Monday, November 14, 2011

11-13-11 Engine Out in the Chief

I got to prove how well a Chief can glide on Sunday.

After Phil had the engine quit on Saturday, we thought we had the problem solved and it was only carb ice. We would just be more careful when flying. He took off later and flew back to Kittie Hill, then flew another hour later with no issues at all.

I fueled up Sunday morning to take a friend flying. We flew over to Burnet to check out their CAF Museum. We landed, got out for about 30 minutes, then we took off and headed over to a lake a few miles away. Just as I reached the lake, I made a comment about how well the engine was running (not kidding!) and how well the Chief flew. At that moment the engine coughed. I immediately pulled carb heat and it smoothed out. I turned back toward Burnet. I tried pushing in the carb heat a few times and each time it was instantly rough. I told my passenger, Mark, that we would probably land at Burnet and call someone to come get us.

My big mistake was when I decided not to land there. I chose instead to fly back to Kittie Hill with the carb heat on the whole way. I climbed to 6,000 feet for insurance and used the GPS to find the nearest private airports I knew were enroute.

When we arrived over Kittie Hill, I explained how slips worked to Mark and told him I was going to spiral down over the field, then slip hard over the trees and put her in. The active runway at Kittie Hill is about 3,000 foot with tall trees on the approach end. It was a good plan, but when I pulled the power back just barely off of full throttle she sputtered and almost died. I think I uttered a word I wouldn’t want my Mother to hear!

I quickly made a decision to fly over to Georgetown where they have a tower and a 5,000+ foot runway. I told Mark there was nothing to worry about, I would descend at full power over a long distance and chop the power and use as much runway as a I needed.

As I crossed the edge of Lake Georgetown, the engine started to sputter again, this time at full throttle and carb heat on. I called the tower and after a few attempts, they finally heard me. I immediately declared an emergency and told them I thought I had carb ice and couldn’t clear it. He immediately cleared me for any runway I wanted and suggested 11 was the closest. I told him I was on a right base for 11 and would try to make it. A few minutes (maybe seconds!) later I told I wasn’t going to make it as I had just lost my engine. It sure gets quiet…

I would later tell Mark the next decision was very tough for me. I could turn away from the airport now and make some fields where we wouldn’t hurt anyone else, but we would probably tear up the plane and ourselves. Heading on toward Georgetown I would have emergency services close by, but if I was wrong about making the runway; I would hit houses and risk other people’s lives. I watched the runway closely and it was staying in the same place, low on the windshield. I decided I could make it after all. I don’t know how far out I was, but when I first made the call I was 5.8 miles out at under 6,000 feet.

Soon, the tower asked me how many souls onboard and how much fuel. I sure hated that question. After what seemed like a long time in silence, I was on short final. I pulled the fuel of and turned off the key since I didn’t want it to start then, and had to slip really hard for what seemed like a long time to get down. I had a perfect landing and then all was quiet. The tower told me I could leave her right there since I wasn’t on the active. I climbed out and sat on the ground. Wow.

What happened? We had a few theories and one turned out to be right. The loose fuel guage was letting air into the tank. The fuel cap was clogged and not letting air in. When we replaced the gauge with new seals, it created an airtight tank, starving the fuel.

Phil had an A&P confirm this. He pulled the fuel line from the carb and fuel ran for awhile, then turned into a trickle. He put on the cap from the auxiliary tank and it ran and didn’t stop. Phil flew her home this morning.

I’ve been a pilot for a long time and around planes my entire life. We all make mistakes, but learn from mine. I passed up a perfect airport and tried to diagnose the problem in the air. I hate that I did that. Things I did right were adding altitude and declaring an emergency. Better to ask for help and not need it than the other way around.

Click here for the audio from the tower.

Jack "No New Holes" Fleetwood

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