Saturday brought more new experiences in flying the Mooney, a MP (Manifold Pressure) gauge that decided to stop working, and an adventure through the airport community. The names have been changed, some of them because I don’t remember all of them, and others because I don’t know if they would want to be named in my story. So, have a seat, grab a snack, and settle back for the adventure.
Friday was a beautiful day, the skies were mostly clear, visibility was great, and I was stuck at work… Saturday was looking like a toss-up between clouds/rain showers and maybe some partly sunny skies. I headed out to the airport (still seems crazy in my mind to drive to my own plane at the airport) and sent my CFI a text that it looked like the weather might cooperate.
I began doing the pre-flight, and listened to the rain showers on the roof of the hangar. The rain that was forecast looked like it was moving around to the north of us on radar and looking outside there were dark clouds to the north and clearing to the south. My CFI had arrived and we discussed our options while watching a flight of 6 RV’s flying a tight formation around the traffic pattern. I wanted to do a little cross country to someplace I hadn’t been before so we decided to fly to Gillespie (KSEE) down in San Diego, a flight of about 64 nautical miles.
Everything looked good so I pulled the plane out of the hangar, we climbed in, and started it up. We listened to the AWOS and with the winds reported as well as the visual of the windsock I decided we would take off on runway 07. (This despite the Cessna that had we had seen going around the pattern using runway 25. I figured we could chat with him on the radio and make sure he knew what we were doing.) The Cessna was at the far end of the runway and we listened to him and watched him take off on 25 and head around the pattern as we were doing our run-up. They landed and turned off the runway next to us, then turned around and asked if we were ready to depart. We both had a chuckle when they said “Looks like the winds shifted and we’ll use 07 as well” as the winds hadn’t changed at all, I just think they hadn’t paid much attention to it. I told them to go ahead in front of us as we were still finishing up some things. They thanked us and then took off and left the pattern for some other destination.
I pulled up a little too much initially as we left the runway and got a quick chirp from the stall horn but quickly corrected and after turning onto the crosswind leg we were climbing out at about 110 mph and departing the pattern to the south-east. Climbing up to 7,500′ was great and provided a beautiful view over the mountains to the Pacific and the skies were clear enough that we could see downtown San Diego which was well over 50 miles away. Somewhere along the way I was playing with the throttle to see if I could back the MP (Manifold Pressure) down to get the fuel burn that I was looking for from the performance charts. However, the MP wasn’t dropping even though I was backing the throttle out, instead the RPM started to drop so I mentioned it to my CFI and pushed the throttle back in. We thought maybe the gauge was just stuck.
About the time we were over Temecula I called up SoCal Approach to pick up flight following so we could hopefully get clearance through San Diego’s Bravo Airspace instead of having to duck under it. I know I’ve said it before but the folks at SoCal Approach are always helpful. We were cleared direct through the Bravo to Gillespie with a temporary altitude restriction. I looked on my tablet at the direction the airport was and tried to pick it out through the low haze. My CFI has been there a number of times so I asked him where exactly I should be looking. He pointed out a small mountain in the distance and told me the field should be off to the right of it.
I have to mention that although he has been to KSEE a number of times with students, it was always on IFR flight plans and in much slower Cherokees. Travelling along at 160 mph in the Mooney meant we were a lot closer than he thought we were. This would lead to learning a little more about my plane and my abilities which is what the transition training is all about.
I began my descent, thinking that I still had quite a way to go before reaching the airport.
Approach: “Mooney 78878, current information at Gillespie is Romeo, keep your squawk and contact tower on 120.7.”
I thought, “That’s odd, normally they tell you to let them know when you have the current information and the field in sight, then then hand you off to the tower.”
My CFI took a quick look at his iPad and I looked at my tablet at about the same time and we realized we were almost to the field. We were still at about 6,500′ because I was in a nice leisurely descent. I switched frequencies, pitched over to a steeper descent, and called up the tower.
Me: “Gillespie tower, Mooney 78878, 6,000′, 4 miles north of the field, inbound with information Romeo.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, enter right downwind for runway 27R.”
Me: “Right downwind for 27R, 878.”
I continued with the steep descent, watching the airspeed indicator flirt with the Vne (never exceed speed) of 189 mph and asked my CFI if I should ask them for an extended downwind. I was looking back at the field that was still about 5,000′ below us and thinking there was no way I could get the plane down that far that quickly. Just then the tower asked us to extend our downwind and they would call our base. (Good, I needed that extra time on the downwind.) That thought didn’t last very long because the tower came back and called my base turn.
Me: To my CFI “Should I ask to extend a little further?”
CFI: “No, you can get down there.” (Was he serious? At this point we were still 4,000′ above the field elevation and would be on about a 4 mile final.)
Me: To Tower “Turning right base for 27R, cleared to land, 878.”
CFI: “Take your power back to idle and you can slip it if you need to.”
I pulled power back to idle and when I turned final we were still about 3,000′ feet above the field on a 4 mile final. I pulled back a little to get below 120 mph and dropped the gear, then held the nose up until dropping below 100 mph and put in the flaps. There were the PAPI lights, all bright white letting me know I was above glide slope, as if I needed the reminder at that point. I pitched the nose over, gave it full right rudder, and played with enough left aileron to get a nice forward slip, dropping altitude without picking up airspeed. Slowly over the next two miles on approach I got one red light on the PAPI, then another red light and I was on glide slope. I held the slip a little longer, then straightened out and settled onto the runway.
It was nice to see that if necessary in an emergency situation that I could lose that much altitude and make the landing in that short a distance. I didn’t think the plane nor I could do it, but my CFI knew that both the plane and I were capable and it was a good lesson to learn.
We taxied back and stopped in the run-up area to get set up for the flight back, but the MP was reading 30 at idle. He looked up what could cause it to be stuck and there was no easy fix so we decided to fly back to Corona and hope it may get unstuck on the way. We picked up flight following shortly after departing KSEE and had an uneventful flight back to KAJO.
The MP gauge changed as we climbed, reading the ambient air pressure. It wasn’t stuck, but it was obviously not working properly. I had wanted to finish up as much of my dual required as possible today but that wasn’t going to happen. I had also wanted to do some pattern work to try and nail down my MP numbers for each leg in the pattern but that wasn’t happening either. The weather was perfect, but without the MP gauge working we were done flying for the day.
We chatted about the flight, he filled out the entry in my logbook, I pushed the plane into the hangar, and then went to work trying to figure out what was wrong with the MP gauge. This is where the airport adventure begins, and how I learned that the community there at little Corona Municipal Airport is alive and well, and very friendly.
The next few hours reads almost like a comedy, but it all really happened.
The first thing I did was text a fellow Mooneyspace member who has an M20E there. He asked if it was reading ambient pressure. When I told him it was he told me to look and see if a fitting had come undone. I opened up some of the panels and quickly saw that the vacuum line from the gauge to the engine had broken right at the fitting where it attaches to the engine. Awesome! It’s just a broken line, not something wrong with the gauge.
I took the side panel off so I could get to it and took the line off. It’s just a very small aluminum vacuum line. After texting my friend and telling him what I had found he told me to look and see if there was a blue mini-cooper around the corner, because if there was then Joe would be in his hangar and could help. Sure enough, the car was there so I walked over, introduced myself, and showed him my problem. He cleaned up the end of the line and then we walked next door to see if Jimmy was there because we needed a flaring tool to flare the end of the line. Jimmy must have been gone to get some lunch so Joe walked me over to another hangar where he introduced me to Bob who was working on one of his experimental planes. Unfortunately Bob, who has a lot of tools, didn’t have what we were looking for. Joe asked me if I knew Ron down at the other end of the airport. I told him I had only been here a month and didn’t really know anyone. He said “He’s another A&P on the field and if he’s there he’ll have a flaring tool.” Then he gave me directions to Ron’s hangar and off I went.
When I got down there Ron’s hangar was closed, but a few doors down there was an open hangar so I drove over to it and introduced myself to the guy who was inside polishing his plane. I showed him the line and asked if he happened to have a flaring tool. He said “No, but have you checked with Jimmy?” I told him Jimmy wasn’t at his hangar to which he responded “Go check again, I just saw his car go by.” So, it was back to the other end of the airport where sure enough, Jimmy was there in his hangar.
Jimmy is a super nice guy with just about every tool you can imagine, but he couldn’t find his flaring tool… I decided to run over to Aircraft Spruce which is about 2 miles away (helpful that it is so close, and expensive that it is so close) thinking that it would probably be about $20 for the tool. I was wrong, it was over $100. There was no way I was going to pay that so it was back to the airport where I stopped by the row of hangars where Corona Engines is located. The first hangar I walked into was not Corona Engines but I met a nice guy named Dan who had a flaring tool, but the attachment that was the size needed was broken…
“Do you know Matt and Robert?” he asked.
I told him I didn’t.
“They’re in the big white hangar over there, just go ask them if they have the right tool and bring it back and I’ll fix it for you.”
I went over, introduced myself, and showed them my problem. They not only had the right tool, but quickly fixed the line for me. I thanked them, went back and thanked Dan, and then was off to my plane to reinstall the line. It would be great if my day at the airport ended there, but it didn’t…
While putting the line back on I noticed that one of the spark plug wires was rubbing on the engine and so I decided to try and re-route it a little so that it would stop rubbing. (Having it wear through would have obvious negative consequences.) The plug wires have a large nut that screws onto the plug, and there is a smaller nut that holds the wire in place. While looking at the wire I noticed that I could turn that small nut easily with my fingers. In fact, as I turned the nut it slid right down the wire, it was sheared off. That meant that the wire could pull right out, again a bad thing.
I walked around the corner to ask Joe, an A&P if there was a way to fix it. The quick answer was no, it would have to be replaced. So with 36 minutes before Aircraft Spruce closed I was back there buying a set of plug wires. There is a list of things that a plane owner can and can’t do to their plane if they hold a Private Pilot Certificate. It doesn’t specifically mention spark plug wires, but it does specifically allow you to change out the spark plugs. Then there is the “catch all” which says that you can do things that do not involve “complex assembly operations.” In Joe’s words, changing plug wires requires a wrench and a screwdriver which isn’t complex. I spent the next few hours contorting my hands into positions they probably should never be in so that I could clip all the zip ties on the wires and draw myself a diagram of which wire went from which mag to which plug in each head. There are only 4 cylinders on the engine, but each one has two spark plugs in it and I didn’t want to mix any of them up.
With my diagram mapped out, I decided it was time to take a dinner break so I headed home and got some dinner with my wife and son. Then I grabbed some more tools and went back out to the plane. Once there I tired to loosen a screw on the cap holding the wires to the mag, but it was obvious that the phillips screwdriver I had was not what I needed. There is not a lot of space there to look and see, so I held my cell phone down there and snapped a picture. To my dismay it was a torx head on the screw. That’s great, because they are much easier to work with than a phillips head, but not so great because I hadn’t brought any torx bits with me. According to Google Maps the nearest HomeDepot was 20 minutes away. Well, my house was 20 minutes away as well so it was back home to grab some more tools. This time I brought my whole ratchet set as well as all my torx bits.
Back at the plane I was glad to see that not only did I have the right size bit, but the screws were also easy to remove. I eventually got all the wires installed and secured with the retainers and some zip ties so that they wouldn’t be rubbing on anything. It was just after 11pm when I had everything back together, the cowling back on, and pulled her back out of the hangar to see if I really did have them all going to the right places.
I went through my pre-start checklist, crossed my fingers, turned the key to both mags and pushed it in to start it. There was a big smile on my face as the prop turned over and the engine came to life. I was also pleased to see that the MP gauge was again working properly. The day doesn’t end quite there…
I taxied down to the fuel island to fuel the plane so it would be ready for our next flight. When I got there (about 11:15pm) I found an old guy putting 100LL in his old hot rod. (“It just runs better than the stuff at the gas station” he said.) He was a super nice guy, with a bushy beard and a Viet Nam Veteran hat. I thanked him for his service to our country and he told me some stories as he was filling up his car. Once he was done I fueled up my plane, taxied back to my hangar, and tucked her away just before midnight.
It’s still hard to believe everything that was crammed into one day. I learned that the plane, and myself, can do more than I thought either of us could do. I met over half a dozen great folks wandering around the airport trying to flare the end of a vacuum line. I now have first hand knowledge that what every other owner of 50+ year old planes says, that their planes always need something done to them is true. And, I got to know my plane a little better than I wanted to at this early stage, but it was all good.