Rally for the Lane

by Berck

Photos are up in the gallery. Now that nachzen.net lives in the cloud (and even fronted by Cloudflare), the gallery should be reasonably fast. Even if still somewhat ugly and dated. I’d kind of abandoned it for awhile in favor of Google Photos because it was so slow, but I also hate that Google Photos doesn’t have a decent “here are all of my shared albums” front end. But it does have the ability to search photos with something other than whatever I might have tagged them with. I’ll try to migrate some of the Google Photo albums back to the Gallery. I’ll need to survey the photo-hosting landscape to see if there’s something more modern for self-hosted photos. On the other hand, it kind of fits with the whole aesthetic of the blog, which continues to run the hacked “theme” from the first version of WordPress. It’s like a time capsule at this point.

Another web hosting note: Google disabled support for Feedburner, which is what I’d been using for e-mail notifications. I migrated the subscriber list to a new tool only to discover after it sent out its first email that there are ads. Which is not acceptable. I’ll see if I can switch to locally generated email again without ads. Given the fact that nachzen.net isn’t particularly reputable, I’m unsure if I can manage to make it generate email that won’t just be tossed into your spam bucket.

The weather on the way to Nashville was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, cool temperatures, and even a tailwind the whole way. But the gods of General Aviation always seek to remind us that traveling cross-country in a Cherokee is not practical, so I should have been ready.

As I approached the El Dorado airport, I let Wichita approach know that I had it in sight, canceled IFR and set up for a midfield downwind entry to runway 2. An aircraft reported 5 miles south of the field, and I briefly worried they’d attempt a straight-in approach and conflict with my more-friendly midfield pattern entry. I needn’t have worried as they reported me insight and said they’d follow me in from a downwind entry of their own.

I came screaming onto downwind at 110 knots, because there was no one in front of me and 110 knots in a Cherokee is just like 250 knots in the jet. Or something. I pulled power to 1800 rpm to avoid cooling the engine too fast, and worked in some flaps as the airspeed dropped below 100. I kept it high and tight to make sure not to hold up the folks behind me. By the time I rolled out on final, I was high and still fast at 75 knots. Not a problem, because if a Cherokee is good at anything, it’s slowing down. I made sure the carb heat was on, even though the outside air temp showed 81F, and pulled the power to idle. Shortly after doing so, I realized that while the propeller was still windmilling, that the engine was *not* idling. I’d never had this happen before, and if you’d asked me, the flight instructor in me would have told you that you can’t tell if an engine quits on final when you’ve already got the power at idle.

This turns out to be false. I could absolutely tell, but if you’re slightly less attuned to the sounds/feels of your particular aircraft you might not be able to. Jonah, from the passenger seat for instance, did not notice the engine quit. I was in a fine position to land even with the prop windmilling, but my immediate instinct was two-fold: (1) keep that engine running in case you need it, and (2) did it *really* quit or am I imagining things? I shoved the throttle forward and after half a second, it restarted and produced power normally. Now, even higher, I went ahead and pulled it back to idle again to land. The engine quit again, and once I was in the flare, I was worried about being able to clear the runway and taxi back to the fuel pumps, so I added power again, and it restarted. Only, I couldn’t land like with power that, so I pulled it back to idle and let it die again.

After touching down, I managed to get clear of Runway 2 onto the crosswind runway, which would at least allow the folks behind me to land. As I turned off the runway, I added power too late to keep it running and it died completely. I was able to get it restarted with the starter, but taxiing in, it just wouldn’t run below about 1,800rpm. No amount of playing with the mixture made it happy.

My first thought was that this was related to the fact that I was running with automobile gasoline instead of avgas. It’s cheaper, lead-free, and my choice of fuel given that my plane came with the STC that makes it legal to run. But a couple of times before on very hot days, I’d had some trouble with fuel vaporization while waiting for takeoff. Even though the engine was cool and not hot, and it wasn’t a particularly hot day, I managed to convince myself that was the issue. So, once I got to the fuel pumps, I went ahead and filled one of the tanks with avgas, even though the only reason I’d decided to stop at El Dorado was the readily-available mogas. I still put the $1/gallon cheaper mogas in one wing, reasoning that it had never caused me trouble in the air before, and the other wing full of blue gas would eliminate the possibility that mogas was causing the problem.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, after refueling, the problem did not go away. I did a high-power runup for a few minutes to make sure I cycled through any mogas in the lines, but the engine still refused to run correctly below about 1,800 rpm. I could force it to run lower with a mixture sitting at near-cutoff and a throttle setting too-high for the desired RPM. I briefly considered that it didn’t seem to cause a problem at high power settings, so I should just continue to Nashville and try to get it repaired there. This is a stupid and potentially fatal line of reasoning, so I parked the plane out of the way on the ramp and pulled the cowl.

I first wanted to make sure there wasn’t a gaping intake manifold leak or something obvious causing the problem. I reasoned that it seemed a lot more like it was running rich than lean, and I started peering at the carburetor wondering where the idle mixture adjustments were and if maybe the float was stuck when a fellow wandered up and asked, “Do you need help?” he asked. “Is there a mechanic on the field?” to which he replied, “I am.”

He’d witnessed my unsuccessful attempts to get it to idle and immediately suggested a stuck carburetor float and suggested that whacking on the float bowl might dislodge it. This sounded very reasonable to me, only I had nothing with which to whack. He trotted off to his hangar and reappeared with an assortment of hammers.

We spent a while attempting percussive carburetor adjustments, starting the plane with no change, and re-attempting hammering. After a few times, we both agreed that wasn’t likely to fix the situation. I asked if he would disassemble the carburetor so that we could see if the float was stuck, or if there were some other similar problem. He politely refused, saying that his approach to carburetors was simply to replace them if they didn’t work. My approach to carburetors is to take them apart, clean them, and put them back together again which tends to solve everything wrong with them. And this carburetor was likely to be much, much simpler than the ones I’m used to disassembling. But I’m not allowed to work on my own FAA-certified airplane, because I’m not an FAA-certified mechanic.

My new mechanic called an aircraft parts shop in Wichita that said they could get a carburetor overnight. Wichita is sort of aviation central, with almost all of the U.S. based aircraft manufacturers based there, but still, this was lucky. I was prepared to have to rent a car and drive all day to Nashville.

Overall, it worked out much better than I would have imagine. I’d stopped in El Dorado a half-dozen times before and almost never saw another human being there, and here was a mechanic on demand who was able to fix my plane overnight! Things could have gone much worse. I asked the airport manager if I could take the courtesy car overnight. He said that normally wouldn’t be a problem at all, but there was a fly-in of sorts that evening and he wasn’t sure if it might be needed to shuttle folks to nearby hotels. He let us borrow it, but asked that we come back in a few hours to see if anyone needed hotel rides.

The hotel available with the fewest credit card points turned out to be a disaster. Both rooms they attempted to give us had smoke alarms chirping every 60 seconds. He tried to offer us a third room, but I refused. Normally, it’s impossible to cancel a room like this, and smoke alarms chirping sounded like I might need to work to make a case. But fortunately, I’d reserved a room with a king bed and they didn’t have any of those available. I don’t mind sleeping in a room with a queen bed at all, but this is the sort of excuse that easily gets me out of the reservation. It worked, and we moved across the street to the Super 8, which was clearly owned by the same people, but was $10 more expensive, seemed quite a bit nicer and had no chirping smoke alarms.

We hung out at the fly-in for a little bit where a taco truck provided dinner. We didn’t stick around for the screening of Airplane on a giant projection screen set up in one of the hangars, and the airport manager let us keep the car overnight.

The plane was ready to go the next afternoon… I recommend refueling in El Dorado.

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