Saturday, August 14, 2010

Testing Engines and Patience

The head of maintenance drives all night then calls me midmorning. I get along with him well and we get into these silly preaching to the converted routines where we follow our shared philosophy to the extreme. Things like writing a snag like "pilot's left arm gets wet during flight in rain" instead of "cockpit left side window seal leaks," or him playing devils advocate on how he wants me to communicate "soft snags" such as fuel pressure being low but still within limits, or a door latch being slightly loose. I want to communicate any change to maintenance but I don't want to mess up the paperwork. We go out to the airplane and he peers into all the same orifices that I did and doesn't see any more than I did. I run it on the ground and there is nothing, so we taxi out for a short test flight.

I apply full power with the brakes held, and everything is perfect. There is no surging after brake release, through to rotation and then airborne--still nothing. That airplane runs beautifully. They're old engines, approaching the number of hours that requires them to be overhauled in any case, but the props sync up nicely the engines run smoothly and beautifully with every parameter snugly in the green. Nothing I do induces the surging to return. I pretty much called that. The maintenance chief knows this sort of thing happens, and in fact is beaming with pride at his well-tuned engines. At this point I'm very glad that I had someone in the back yesterday verifying my observations. And we weren't eating the same 'jelly beans' either.

We land and taxi in. The maintenance chief suspects my surging was a transient turbocharger issue, and says it will probably come back, but if it does it's okay to continue a flight, no harm will come of it and I don't need to worry about it being a precursor to a complete engine failure. In the meantime he wants to put some duct tape on something he has seen chafing (yes, the one thing about the finalé of Lost that was realistic was when they mended the airplane with duct tape).

There's now a fuel truck parked on the pumps. I walk over and ask the guys how long before avgas is available and they say half an hour. Meanwhile there is a localized duct tape shortage so we get in his truck and go to Canadian Tire for more.

When we get back to the airport, I can see the tail of the Hawkair Dash-8 parked on the ramp. I brace myself. There are also a couple of medevac pilots standing just outside the security gate, smoking, so I ask them if "the mean security lady" is there. They answer in the affirmative. I brief the maintenance chief on the implications of this, then walk through the security gate (which is wide open: the medevac pilots say the latch is broken) and wave to security lady. She gives us leave to cross the ramp to the airplane. He works on the duct tape shielding and I call the customer to let them know we'll be ready to go as soon as I refuel.

When he is done I thank him. He says he'll stay here until I land the flight in case there is any issue. He has brought a new turbocharger just in case. I sit in the airplane with the door open, while he crosses through the danger zone back to the groundside. There's an ambulance parked not far from me on the ramp, a regular ambulance with four wheels, not an air ambulance. Security lady goes over and chews out the ambulance crew for some transgression.

The Hawkair moves off and a medevac airplane lands and shuts down on the other side of the ambulance. I let them know what I was told about when fuel would be available, which is any minute now. As my customer isn't here quite yet, when the fuellers are done and drive off, I let them go first. While they are fuelling, I see my customer arrive. I go up to the cockpit and do my prestart checks. As soon as I see them shut off the pump and rewind the hose I start up, getting ready to taxi up to the pump as soon as they move off. One of the pilots looks towards me and gestures me over, so I start to taxi. Neither of the pilots is in the cockpit though, and there isn't really room for me to park at the pumps and reach the fuel while still giving them room to leave without blasting me. I stop in the middle of the apron and then the ambulance goes by me.

Ah, they weren't beckoning to me but to the ambulance. The ambulance parks there; they talk a while. I shut down. The patient transfer takes a long time. They probably think I am crazy, rude or stupid to have taxied up towards them while their ambulance was coming over. I think they're rude to do their patient transfer at the pumps. They knew I had been waiting half an hour for fuel before they even got there. It wouldn't have been a great hardship for them to taxi off the pumps before doing the transfer. Yeah, it's an extra start cycle on their engines, and I suppose their SOPs tell them to avoid extra starts at all costs, especially when they're mine. I wouldn't have hung out at the pumps doing non-fuelling stuff when someone else was waiting for fuel.

Finally I get my turn at the gas, then we take off. The flight goes well with no recurrence of the problem. Everything just purrs along, even the asymmetrical cylinder head temperature we had before doesn't materialize. We land after less than six hours, making it a "short flight" for us, and I text everyone involved with the good news.

My fellow pilot replies, "Sweet, we're going to Alaska." My boss invokes thanks to his deity that nothing else has gone wrong. The head of maintenance comes up and helps me refuel for the trip north, probably tomorrow morning, while I assure him everything ran well. The quantities the tanks take show that fuel burn was almost perfectly even. I thank him again for driving up for what seems to have been nothing. He gives me the turbocharger parts that I may need if the problem comes back to stay, and some other just-in-case parts for the northern trip. Considering where we are going we're probably bringing coals to Newcastle, but it's good to be prepared. I bid him farewell for his drive back south.

Evening is packing up, getting ready to go. I call the customs broker to verify that everything will be ready when we need it, and plug in my American cellphone to charge overnight.

1 comment:

D.B. said...

"Mean Security Ladies" sounds like a great name for a rock band.