This Doesn’t Feel Quite Right

I am sitting in the airplane with a pilot new to our FBO.  He has come to get checked out to fly with us, so we are about to go up and I am going to watch him perform the perfunctory maneuvers and landings to see if he is safe and we can trust him with our airplanes.  It will be just one of those typical flights.

After I watch him pre-flight, we are soon at the end of runway doing the pre-flight checks.  He runs the engine up to 1700 rpm, checks the mags, and then pulls on the heat.  Everything looks normal and then he turns to me and says, “That doesn’t feel right.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“The carb heat control. Try it out.”

I reach down and sure enough, it doesn’t feel right.  There is a slight tug to the cable, a “chink” if you will.  While the control does not “feel right,” the engine is operating normally and loses 100 rpm when carb heat is applied.  I look to the pilot and say, “Yeah, it doesn’t feel right but it is working.  Your call.”

“I guess it’s OK,” he said.  So we continue the preparations for takeoff.

So we take off.  Into a hot, humid day, the conditions of which puts us into the heart of the carburetor icing envelope.

When we reach 200 feet agl, the engine sputters in the rpm drops to about 1800.  It was a classic case of carb ice.  The pilot looks of me as I reach for the carb heat control.  I pull it out and the unthinkable happens.  The cable comes off the carburetor heat box in the engine and the next thing I know, I am holding the handle and the entire cable in the cockpit.  The engine rpm remains at 1800, we are still a 200 feet, the airspeed has dropped to just under 55 knots, and now we are over houses.

Taking control of the aircraft, I make one of the shallowest, lowest, and slowest turns of my lifetime.  Luckily, we are the only aircraft in the pattern early this morning.  Since the winds are calm, we can land opposite direction on the runway we just departed.

As we squeak over the trees at the end of the runway, a sense of relief rushes through my body.  I take unusual delight in the sensation of the wheels touching down on the grass runway.  We taxi over to the maintenance hangar and turn the aircraft in for repair.

As we preflight the next 150, we talk about the lessons learned from last flight.  Even though this was a short flight, we both learned a great lesson by the time we had the airplane back on the ground.  I would hear the phrase as a mantra later in my days flying in the Navy.  “If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right.  Don’t fly.”

This flight from so long ago taught me valuable lessons.  In addition to learning the key concept of not going if it doesn’t feel right, I also learned there is no such thing as a typical flight.


© 2010 J. Clark

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