When You’re Hot, You’re Hot – When You’re Not, You’re Not
But you still spark! (Part I)
Recently, I saw a man reading the aircraft owners manual of a Turbo Arrow III. I was really interested since I had bought a new Piper Turbo Arrow III in February of 1978, and I flew the aircraft for just over 20 years. During those years, I spent a lot of time working on that airplane. I did all the radio installations, routine maintenance, and annuals. I introduced myself and immediately found that "Mel" owns half interest in a Turbo Arrow III built in 1997. His partner, "Ray," has a Mechanic’s Certificate with an Airframe Rating. The airplane had been tied down outside most of its life. Now it is kept in a hangar where the logbooks are in a desk. Mel often works on the aircraft under the supervision of Ray. The aircraft had 1,982 tachometer hours and 2,219 Hobbs hours.
This is Mel’s story. About six months ago, on a VFR cross-country flight away from his home airport, about 45 minutes out from his destination airport, the airplane encountered a brief area of moderate turbulence. It soon smoothed out, but Mel noted that the Number Two VOR needle was drifting back and forth to the right of the donut. He tuned the Number One VOR to the same VOR frequency and same radial. It was steady and the aircraft was on the centerline of the airway. The aircraft is maintained as an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) aircraft. Both owners are Instrument Rated. Mel knew that Ray had accomplished a VOR check within the previous 30 days because of the entry in the VOR check log. The airplane is equipped with noise-canceling headsets so you can’t hear the engine and wind noise. The airplane does have an interphone, but Mel hadn’t turned it on because he was by himself. The communication radios were both loud and clear for the flight. When Mel checked the Identification Code for both VORs, he found that the Number Two VOR identification was noisy with what sounded like static. He channeled the DME to each VOR radio, and it appeared to be working with the same mileage on each.
Within a few minutes, Mel realized that the Yellow Unsafe Gear Light for the Left Gear was illuminated. The green light was off. He used the Emergency Override lever and locked it in the "up" position with the thumb lock pin. This turned on the flashing yellow light for the gear-override system. Mel then observed that the Number Two VOR needle was steady again. The airplane was still at cruise altitude and since the VOR was located on the destination airport, he left both set on the same frequency. Other than that one area of turbulence, the flight was now smooth in the morning air at 8,500 feet. Mel placed the Emergency Override lever to the neutral position. Within less than 10 minutes, the left unsafe gear light came on and the Number Two VOR started drifting again. Mel realized that the electric hydraulic pump was running. About that time, Mel had to call approach control, so he placed the Emergency Override lever to "up" and put in the thumb lock.
On downwind, Mel placed the Emergency Override lever at the neutral position. He put the gear lever to "down" while watching the green lights. The right gear green light illuminated first, then the green light for the nose gear, but not the green light for the left gear. Mel was aware that the hydraulic pump was running. Within about two minutes, the left gear green light came on and immediately the hydraulic pump stopped running. Mel admitted that the landing was not his smoothest. As a matter of fact he said, "I planted that beauty." The landing was fairly hard and the taxi in was normal. On a post- flight walk-around inspection, he looked at the down micro switch on the left gear. The small blade arm that actuates the button on the micro switch was in place. It was clean. While Mel was waiting for the taxi to take him to his appointment, he recalled that the left green light usually came on first, then the right, then the nose. He wondered if the hydraulic pump electric motor was going bad.
After about 2-1/2 hours, Mel returned to the airport and stopped by the maintenance shop. He talked to an IA (Inspection Authorization) Mechanic who was doing an annual on a Cessna 152. The mechanic suggested that maybe the hydraulic actuator cylinder was leaking past the O-rings. He said that pressure holds the gear up with the landing gear handle in the "up" position. If that pressure is lost because of a leak in the gear-actuating cylinder, the landing gear will fall off the up switch. As soon as the up switch is "open," the pump will start and bring the gear up to agree with the up position of the gear handle. The pump might cycle on and off periodically. He suggested that Mel check the schematic in the Flight Operations Manual in the airplane since he did not have a Piper Arrow III Maintenance Manual in his shop. The mechanic said he couldn’t help Mel until later. Mel wanted to get back in the daylight. He wasn’t current with three take-off and landings at night to a full stop within the previous 90 days. He called Ray and they decided that Mel should fly the airplane back to their home airport and do a gear retraction check in their hangar.
Mel did a thorough preflight. When he tried to start the airplane, it would not start. The starter was turning the propeller very slowly. The second time Mel tried to start the airplane, the starter solenoid didn’t close so the starter didn’t engage. Mel knew that the battery was only about two months old and that the alternator had been charging properly. Sometimes the TSIO360F engine is hard to start when it’s hot, but it started easily when cold. The cold weather fuel solenoid valve had been deactivated. Mel knew that when the starter solenoid stuck on his old car, he would hit it with a hammer and it would close on the next attempt to start the engine. Mel removed the top cowling. The solenoid is mounted on the left side of the firewall and he hit it several times with the screwdriver handle. He put the top cowling back on. This time, the engine started promptly. During the run-up, all systems were normal. The flight back to the home base was uneventful. The VORs worked well. The landing gear went down and locked; left, then right, and then nose just like it always had done.
Mel put the airplane in the hangar. He called Ray, who told Mel not to fly the airplane again until they could check it out. Ray asked Mel to call the radio shop because the one-year warranty on the new radio package was up soon. If there was a problem they needed to get the radios to the shop. The next day, Mel talked to the supervisor of the radio shop that had done the installation and found out that the shop didn’t have a key to the hangar. Mel could not get back to the airport until Saturday. On Saturday, the radio shop was open, but only until noon. They were busy. Besides that, they didn’t have any place to park the airplane until the end of the following week. With the warranty ending in three weeks, Mel decided on his own to remove the radios and bring them to the shop. He removed all the radios and placed them on a big, soft, nylon blanket in his car trunk for transport. He just made it back to the shop before they closed.
The following Saturday, both Mel and Ray show up at the hangar. Mel tells Ray his story. Also, Mel has a report from the radio shop. Three radios were awaiting expensive parts. Number Two communications radios and Number One navigation VOR were inoperative. Number Two VOR power supply wasn’t properly filtering the electrical noise coming in on the jumped power pins.
Right now, you know as much as Mel and Ray did at the time. Is all of the known information accurate or just speculation? What are the outstanding squawks on the airplane? Would the discrepancies written by a pilot be different than those written by a maintenance technician? What’s wrong with this airplane? How would you fix this airplane? Were there any regulations that need to be considered? Did Mel properly exercise his duties as an owner, as a certificated pilot? What does it mean to be under the supervision of a certificated mechanic with an airframe rating and/or power plant rating?
Based on Mel’s story, I got it. Of course, I learned my lessons the hard way on my own Piper Turbo Arrow III. What advice would you give Mel? Next month, I’ll tell you what I told him had been my experience and what Mel said repaired the airplane. The key to the puzzle is "When You’re Hot You’re Hot, When You’re Not You’re Not – But You Still Spark!" Keep ’em Flying!