The Extra Mile Can Be Dangerous

The Extra Mile Can Be Dangerous

A customer in Rhode Island was attempting their first cable rail installation.  This customer has purchase many wood stair components from us and they were happy every time.  The cable rail installation they were attempting was really difficult and they were looking for some help to get things installed.  I saw this as an opportunity to stretch the wings on my little airplane and fly from our plant in Goshen, Indiana to see the customer in Rhode Island.  I try to fly to a customer about once per month in addition to driving trips to customers who are closer.

Airplane2

The trip to Rhode Island got a little intense.  The story ends with me renting a car and completing the drive and the installation with the customer.

On April 15, 2013 I took off from KGSH (Goshen, Indiana) for KUUU (Rhode Island) in my experimental Cozy MKIV on an IFR flight plan.  It was a nice VFR day and we climbed to 11,000 MSL.  I had an instrument instructor with me.  The mission of this trip was to see a customer in Rhode Island and ge me 10 more hours of simulated instrument time so that  I could  take the IFR checkride when I returned.  Just after run-up the CFII asks me about the best glide speed.  I responded with 90mph. The instructor was nervous about the flight since he has about 20 minutes of flying time in a Cozy and no landings.  I have about 400 hours in canards and he was trusting my experience.  Climbing through 2500′ I put on the foggles and continue the climb up to 11,000MSL.  The air was smooth and we had a slight tailwind for what looked like a great day of flying.  We got into some clouds and picked up some trace ice over Ohio so we descended down to 9000MSL with the blessing of ATC.

The Cozy is the ultimate, affordable cross country machine for 2 people and lots of baggage.  It is really fast, comfortable, efficient and easy to fly.  The engine in our Cozy is a first run narrow deck Lycoming 0-360 A1D born in 1960. In the engine’s first life it was fitted to a Piper Commanche 180.  The engine lived in the Commanche for 1000 hours until the mid 1970s.  It was pulled out and put on a shelf for an unkown to me reason..  Then engine was unpacked and reborn in the Cozy in 1996 after being painted.  No other engine work has been logged.  The original builder of the Cozy flew the plane for about 100 hours and got bored with it.  He sold the plane to a retired American Airlines pilot who flew it a few hundred hours until he parked the plane in a hangar because of health.  Eventually, the second owner of the Cozy succumbed to cancer.  A friend of the deceased second owner of the plane was looking after the Cozy for the widow.  He put  pickling oil in the engine and put it in a hangar costing them $400 per month for  at least 4 years.

I purchased the Cozy in July 2012.  We drained the oil, put new PMAG ignitions on it, did a condition inspection and began flying it.  A few bugs showed up in the first 20 hours and we fixed them and kept flying.  We did oil analysis after each oil change.  The analysis told us that it was making metal.  We forwarded the report to two people that we trust.  Each one said, “Oil analysis is something to look at for a trend.  When you see a sharp increase you need to be concerned. An engine with 1400 hours is going to make metal.  Don’t worry too much as long as you have good compressions and good oil pressure.”

Just before the Rhode Island trip I took an enjoyable flight to Sun N Fun, logging a lot of time over the Smokies.  When I returned from Lakeland, Florida, the home of Sun N Fun we changed the oil and oil filter in preparation for the the Rhode Island trip and put a sample of oil in a  bottle for oil analysis.  I planned to drop the oil in the mail when I returned from Rhode Island..  We put the oil filter on the bench, planning to cut it open and look in the pleats for metal.  In the two weeks preceding this flight we sent emails out to 7 engine shops asking them for a quote to do a bore scope analysis on our engine.  Several shops declined since the engine was old and told us “just rebuild it.”   The remaining shops  didn’t respond.  None of the shops made an appointment.  We hoped to make some calls and pressure one of the shops into the bore scope analysis for us.  After the bore scope we planned to update all of our engine sensors to a Engine Information System.  The CHT and EGT gauges are the old turn a dial type to select the cylinder.  Sometimes wiggling the dial is required to get the needle to move.  The oil pressure changes when the Nav and Strobe lights come on. The oil pressure has a rhythmic bounce based upon the frequency of strobes or some noise in the electrical system. The sensor for the Oil Temperature shorts to ground about 10% of the time during each flight.  New engine instruments are needed, but the bore scope needs to come first.  Engine compressions have been checked 3 times in the last 9 months and all of them steady between 73 and 77 out of 80..

The trip to Rhode Island was looking like a really easy day.  Flying along the oil pressure was bouncing at a 50 PSI during the first half hour of the trip.  It is bouncing in a rhythmic fluctuation of +/-15 PSI.  It is the same rhythmic fluctuation that I have seen on the plane since I have owned it.  The fluctuation looks like it is picking up a bounce from the strobe lights or the ignition.  Sheepishly I explain this the CFII as normative and think to myself, this is embarrassing, I’ve got to get real instruments in this thing.

The oil temperature runs around 185 degress.  Even in climb I don’t see more than 195 degrees.  However, the wires at the sender short every now and again.  When the oil temperature sender shorts the needle pegs.  I adjusted the wires and epoxied them in place on the sender so they would give an accurate reading.  The epoxy fix kept the gauge working for about 2 hours, then it went back to occasionally giving an errant reading..

The trip to Rhode Island was going well.  The instructor was preparing me for the IFR oral exam and was quizzing me about the aircraft systems.  Occasionally he would need to remind me to “Check Altitude.”  After about 1.5 hours of flying the oil pressure started reading lower.  It  bounced around 25-30 PSI which is not uncommon as the engine runs for more than an hour.

We have been flying for 2.5 hours and getting better ground speed at 9000′ than we were at 11,000′.  We are 1.5 hours from our destination with plenty of fuel and a ground speed of 173kts.  We are going to get there early and have time for coffee before my meeting.

Oil pressure is bouncing and a little lower.  It is hitting the bottom peg occasionally but usually around 20.  I think, “I really gotta get that gauge fixed when I get back.  I hope my partner got the bore scope scheduled.”  The instructor mentions the oil pressure, we discuss.  I dismiss it as an erratic gauge.   I ponder making a precautionary landing.  I have foggles on and I’m racking up simulated instrument time and even a little actual when we were in clouds at 11,000′.  We are getting to my destination early with a nice headwind.  Must be a bad gauge or wire is my thought.  Most of the other gauges are unreliable, I’m sure the oil pressure sender or wiring is just being erratic.  I have already replaced the oil pressure sender and the ground wire to the sender hoping to get rid of the annoying rhythmic bounce, but it didn’t solve the problem..  I wonder what is causing the stupid oil pressure gauge to be so erratic.

We are over the hills in Pennsylvania at this point, but I only see what the Garmin and iPad show me since I have foggles on.

RPM begins to drop!  Oil pressure is steady at 0!

I call ATC (New York Center) and inform them that we have a rough engine and we need a heading to an airport.

“Cozy 1361S Turn North to Elmyria.  Contact Elymira Approach.” NY Center says.

Elymira informs us that we are 26 miles from them.

More RPM loss.

Instructor is working the Garmin 430 to find the nearest airport. “Hey we are right over an airport he exclaims!”

A few seconds later he says in a discouraged voice, “We are right over a heliport.”

“Elymira, I need something closer,” I demand.

More RPM Loss with rough engine sounds.

“You just passed Wellsboro Johnston Airport, it is 12 miles,” says Elymira

My mind is greatly encouraged with an airport 12 miles away.

“I need a heading!” I tell Elymira

“Fly west” Elymira says

Instructor, “Do you have carb heat on?”

I apply carb heat and try different leaning procedures to smooth the engine out.  Then engine replies by giving me  louder metal on metal engine sounds.

THUD, Violent shake, engine is barely above idle.

“HEADING PLEASE, N1361S!” I tell Elmyria.

“N1361S, Fly 250” says Elymira.

“250, N1361S” I reply.

I realize that I still have the foggles on.  After 2.5 hours, I have grown accustomed to the instruments.  I throw the foggles in the back seat somewhere and look out to rolling ground and lots of trees.

Instructor has loaded Wellsboro into the GPS and we see the distance and track.  He asks me if I am at Best Glide.

I reply, “Due to the headwind, I am going to use 110mph because we have a stiff headwind and I don’t want the headwind to act on me for a long period of time.”

A year ago I did several engine out approaches in my Varieze from 5 miles from the airport with the engine at idle.  I found that with a strong headwind, best glide seemed to shorten my distance that I would glide over the ground even though it prolonged my time in the air.  The longer the aircraft is in the headwind, the longer the headwind acts upon the airframe.  I didn’t do any formal analysis, but logged in my mind that faster speeds might be better for gliding distance in a headwind.

We are not making enough power to maintain altitude at 110MPH. We are down to 8300MSL and about 8.5 miles from Wellsboro.  I have not considered any landing choices other than Wellsboro at this time.  My mind was set on making it to Wellsboro and it appears that we have plenty of altitude to get there.  We just need to visually locate the airport.  It is a small strip about 3600′ long nestled in the hills.  There aren’t any big taxiways beside it or crossing runways to give it a distinction among the hills and trees..

The engine is shaking violently even though it is producing some thrust.  I fear that the violent shaking will break a motor mount.  I cannot afford to have the engine fall off the mount.  It is a very important part of the plane at this point for its weight more than its power capabilities.  If the engine breaks loose, I’m in going to be in a very very nose down attitude.  I decide to shut down the engine by leaning it out.  The violent shaking stops.  It is now just a rumble as the prop windmills.

“Cozy 1361S descend to 4000 feet” Elymira says.

“I’m staying high as long as I can, N1361S,” declining their advice.  We were at about 6000′

“Cozy 1361S, how many souls” Elymira asks.

“What??” I respond.

“How many souls on board.” Elymira asks again.

“Two souls on board.” I inform Elymira.

The instructor sees the airport first, he is 20 years younger than me and has better eyes.

Our hearts relax as we realize we have plenty of altitude to get to the airport.

I ask him to tune the ATIS.

“We are making a straight in, no matter the winds.” he says.

“Yeah, but I wanna know them anyway.”

“Winds are 180 at 10.”

The landing will be a direct cross wind for runway 25.  I’ve landed with a crosswind of 20 gusting to 28 so I’m not concerned about a 10 knot crosswind.

My thoughts run through the landing on 3600′ strip which is relatively short for the fast approach speed of a Cozy.  A runway over-run puts me over the edge of a hill.  Landing short is even worse.  This has to be a money shot cause I only have one shot.

We are a couple miles out from the airport and really high.  I know we are going to make the runway at this point and I let Elymira know.

“Good Luck” is Elymira’s last transmission.

We are fast and high.  I remember seeing 140mph. “Gear Down and Speed Brake Down,” I announce.

I execute a sharp turn to the left.

Instructor queries, “Are you going to do a 360 or S turns?”

I cannot bring myself to turn in the opposite direction of the runway.  That little 3600′ strip is my only comfort at this point.  “S turns,” I reply..

I turn back to the right into a bank of 60 degrees.  High bank sheds altitude and speed.  I turn back left and slip it as hard as it will slip.  We are still fast but altitude is just a little high.

I line it up with the runway and check that I’ve got everything thrown out to slow me down.

140MPH over the fence, YIKES I’m fast.

HARD SLIP!  The runway has never gone past me this fast.  I have to set it down NOW!.  Stick forward in a slight slip with the left wing down..  Left main touches and immediately the other two are on the deck.  Full BRAKES.  We are stopped and safe with 800 feet of runway in front of us.

 

After High 5’s and a prayer of thanks we push the airplane off the runway to the FBO.  As we push the airplane off the runway about 6 rescue vehicles pull in to check on us.  “That is why Elymira wanted to know how many souls were on board,” I think to myself.   We enjoy some pleasantries with a few people at the airport and let the rescue personnel know that we are ok.  The instructor calls Elymira ATC to tell them we landed safely.

 

I still needed to get to Rhode Island so I rented two cars.  The instructor took one car back to Indiana and I drove the other car East.  Somewhere in New York, I pulled into a convenience station to get fuel for the rental car.  About 15 people were gathered around a TV watching the news.  “That is strange,” I thought.  I looked at the TV with them and saw of the great loss of life at the Boston Marathon. My customer lived in Boston and the jobsite was in Rhode Island.  I was heading toward Boston that night, planning to get a hotel.  April 15, 2013 is a day I will never forget.

 

Many people ask me, “Were you scared?”

I usually reply, “I was too busy to be scared.”

I was certainly busy trying to solve the problem, but maybe I was more scared than I realize.  The engine out happened on Monday.  For the remainder of the week, I struggled to fall asleep.  I kept replaying the event over and over again.  I was kicking myself really hard for not listening to the oil analysis and have unreliable engine instrumentation.  I was feeling a lot of shame.  The shame wore me down.  Five days after the event I went to bed at 8pm with a high fever.  My wife came to bed around 10 pm, but promptly left to go down to the couch.  My body temperature was so hot she could not handle being next to me.  In the middle of the night I woke and drank a glass of water, feeling dehydrated.  I immediately began to sweat.  My fever broke and I woke in the morning feeling like I had been in a boxing match.

The following night, I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep, but I began the feelings of shame once again.  I should not have continued, the instructor was relying on me to provide a safe aircraft and I let him down.

I realized what I needed.  I needed forgiveness for the shame I was feeling.

I spent the next 10 minutes confessing the details of my failures to God.

I ignored oil analysis.

I ignored an old old engine with periods of inactivity.

I ignored erratic oil pressure readings.

I confessed my feelings

I feel ashamed and stupid for putting other people in danger.

I feel like less of a pilot for not making a precautionary landing

I took a deep breath.

I asked God to forgive me.  I gave myself forgiveness.  I had a sense that I had two more things I needed to do.  I need write down an account of what happened and I need to ask the instructor for forgiveness  I promised myself and God that I would do these things.

I slept wonderfully all night and have not had any difficulties since.

I met with the instructor and we went over the flight and he signed my logbook for 2.5 hours of simulated instrument time.  I asked for his forgiveness for not maintaining a safe aircraft.  He gave me his forgiveness and described how much he learned from the experience.

In tearing down the engine we found a hole the size of a grapefruit in the side of the case and a rod cap laying on top of the engine.  The piston was wedged inside the cylinder.  Apparently the rod broke and it beat up the crankshaft in the process.  There was enough metal in the oil pan to fill a quart jar.

We will be putting a new 0-360 and an Engine Information System in the Cozy this summer.  It would have been a much better decision to have rebuilt the engine before the rod put a hole in the side of the case.  The case is now junk, the crank shaft is deeply scarred, the cam shaft is ruined and most of the engine parts have had lots of metal go through them.

A few things that I learned.

1.  Take better care of the engine and instruments

2.  Altitude is my best friend.  In the future I will sacrifice ground speed for altitude.  I’ve done a lot of flights at 2000AGL so that I didn’t have a headwind.  I will take the ground speed penalty in the future for more altitude.  There are only a handful of miles across the Midwest, where I do most of my flying, that I am out of glide of an airport if I am high.  I will learn these routes and fly within glide of an airport as much as possible.

3.  Fast acquisition of the nearest airport is imperative.  As soon as an issue arises, my first response needs to be finding and heading to an airport, then troubleshooting.

4.  I want to do research into the best glide speed for different headwind scenarios.

5.  I need to continue to practice engine out procedures.