We've been flying for a while tonight. I'm back on the main tanks after running enough out of the outboards that they won't spill through the vents in hard turns, but I'm not yet pumping fuel from the auxiliary tanks, so that's somewhere between two and three hours under my system. It's very dark to the north and the lights on the ground create a false horizon making me bank about two degrees when I look out the window, and the AI is off by about that much too, so I have to keep crosschecking the flight instruments to keep the airplane right side up. At least the air is smooth tonight. Then a voice from the back asks, "Is your RPM thing supposed to do that?" I look, and the tachometer, a big gauge labelled RPM with two needles on it, shows the needle with the R on it steadily pointing to the second tick past the 20, while the needle with the L on it is oscillating wildly from the 5 back up to match the other one.
I sigh to myself at the airplane and answer calmly, and a little disgustedly, "No, it just does that for a while before it breaks."
The sound of the propellers is steady and all the other engine gauges are normal. There's nothing wrong with the left propeller. It's rotating at 2200 rpm, just as the right one is. The problem lies in the gauge. This is not an uncommon malfunction. The tachometer works because a cable transmits the rotation from the accessory drive to the instrument. I've seen this malfunction a few times in different types. I'm sure I've blogged about it before. Sometimes the telltale oscillation is only by 100 rpm or so. Sometimes it's only present at low RPM or at start up. I know to contact company right away when I see it, and get them to order a new tach cable, because some time in the next twenty hours or so, the tach is going to stop working altogether. In this case, it took only twenty minutes before the needle with the L on lay placidly at the bottom of the instrument. Best case scenario is that the cable has just come disconnected. More likely the cable needs replacing and there are possibilities of a fault with the gauge. Fortunately we are in the US and you can get anything delivered overnight here.
It's not an emergency, nor a reason to abort a flight. It is a no go item for a takeoff, but if the left propeller does anything stupid in flight, I'll now notice the sound before I would have noticed it on the tach, anyway. The propellers continue to rotate normally until I kill the mixtures at shutdown.
After the flight I contact my company PRM to let him know about the problem. I will be looking for maintenance locally, but ask him if he can get me permission to ferry the aircraft with the tach disabled. We meet up with the others for dinner.
In the parking lot, one of my coworkers says quietly, "Hey, that guy just pulled a handgun out of his pocket."
I look around and don't see anything. "What for? What did he do with it?"
"He put it down. He took it out of his hip pocket before sitting in his car. Like guys do with their wallet."
I guess that's what Texas guys do with their guns, too, when they keep them in their back pockets. Does he keep his wallet in the other pocket? In Canada you can have a handgun in your car, but you need a firearms acquisition licence and a separate permit to transport; it has to be unloaded and locked in an opaque container; and you have to be en route between your home, a gun show, firing range or licensed shooting event. It was a 'welcome to Texas' moment for us. We headed off to dinner, me with a Swiss Army knife in my front pocket. I don't know the armament status of the rest of the all-Canadian crew, but I imagine about equal to mine. Also there might be a sledgehammer or an axe in the back of the truck.
The two female members of the party wanted to go to "Billy's Barbeque" an establishment that announces its presence via those shiny stick-on letters you can buy at the hardware store, arranged not too crookedly on a wooden sign on the barbecuer's front lawn. But what says that he's serious is that Billy also has the name of the business hand painted on his van. The general appearance of the establishment (I checked it out earlier by daylight) would suit the Hollywood stereotype as habitation for the crazy guy who subsists on possum pie and moonshine. My rationale is that this is place has clearly been here a while. Locals eat here. And if people got sick here, the whole town would know, and Billy wouldn't be in business anymore. Despite my logic, the male members of the crew vetoed our choice.
We went to another barbecue restaurant instead. it wasn't quite as rustic, but definitely not corporate. They'd used multiply doubled over strings of Christmas lights to make a "neon" sign, and the decor seemed similarly improvised. Inside was a huge space --it might once have been a church hall--but only four tables. The menu had ribs, sausage and brisket available as either a "plate" or a "dinner." it was explained that a plate was lots of was lots of food and a dinner was less. They were out of ribs, so I had sausage. it was fantastic. I swapped a bit for someone else's brisket. Also delicious. Much better than the brisket I tried before at a different barbecue. The potato salad was tasty, too, and garnished with raw onion.
I took the opportunity of dealing with definite Texan people to try another of the Texas experiments I'd been assigned. I'd been told that "Coke" is a generic term in Texas, meaning "carbonated beverage," and that if I asked for a Coke, I'd be asked what sort. So I tried. But the result was not as predicted to me. I was brought a red can of Coca-Cola, no questions asked. I'd repeat the experiment, but I'm only willing to try it when I'm willing to accept an actual Coke, and a carbonated, caffeinated beverage is not my choice immediately before flying or sleep, and those are the main two times when I order food. Mainly because my day is principally composed of flying, sleep and ordering food.
We chatted with the chef. When we told him we were pilots he said he used to deliver furniture for an upscale company in Houston, and tallied on his fingers pilots, professional sports players, doctors, and car dealership owners as the purchasers of high-end furniture and the owners of nice houses. Yep, that's me. Not only is my furniture all either second hand or from Ikea, but some of it is both second hand and from Ikea.
Whoa! A guy on TV was just discussing the economy (or something else I wasn't paying attention to until he said the keywords that got my attention) and he referred to "getting it back on the glideslope." That's the first time I've noticed that aviation metaphor used by a non pilot. I wonder if anyone is monitoring the rate at which expressions like "keep a tight rein on" are fading away to be replaced by metaphors from newer technology.