Friday, January 25, 2013

New York Center New York Center Cessna 711USA Calling Mayday Mayday

“New York Center New York Center Cessna 711USA calling Mayday  Mayday”.  “Go ahead Cessna 711USA what is your emergency”?  “711USA  is losing power and cannot make it to XYZ airfield”. Cessna 711USA set transponder on 7700 and be advised we are alerting rescue services in your area. Good luck, New York out”. Well anyway you get the idea. Your engine isn’t working up to par and you’re going to crash land. If you haven’t checked the FAA accident site lately, you have missed an awful lot of reports of small airplanes crashing in the middle of nowhere.  My question for you the pilot who crashed is this: what could you have done to keep your engine running?

Before I get into some specifics, let me revisit an experience I had with a rough running engine. We were flying the A-36 enroute to Boston, just west of Harrisburgh, Pa. The engine wasn’t losing noticeable power, but just not as smooth as it had been. Playing with the mixture, mags and RPM didn’t definitely change anything. So, as we were just west of Carlisle, I decided to land there and check with the FBO. As luck would have it, a mechanic was available. After looking things over, we decided that it sounded like plugs. I decided to go ahead and replace the spark plugs. After paying a hefty bill we left Carlisle and proceeded east. That seemed to do the trick, as the engine ran smoothly once again. It brought peace of mind, and just may have averted an off field landing.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the number of these crashes puzzled me. Since I postulate that many of these were due to engine failures,(simply running out of fuel is not considered here), I decided to try and look for some reasons that engines malfunction in flight. Now as I am not a mechanic, I cannot discuss specifics but only look for generalities. Since the major engine manufacturers  are Continental and Lycoming (Textron), I logged onto their websites. Very interesting indeed. On the Lycoming site I found the: “Trouble Shooting Guide” for reciprocating engines. This was under the heading: Support, which also included : Publications, Training, Tips and Advice, Auth. Service Centers Etc. Each of these sub-headings had interesting, important information for the owner-operator of any type of reciprocating engine not just a Lycoming. For example, under Trouble Shooting were discussions  of causes for power loss: abnormal oil pressures, unusual  fuel flows, loss of ability to climb etc. Maybe, if an interested pilot went to this web site and read some of the info there, they might avoid an inflight engine failure from happening. Remember the old military mantra: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The other website I visited, Continental Motors, didn’t seem to offer as much to the pilot, but did list mandatory service bulletins for the various engine models. Some were crucial as they involved the magnetos and other key parts or systems. Certainly it seems worth reviewing on a regular basis for one’s particular engine type.

Before I sign off, I would like to pass on a tip offered on the Lycoming site. They suggested keeping records of various engine parameters, such as various temperatures, pressures etc. in a notebook. This should be done on a regular basis and comparisons made each time.  By doing this, you may be able to detect a problem before it becomes a serious one. This was discussed under Tips and Advice, worth reviewing.

So fellow pilots. It’s in your hands to keep up to date on your airplane (not just the engine as discussed here). Airplanes are complicated things, and deserve your utmost attention and respect, or eventually you may not make it to your destination.