Wednesday, December 26, 2007

True Tales From The Fabled Road

"...There we were 18,000 feet above the plains of Africa..."

When you are on the road for a living you take your assignments as they come.

They point and you grunt. You go where you are told.

There will be times when an assignment will change while you are en route.

I left the States, I have no idea from where, bound for Bahrain.

It was football season and the Cowboys were on a roll. I cleaned up that year!!!

Somewhere over the Atlantic the plan changed. I landed in Bahrain to find that I was actually en route to Nairobi Kenya.

This was during the operation known as 'Provide Comfort'.

I did spend some time in Bahrain. Including Thanksgiving. That Thanksgiving turned out to be the very last for a very dear Friend and Mentor of mine.

William G. Schniederhan and I spent Thanksgiving in Bahrain at a Mexican Restaurant with a British C&W Band and Thai Waiters and a Filipino Chef. Weirdness prevailed. But we were Pro's.

On to Kenya...

Barely made it through Saudi Arabia intact.

Landed in Nairobi at Jambo Kenyata Int'l.

On to the oval shaped high-rise known as the Hilton Hotel to meet another Mechanic and two Pilots.

On to Henry Wilson Airport to meet the King Air.

We secured hangar space to do the engine swap.

(Note: A King Air engine change is a three day deal for two guys. No big deal. Usually.)

The King Air was due for dual engine changes and a prop change. All of the parts were in Mombasa.

Not everything was due at once but we had to wait for days and days for the first replacement engine to be delivered from Mombasa.

Every day became the same.

Wake up. Get up. Breakfast in the hotel. Taxi to the big airport. Slug through Customs to see if our engine was there yet...

Back to the hotel.

The crew that had been cobbled together got to be pretty tight. We were hanging out all day every day after all.

We ate, we drank, we shopped, we explored the city, we dealt with logistics like laundry and currency exchange.

We were invited to the 'Florida Room' a, uh an, uh let's just say it's a bar and let it ride.

We went to "The Carnivore". Still my favorite restaurant in the world.

We went to the big airport and slugged through Customs day after day.

FINALLY!!!! The engine arrived.

We set to it.

We did have a couple of 'Monkey with a Football' moments. (For those unfamiliar with the 'Monkey with a Football' phrase, imagine a primate attempting to procreate with a pigskin. That's as much as I'm gonna say about that.)

Most notably while hanging the prop. Too many very kind and helpful people.

Oh, and there was the trip back from the run-up pad. We sorta got stuck in the mud.

OK, REALLY stuck.

Stuck so bad that we had to hike back to the hangar. (A PT-6 makes a helluva weedeater by the way!)

We got her out of the mud the next morning with a Craftsman lawn tractor and 18 grown men.

What a sight that was!!!

At last, engine swapped and rigged and cowled up. We returned to the hotel and told the pilots that we were ready for test flight.

I piped up, "I'm sitting Right Seat!"

I was so accustomed to fair weather pilots and strict regulations that I just thought I was being funny. A Mechanic sitting in the Co-Pilot's seat, on a test flight? No way!!! Hahaha...

It was a running joke through the night and into the next morning.

We sidled out to to airplane.

The would be (shoulda been) Co-Pilots said, "Mad Max is sittin' Right Seat."

The Pilot said, ... Well, I'm not going to repeat it but he indicated his indifference.

Sum-bitch!!! I hoped into the right seat, lashed myself in and grabbed a checklist.

Things got weirder from there.

The PIC (Pilot in Command) began to fire things up. I was reading off the checklist but he was steps ahead or behind or to the side of me...

The P.I.C. and the other Mechanic had worked together for quite some time. Instead of doing a preflight run-up he asked the other Mechanic questions, "What was N1? Torque? N2? ITT?"

AS HE IS TAXIING TO THE NUMBERS?!?!?!?!? (The beginning point of the runway for take off.)

Now, I trust a King Air with my soul. It's Pilots that scare me, sometimes...

This, was one of those times.

That was the longest take-off roll of my life.

Not because I was scared but because he took a looooonnnnggggg time to rotate.

The other Mech and the 'shoulda been Co-Pilot' settled into the seats in back. In fact, I'll never forget, the Co-Pilot was reading a Tom Clancy novel with his feet up in the other seat.

I'm reading off the checklist and PIC is having a Burger King Moment, doing things his way.

Everything was going well.

There we were, 18,000 feet over the plains of Kenya...

(I forgot to add that the engine we swapped was the right hand engine. So, I'm sitting right seat and looking out the window looking at the engine being tested.)

When we shut it down (Yes, in test flights. We shut 'em down.) the prop spun down and stopped as solidly as a rock. Feathered. Steady. No Windmilling.

We call that, 'Sweet". (That's what it is supposed to do.)

After an uneventful restart we continued our checks.

Next thing I know, P.I.C. wants to do an Air Start?

'What?' It was the first last and only time I've been on a test flight or any other flight where an Air Start was attempted.

He shut the engine down.

OK. No biggie. So far.

All of the R/H engine gauges went to zero. ITT, N1, OIL PRESSURE!!! Zero. (Oil pressure controls the prop.)

Except the propeller tachometer. It still indicated 1500 RPM.


Sure enough. The prop that obediently feathered a few minutes earlier was a hummin'!

As I stared out the window thinking, 'What the hell?!?!' I heard...

"Why isn't it starting? Why isn't it starting?"

I looked at the controls. Everything was set except the Ignition Switch, OFF, "Ya can't start a fire without a spark."

"Why isn't it starting?"

Same thing. He had the ignition OFF.

Third time...

The fuel had been engaged all that time. There was plenty of air...

He hit the switch.

Imagine a fist full of Roman Candles going off all at once.

Real live great balls of fire belched from the exhaust stacks blowing holes in the stacks.

"David, why don't you..."

I was already un-assing the Right Seat and headed aft.

The Co-Pilot peeked over his novel.

I pointed at him and said, "You're up!" and jerked my thumb back over my shoulder towards the cockpit.

It was pretty funny really.

P.I.C. no doubt had a pant load of Uh-Oh. He kept asking Co-Pilot, "Should we try to start it?"

Co-Pilot, "Uhm I don't think we're gonna restart this one."

We landed back at Wilson airport but taxiing a twin engine aircraft with only one engine running is a little tricky and Pilot wasn't quite up to it. The other Mech bailed out with the hand tow bar and navigated us off of the active runway and onto the taxi way. By then we had drawn a crowd and got a tow back to the hangar. (Everyone on any airfield will notice a prop that isn't turning.)

When we put a mirror in what was left of the exhaust stacks we saw the turbine wheel had been burned down to a nub. Hub rather. All of the blades were burnt to the roots.

So, call up the other engine and wait.

Hotel, customs, etc.

We didn't have to wait so long that time.

We did the next test flight en route to Mombasa. I sat in back with a Stephen King novel. It was uneventful despite the solid red radar screen.

The weather radar swept storms in all quadrants. It was cool to watch the radar display and identify individual cells as we descended through them.

Mombasa. High on my list of 'Gotta Go Back To One More Time'.

Well, there ya have it. My favorite Tale From the Road. Like all the rest you really had to be there. They all seem to be anti-climatic but ya gotta survive the experience in order to tell the tale!


Hal Johnson said...

What an entertaining read. Sheesh, I hope that pilot learned the lesson that the checklist is there for a reason. Happy New Year, David.

Hal Johnson said...

Hey David! It's time to post something else on your blog! When you're writing less than me, it's time to jump up.

Mike said...

Great story!

Rodolfo said...

Just found your blog. I'm an A&P student in San Diego. Thanks for the posts and hope you keep it up.

David said...

Thanks for stopping by.
I wish you the best of luck in your pursuit of your "Tickets"!