Written by Northern California Wing Leader Gil Takemori
It was turning out to be one of those missions that you wouldn’t soon forget. I was at the airport, pre-flighted and ready to go when I discovered that my patients were running about an hour late for our departure. No problem, I’ll just wait at the terminal and catch up on some emails and reading. About 90 minutes later, they arrived a little worse for wear due to their extended visit and certainly ready to return home. We got settled into the plane, called for taxi instructions, and were about to depart.
The run-up, as I tell my passengers, is that last check we make before getting airborne since once we’re in flight, things are lot less accessible. My plane periodically has some roughness during run-up on the left mag since one plug seems is prone to fouling rather commonly, and this time was no exception. I continued the run-up and then leaned to clear that troublesome plug and thought about my other pre-takeoff tasks. I again checked the left mag and the roughness persisted this time. Wash, rinse, repeat. Still rough. I could clearly see on my engine monitor that #3 was not firing correctly.
I could also tell that yet another delay would be unwelcomed by my weary travelers, but I decided to terminate the run-up and head back to the maintenance hangars to take a better look. I had my tools along that day and it was simple to pull the suspect plugs and take a look at them. Both were only moderately coated in carbon, but I cleaned them and then reinstalled them for what I had hoped would be the last time. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be. We again taxied out to the run-up area and tried again – still rough. Again, we terminated and taxied back to the hangars.
By now it was getting to be about 5:30 PM so most of the maintenance shops (we have 3 at PAO) were closing for the day. I parked in front of one and started looking around for someone to help us. My passengers meanwhile took a leisurely walk back to the terminal to use the bathroom. I finally found an A&P that was willing to help, but I also took a moment to contact the AFW office to let them know about my situation and to tee up a backup pilot, just in case. I spoke with the on-call mission coordinator and she said that I would be getting a call back shortly with some options. I also discussed with my patients possibly delaying our flight until the following AM, just in case. The kind mechanic who stayed late for us, worked diligently to clean, test and inspect my troublesome plugs while I got a call back from Cheri who was right on top of the situation. She put out one of her famous All Points Bulletin texts and we soon had a backup pilot (thank you Chris Mather!), ready to take over. I could not tell you the level of relief this provided after a few stressful hours of uncertainty.
Fortunately, the plugs did behave during our final run-up and the mission was completed without any further incident. But I cannot tell you how relieved and satisfied I felt flying back home that evening. It’s an amazing feeling to know that we’re part of such a rewarding and well-run organization as Angel Flight West. This would be just another example.