Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Automatic Rough Running

I'm re-reading Vol de nuit by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. It's available here for free. I know it has been translated into English, but perhaps the copyright hasn't expired on the translations yet, because I didn't find it online in translation. It's one of those novel like Fate is the Hunter that pilots like to read because the author identifies situations and feelings we didn't even know were there to express. Non-pilots can read them and get a glimpse what a pilot thinks and feels. Both are about what now is history, so they allow me to look into the past and imagine life without SIGMETs, without reliable weather forecasting or reporting at all.

The passage that made me want to share was this. It's a conversation between a pilot and a manager, about the pilot's experience when his instrument lights failed. He has already admitted to being afraid.

Je me sentais au fond d'un grand trou dont il était difficile de remonter. Alors mon moteur s'est mis à vibrer...

— Non.
— Non ?
— Non. Nous l'avons examiné depuis. Il est parfait. Mais on croit toujours qu'un moteur vibre quand on a peur.

My translation: (if someone has a copy in English, a professional translation is probably better).

"I felt like I was at the bottom of a big hole that was difficult to get out of. Then my engine started vibrating..."



"No. We examined it afterwards. It was perfect. But one always believes that an engine is vibrating when one is afraid."

It's so true. The name in English for the phenomenon is "automatic rough". You get automatic rough running as you get overhead a large body of water, impenetrable mountains, or simply go further from your home airport than you've ever been.


Colin Summers said...

When I was first learning to fly and had less than three hundred hours I was embarrassed by the number of times I thought the engine was going to fly apart when I crossed the thirty mile channel to Catalina Island. Then I mentioned to my online community of pilots and a fellow Diamondstar pilot wrote, "The engine on my F-16 always sounds funny when we are crossing the Atlantic as a squadron."

You know, if it gets the jet fighters, then I'm not ever going to be immune.

Most recently I drowned it out with my iPod as I crossed 60nm of Lake Michigan. I envied my son, who slept soundly in the back seat.

Devil in the Drain said...

I would think that many books by Nevil Shute would be like that.

John Burroughs said...

The link returns a 404 error, page not found

frac said...

You can find it on the following link

Vol de Nuit.



John Burroughs said...


DataPilot said...

You are SO not kidding about the phenomenon of "automatic rough running".

One night as I took off in the dark and climbed over a good-sized ridge, I thought I just had an exceptionally bad case of it -- until I started losing power and was forced to turn around and land at the airport I'd just taken off from. Two hours later, the mechanic I'd called in showed me my spark plugs, fouled nearly all the way to the top of the electrodes.

My engine(s) ran rough every time I flew over mountains in the dark after that. It didn't matter which plane I flew.

DataPilot said...

I also learned the importance of using the little red knob to lean the mixture. :) The Lycoming engine in that C152 was infamous for plug fouling, I learned later.

Anonymous said...

click here for english link

Unknown said...

I flew my Mooney from Key West to Guatemala City about 5.5 hours. Many times I thought I heard the engine run different... I asked my friend who was flying with me (he normally flies a 757) did you hear that? After a while I saw him asleep....

majroj said...

We rescue types always used to joke about how many final cockpit recordings ended with the words "Hey, is it supposed to sound like that?" .
.............................It was always surprising how many aircraft flying over Nebraska suddenly had instrument malfunction or a smokey smell in the cockpit within reach of Offutt AFB (and its two golf courses and well-known officers' club) on a Friday evening or weekend. Must have been something to dod with the golf clubs and luggage stashed SOMEWHERE on that consarnded plane.