Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Gremlins of Betrayal

Jeff, one of those great people that you meet at Oshkosh and wished they lived closer to your home, once told me that you should never anthropomorphize airplanes because "they really hate that."  I get his point (and, of course, the embedded joke), but at times it can be very difficult not to ascribe human behaviors to them.  It's the same with cars, actually.  And one thing that they hate, hate, hate is being sold.

Witness the behavior of my beloved Miata: I decided to sell her when the airbag warning light came on and stayed on. Arguably, she betrayed me first, but that didn't stop her from vindictively starting to leak antifreeze from her head gasket on the very day that I sold her. I was just lucky that the buyer was a "car guy" and happened to be looking for a project car. I got Blue Book, and I can't complain.

RV-6 Papa Golf has also realized that she is being sold. The tell-tale signs are everywhere. I'm 100% certain that she is going to a good home and will be flown by a highly competent owner, but she too is showing signs of a deep reluctance to go.  The presumptive buyer came into town yesterday morning to look her over and go for a test flight. He started by poking & prodding her for what must have been close to an hour (and I'm here to tell you, it was a lot more stressful inspection for me than even the FAA inspection of the RV-12 had been!) and found a few quibbles, but nothing major. Time for the test flight!

I have always been proud of the alacrity Papa Golf shows when starting the engine, and yesterday was no exception. Two or three blades and VROOOM!  We were just about ready to go when I had the buyer put on his headset.

He couldn't hear a thing.

Huh??  That's never happened before!

I unplugged my headset and plugged it into the jacks on his side to make sure that the problem wasn't with his headset. Sure enough, a blaring blast of nothing greeted my anxious ears.


We tried various form of wiggling, followed by jiggling. We even tried mixing up the order by jiggling and then wiggling, all to no avail.

I shut down the engine.  We weren't going anywhere without working headsets.

Fortunately, I have some recent experience in aircraft construction under my belt and I am no longer afraid to  dive in where others fear to tread. I went and got a wrench and a can of Brasso that I keep around for removing the tarnish from the brass plugs of the headsets, my theory being that having gone a couple of years without the loving caress of a headset plug, the contact in the jack may itself have been covered in a patina of neglect.

And such proved to be the case!  We climbed back aboard, the engine jumped to life again, and we were on our way!

Sadly, the weather was lousy. We headed off to the west towards MadCo with the intention of filling the fuel tanks, but as we got closer to the airport the clouds seemed to be getting lower and lower. Despite the goodness-knows-how-many-thousands-of-flying-hours airline captain in the seat next to me, I unilaterally made a command decision: we were turning around, putting our collective tails between our legs, and scampering for home!

Upon arrival back at Bolton, from which we had departed on runway 4, I expected to hear "report two mile left base for runway 4."  Instead I heard "report midfield right downwind for runway 4," which is nonsensical.   I incredulously asked for confirmation of those silly instructions. Unfortunately, as it turns out, what I had "heard" was not what had been said.

"Report. midfield. right. downwind. runway. TWO. TWO."

As if to a child.

Oops.  They had changed runways in the ten minutes we had been gone. I contritely apologized and professed my staunch dedication to reporting midfield right downwind, runway two-two. SIR!

Which I did.

Only to hear, " Six Papa Golf, cleared to land runway four."

Wait, what??  It's four again??

"Uh, cleared to land four, or two-two," I asked.

"Cleared to land runway two-two," was the reply.

"Four Papa Golf, cleared to land runway two-two," I responded. And the second I released the push-to-talk button, I concatenated "and now we're even."

Just.... because.

So, having ham-handed my way through what should have been the simplest of interactions with the tower in front (well, it's an RV-6, so 'alongside') of an actual big-metal airline pilot, I could only console myself with the thought that the previous night's landings had all been good. A nice, smooth landing would provide sweet, sweet redemption.

I flared high. Dumped it in from at least a foot up.


None of this dissuaded the buyer (well, at least not to a critical point) -- we agreed to a price and sat down to work on a contract. There are things left to be done on the airplane that needed to be recorded for posterity and the buyer's self-protection before money changed hands, chief amongst them being the completion of the two year transponder check.  No big deal, that - she passed it with flying colors two years ago, and she's only seen light duty since then, so what could go wrong?


I already had an appointment for this morning to get the check done. I was going to have to fly to a new place to get it done because the guy that made a house call to do it two years ago seems to be out of business, and the place I used to fly to before that got into some trouble with the law and are consequently also out of business. No problem, really, since the new place is only a twenty minute flight away, but the cruddy weather from yesterday was still hanging around. After waiting around for the clouds to lift to the bare minimum altitude that would allow for a safe flight to the avionics shop, I ended up arriving while the avionics guys were out to lunch.  I spent the time waiting walking around their hangar where I found a couple of interesting things.

If you've ever been in a pawn shop, you will know that the most abandoned thing in the world is guitars. Running a close second:

I should have stopped there, but I didn't. I soon found a penny.

Heads down.

Tails up.

No matter how you say it, bad luck. And sure enough, the combination of a bad luck penny and a betrayed airplane ended up costing me dear.

The transponder encoder, which is the small electronic device that acts like an altimeter that sends an electronic altitude signal to the transponder instead of displaying an indication like the mechanical altimeter does, was taking too long to heat up.  The altitude signal that the encoder sends to the transponder is the altitude value that Air Traffic Control will see on their radar screens, so this is not an insignificant problem. We could, I suppose, have continued to wait in hopes that it would eventually get warmed up enough to work, but after ten minutes I decided enough is enough. That's simply too long, especially for an airplane that is moving to some of the most crowded and security intensive airspace in the country.

I had to buy a new encoder. The new style that doesn't need to warm up at all.

$250, plus I still had to pay the cost of the certification.

I'm keeping that blasted penny.

I sure hope Papa Golf is done being mad at me - we have to fly to eastern Virginia on Monday.

UPDATE: No such luck. I brought the GPS home to update the map database, but it refuses to accept the newest software version, and without that, the Garmin website is convinced that the maps already on the device are already up to date. And that is patently impossible.


1 comment:

Leon said...

actually the most abandoned thing in the world is a half drunk bottle of water on a job site.

sorry bout the gremlins and the loss of papa. there for a bit i actually thought you pulled off the two plane family trick. does the new owner get the old website?

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