"That’s interesting", I said. The plane sags and slows.
The engine has gone from a strong steady rippling to a low stumbling idle. Back on the stick - trade speed for altitude; from 8500 feet and 180 mph back to 100 mph and whatever extra altitude or time it gives. Now trim and hold a hundred…
In the back seat my wife Claudene says, "What’s interesting???
"Just a sec…"
Mixture rich, fuel boost pump on - pressure good, no throttle response, carb heat on…and off…nothing, mag and EI switches…up, battery on, volts good…well….I didn’t break it and I probably ain’t gonna fix it up here…
Again from the back, "OK, what’s interesting?"
…There’s that lake east of Dallas I just had my finger on…yep, we’re right here on the sectional, three airports fanned out ahead, that’s the one, I’ll just parallel this highway…
"I don’t know just what’s going on, I think maybe the engine went to idle, might be a broken cable or something. Whatever it is we’re going to land and check it out and have some lunch."
Two airports there ahead…trimmed to a hundred mph. The highway leads right to Mineola but I can’t pick out the airports just yet. Hope I don’t go blind and stupid and miss both airports and put it in a field across the fence from one of the runways…
"Do you know where you’re going to land?"
"Yep, Mineola has two airports up ahead."
"Where? Can you see the airport?" she asks.
"There at one o’clock." I lift the canard a little. "Just under the canard. I can’t see the runway yet, but I can see the town OK. We’ll just follow the highway here and I’ll fly between the airports and decide which one when we get there. Looks like I might have to circle a couple of times once we’re there."
The rumbling noise is probably just the prop windmilling. Every couple of minutes the engine growls.
Got up to almost nine thousand feet before pushing over. Going below six thousand feet now. A quick run around the panel again confirms that I didn’t kill the engine bumping a switch or something. There’s nothing to do now but keep on trucking. One hundred mph is sure slow. I’ve got way too much time here to screw something up.
OK, call in the clear with intentions to the south airport. The runway is 3200 feet long. Half what I’m used to.
The north airport is a little longer but there’s all shiny hangars with no dark open doors. The south airport looks busy and inviting with several cars and lots of hangar doors open. Time to turn away from the highway. Here we go.
"Claudene, we’re just where we want to be. I’m still going in between the two airports and we’ll land at the one to the right. On the sectional map it looks like we can walk to McDonalds from there."
"OK. …Are you concerned?"
About five miles out and another call inbound with no response and I’ll just swerve to the left here a little… crossing over and then swing right into a right downwind. Another call, no response. Runway and taxiways all clear. Could land on the taxiway if need be. Won’t need to.
Crossing just north on a high crosswind leg and a little push over to 110 and still looking good.
This is a good base - nose gear coming down and hold 110 mph, and here’s a good 90 – and nose gear is down - and hold 110 mph and dip down into the meadow, 100 mph and switches off and hop over the barbed wire fence and…Thank You God!
…Without even using the brakes and I’m going to have to get out and push to the next taxiway and Thank God!
Standing behind the plane, nothing looks out of the ordinary. A gentle wiggle on the prop…funny, no resistance, and a good flip and it goes around twice. No compression.
As we push toward the hangars a golf cart pulls up. The driver says welcome and asks Claudene if she wants a coke. I ask about an A&P and he points to an open hangar. And they’re off to the club house on the other end of the field.
Fifteen minutes later they pull the golf cart up in the hangar. The A&P has the mag cover plate off with his forearm half way up into the accessory case.
"Yep", he says, "the crank accessory gear bolt came loose. You lost your timing on the cam and mags! That’s why you got no compression. Yessireee! This was the Big One!"
The golf cart driver says "You dead-sticked in here? You can’t dead stick that plane in here!" I didn’t feel the need to say anything.
After a moment Claudene says "What’s a dead-stick"? Everyone just grins.
A number of folks came around to see the plane and we went to their favorite place for lunch.
The crank accessory bolt had come loose and the timing pin had sheared. That year, 1999, the 0-235 had about 580 hours since major overhaul. The crank gear AD had been accomplished during the major OH by an A&P with another assisting. Other than a stuck valve, that was the only time the engine missed a beat.
We had glided 26 miles from about 9000 feet. It took about 15 minutes. If the engine had had compression, the glide would have been less. But if it had had compression, it wouldn’t have quit…
If is a big word.
I later drew a 26 mile radius circle on the map from the start point near the lake. In the circle there are 12 airports.
Two weeks later with the help of two A&Ps, the crank gear AD was complied with again. N95BJ lofted out and headed for home.
Claudene is a trooper. Later that year she made the trip with me to Rough River. We have since made other long fun trips, including Buena Vista Colorado, and many trips to see her and my parents.
What did I learn? Lots.
I like sectionals. I use GPS but I had just put my finger on the map where we were when the engine quit. It only took a few seconds to decide where to land. Most folks might be more comfortable or quicker with a GPS than with a sectional. I like the map image rather than interpreting a list of headings and such. Whatever works.
Practice, practice, practice. Over the years, most of the landings at home base had been with power at idle from entering downwind. Especially on the sunset runs, the Navy half-circle approaches were flown trying to adjust and land without adding power. So the 26 mile approach to Mineola that day was pretty much a non-event.
The landing direction was very significant. Wind was not a factor that day. Because the altitude worked out so well, I chose to circle past the runway for a downwind and land to the north, dipping down in through a little meadow on final.
A friend loaned me his LongEZ for the repair commute. I had flown it several times. The first time back a week later, the wind dictated a landing in the opposite direction over tall trees.
I had to go around.
On the second approach I went around again.
Finally on the third try I angled in over an adjacent field from about a thirty degree angle and lined up with the runway just before landing.
A local later told me that he hardly ever tried to land over the trees.
If is a big word.
Bill James, Fort Worth VariEze.