Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bush Pilot Day 1, part II

Getting the goods delivered to Ft Liard was the easy part. New slippers in hand I hopped in the trusty old 185 and fired her up. The 300 horsepower Continental engine tends to buck and snort for a moment or two then smooths out and purrs, well growls, like a kitten when running. I, being a new bush pilot and a recent flight instructor, was still doing a thorough walk around inspection including checking every fuel and oil cap and perusing for general condition before every flight. Normally a good inspection in the morning and a double check of any caps or lids or doors that have been moved, opened or used is the norm that is generally adopted, but I was brand new to this gig.

I taxied out and having a light aircraft, no passengers or freight, I decided to thrill myself with a high performance short field take off and use the obstacle clearance maneuver to gain height as quickly as possible to clear an imaginary obstacle, just for practice. The performance of the 185 is stunning when light and I was quickly airborne and in a very high rate climb when splat. The windshield became opaque, I didn't know what it was at first but quickly realized it was engine oil covering the left side of the forward windscreen. Without oil an engine will seize up and that is not only dangerous but very, very expensive.

I quickly realized my only hope, as I throttled back and lowered the nose to level off from my high performance climb was to return to Ft Liard, I leveled off and checked the oil pressure, there was enough oil still left to maintain pressure but it wouldn't last long at the rate it was streaming onto the window. I saw that the right side of the front window was clear and decided that since I had been an instructor and flown many hours from the right side while instructing that I would just slide over to the other seat and plan an uneventful landing. I had just been checked out in this particular aircraft by another pilot and he had flown the aircraft from that side for a short time during the checkout. The rudder pedals had been stowed on the right side to accommodate the passenger I had just dropped off so I unbuckled and reached down to engage them, a little tricky in flight but I managed alright then I got ready to jump over to the other seat, sifted my butt and reached for the right side control column. It wasn't there! During the short time between my check out and the first trip the mechanics had removed the right side control column and I had not even noticed it was gone. I was embarrassed at my lack of attention to that fact as I had flown the aircraft for the entire trip to Ft Liard without it and hadn't even noticed. Sheesh, what a dunder head.

I re-buckled my seatbelt and realized I would now have to land looking out the side window as my only reference in a relatively new to me aircraft. The landing was uneventful actually, not my best to date, but close to it. I stopped at the loading ramp used previously and sat and waited for a short while expecting the official meeting party to show up. No one showed, I guess they didn't expect my return and thought the aircraft noise was from my departure.

I had no idea that the town lied just a few hundred feet further than I could see from the 200 or 300 feet I had walked down the road as it is hidden by a drop down to the river from the direction I had flown in on and I was a little embarrassed by my having to return, caused by a loose oil cap that had allowed the engine oil to leak out, undoubtably exacerbated by my high performance takeoff, the cap had completely come off.

I thought I could simply re-install it, add a quart or two of the extra oil that was onboard and leave. The gasket that held the cap secure by friction was missing and the cap, although it would go on, obviously would not stay put without the gasket.

I dug into the survival kit we carried onboard and found nothing of any use as a gasket and the only tools per se were the camping cutlery that so neatly fits together on a keyhole type fastener. I wondered around looking for something to fabricate a gasket with and finally at the end of the loading ramp, half buried in the dirt found a single leather work glove filthy from lying there for some time. I grabbed the cutlery set and choose the knife, with a poorly serrated edge, it really didn't cut the leather of the glove but only helped to tear it into a new gasket.

Oil cap installed with the hand fashioned gasket, the flight back to base was uneventful.

I told the mechanic to replace the gasket on the oil cap after I had taken the glove remanent, that mostly looked like the palm half of a glove and hung it, unannounced on the company bulletin board. Told a few friends of my story but rarely said much about the half a glove pinned to the cork board and insisted that it stay there whenever anyone tried to take it down.

I bought a Swiss Army Knife with a toothpick the next time I was in town.

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