Engine Failure x Three!

In the last issue, I explained that I think there is some value in recounting the nine engine failures I have had over the years. Here’s my story of three that happened during the same checkride; and a bonus yarn about the time my Champ really let me down.

I know what you’re thinking. How can you have three engine failures during the same checkride? Here’s the background, and how it unfolded.

Before the LSA rule was passed in September of 2004 there were a lot of people flying “heavy” two-place ultralights. There was a well intended exception to the ultralight rule that allowed these two-seat machines so that wannabe ultralight pilots could learn to fly without killing themselves. Suddenly, many pilots decided they were instructors (no certificates or ratings from the FAA), built themselves a two-place heavy ultralight machine and hauled their friends, neighbors, wives, girlfriends all over the place. All those passengers were “students,” just in case anybody asked.

With passage of the light sport rule, the FAA decreed that there would be no more heavy ultralights. Owners of existing machines would have to register them as an E-LSA. The pilots would have to obtain a Sport Pilot certificate in order to fly the two-seaters, as they were now FAA registered aircraft. Then they could carry passengers just as in any LSA.

The FAA initially made it pretty easy to get those things done. There was a sort of amnesty period when a heavy ultralight could be registered as an E-LSA. Pilots had it easy too. As long as they were registered with one of the four private agencies that tried to bring some order to the ultralight movement, the FAA gave them a fast-track path to a light sport certificate. All they had to do was take the light sport knowledge test (no instructor sign-off required), and then take a light sport checkride. No dual instruction or instructor recommendation was required for the checkride. I got involved because I was the only designated pilot examiner (DPE) in my district appointed to do light sport checkrides.

There was an enclave of pilots flying two-place Challenger-II Long Wing heavy ultralights at a grass field not very far south of my home field. They called me and asked if I would help out in obtaining their sport certificates. I got checked out in the Challenger-II and started doing checkrides. One of the pilots, who had built his own plane and had about 90 hours on it, had a lot of experience, but didn’t get around to doing his checkride until right before Christmas, on a cold day.

When we got to the simulated engine failure task I had the pilot retard the throttle to idle to simulate a failure. The engine, a 52-hp two-stroke geared Rotax pusher, quit, and the prop stopped.
That’s one.

The pilot knew his machine. He did some frantic pumping with a little primer and the engine came back to life just before we flew into some trees. Note that Challenger-II’s don’t glide well at all; about like a swept-wing safe.

I decided that the applicant had done just fine with “simulated” engine failure and suggested we return to his airport for some takeoffs and landings. I asked for a short-field landing, and when he reduced the power abeam the selected touchdown point the engine quit again. This time the pilot decided to deal with it dead-stick, and he nailed it. It was real short.

That was two.

On the ground he once again did the primer trick, and we were soon back in the air. This time around I asked for a soft-field landing, and you guessed it, the engine quit again. I got to see another dead-stick approach and landing, and let me tell you, they are very steep.

That was three, and by this time I had had more than enough.

I told the pilot to taxi over to the office and I would issue his sport certificate. My mission was evaluating his flying skills, which were clearly superb. So that’s how I got to suffer through a trio engine failures in the same checkride. The pilot later told me that he had never flown the plane in cold weather before. The engine was not properly set up for low-temp operation – some sort of jetting issue.

In March 2013, about two years after my two partners and I bought our Champ, my one partner Frank and I flew to Columbus, Indiana for lunch. I flew the outbound leg from the front seat. After lunch we switched seats and Frank, a relatively low-time pilot, flew back. He took off on Runway 5 and then turned right to head south for the short flight home. Passing through about 1,800 feet, 1,200 feet AGL, still climbing, the engine began to behave as if the throttle had been smoothly retarded to idle. Frank’s reaction was to ask me what I had done.

I was sitting in the back with my hands in my lap, and I said “nuthin’.” I waited a few seconds for Frank to do something, but when he didn’t make a move, I said “Frank, I got it.” I pitched for best glide as I rolled into a right turn to go back to Columbus, and set the trim. I told the tower I had an engine problem and was returning to the field. As I came around it was obvious that I had more than enough altitude to make it back to Columbus, so I told the tower I would put it right back on Runway 5, where we’d come from. I actually had to slip off excess altitude; and we were never in any real danger.

After touchdown and roll-out, I discovered that the engine was still running. But it wouldn’t turn any more than 1300 rpm; it just quit if I opened the throttle any further. That much power wasn’t any use for flight, but it would taxi at that setting. I got to the ramp and shut down. A nice guy with a corporate hangar let me have a space for free, my mechanic told me he would look at it in a few days, and my wife drove out and picked us up.

That evening I went through the engine logs. I found that the carburetor had been off the engine a couple of times for repair and had a questionable history. I decided that unless my mechanic had a very good explanation, I didn’t want the faulty one repaired again. After some testing (to rule out magneto issues) my mechanic agreed with me. He installed an overhauled exchange carburetor and flew it home for me. So, I had a new carburetor, the plane was back home and ran great, and we were $1,100 poorer.
And Frank learned that you can’t dawdle when the engine quits.

If you would like to know my recommendations on what to do when the engine goes silent you may watch my webinar on that subject at http://www.eaavideo.org/video.aspx?v=4434579882001.

Larry Bothe is an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, FAASTeam Representative and Gold Seal Instructor in the Indianapolis, IN FSDO area. He is also a Master Certified Flight Instructor and has over 7500 hours in more than 90 types of aircraft. Larry is part-owner of a 1961 7EC Champ and may be contacted at LBothe@comcast.net.

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