feet, the co-pilot, Tim, and I would change places. Simple. He’d get out of the co-pilot seat and go take a seat back in the cabin, and I’d get in the co-pilot seat…buckle up, and FLY!! We’d then go through all of the required maneuvers, takeoffs and landings, for me to become qualified as a DC-3 co-pilot!
We finally got around to starting engines, and with radial engines, this is quite a busy process! It’s a 2-man (person?) process. This is old technology. Typical of many airliners, on an overhead panel, there are toggle switches for turning various components on/off, and among them are spring-loaded starter switches.
During the process of starting engines, one of the pilots is looking out of the open left or right-side cockpit windows and watching and counting OUTLOUD the propeller blades (1,2,3,4,5,6 etc.) as they pass by the window, so the other pilot can hear him, as the 3 bladed propellers start slowly turning through their arcs.
As your count reaches ‘6’ blades you turn on the primer switch, adding fuel, and shortly after that, at ‘9’ blades, you turn on the magneto switch, to get ‘ignition’, then combustion, and as it starts, then on the center ‘quadrant’, move the mixture lever out of ‘idle cut-off’ to the auto-rich position, and advance the throttle slightly, as needed, and hopefully it starts. Radial engines can be cantankerous. They don’t always start on cue. Then the Pratt & Whitney 1830 (2 rows of 7 cylinders), each capable of producing 1,200Hp, loudly rumbles to life, belching blue exhaust smoke and making quite a ruckus!! Then checking the other engine instruments for proper after-start indications; oil, fuel, hydraulic and vacuum pressures on their respective gauges, and then repeat for the other side.
After the engines have warmed up enough, with the oil temperatures reaching 40° and cylinder head temperatures reaching 100°, and the ‘after- start’ checklist is completed, and the crew is ready to taxi, the parking brake is released, power is slowly applied, and we start to taxi. Carefully.
This can be tricky, as the brakes must be used, but sparingly because they can heat up quickly, and the tail wheel is ‘free-castering’, meaning it can swivel 360°, or it can be locked straight (for takeoff and landing). The wings on a DC-3 are 95’, very long! They are 30’ longer than the fuselage, which is only about 65’ long. With such a wide wingspan, you have to be very careful when maneuvering on the ground to make sure the wingtips are clear of any obstacles.
It took several minutes slowly taxiing down a narrow taxiway to get to the run-up area adjacent to runway 24 at Flabob. After finally completing the run-up, and announcing our intentions on the Unicom frequency, we finally got lined up on the runway. Bob added power for takeoff, and we were just starting to roll, when the right engine suddenly started to act up. Strangely, it did not develop full power, and the right tachometer (RPM) began fluctuating. This is not good. Hmm. So, Bob, who was in the left seat, immediately pulled the throttles back to idle and applied the brakes, and ‘rejected’ the takeoff. It was the only thing to do. No time for analysis. Just ‘abort’ the takeoff.
Just like airline ‘standard operating procedures/SOP’s’. We then taxied the remaining length of the runway, turned right, and taxied clear of the runway, and then turned right again, onto another taxiway, and then shut down, and secured the aircraft. A small ground crew came out to meet us, including the mechanic. And much discussion ensued.
We were of course surprised, because we had no reason to expect anything, but we had ‘briefed’ or discussed this possibility beforehand (every takeoff is briefed), and they handled it in a professional manner. We are not sure yet what happened. They will inspect the engine. I will have to return at later date to do the flying…and complete the training.
Of course, I am disappointed that we did not takeoff and I did not get to fly, but from a professional standpoint, I have learned long ago to take these things in stride. ‘Stuff happens’ as we say. Today, it happened, they handled it appropriately, and we go from there. I learned a lot, and I have a much better understanding of the DC-3, and technology from the 1930’s. “it’s all good’, as we say. Lessons learned. Bob and his brother, Tim, were excellent to work with. I’m looking forward to my next training flight in the DC-3!