Friday, January 18, 2008

I think I Can, I Think I can, I think...not.

The Grumman AA-1B has red trim, red leather interior, and a whole lot of dust on her. The dust, apparently, is to expected - in this land where even the thickest grass barely hides dirt made of white sand and red clay, everything gets as dirty as when the wind starts to pick up the grey glacial silt at home. Sitting in a hangar is no proof against dirt - and where she was parked beneath a beam, a bird unkindly left deposits on her tail feathers. D and I had asked the FBO's line guys to pull her out of the hangar, because she appeared to be stuck behind the Cessna 337. Still, even with sunshine showing all the dirt and minor scuffs in her paint, she looked beautiful - not every girl has to look like the plane on the glossy cover of Sport Pilot.

We had started preflight when she was in the hangar, but we started on it again. D was slow with fatigue, as he'd been up since 5am to fly for the Air Force (he was still in his flight suit, on his way home from work). As for me, I was slow because this was the first time I'd really gotten my hands on a Grumman, and I had just finished reading her operating handbook a few hours before. Befitting an introduction and his A&P rating, it was a more thorough preflight than most. We took the cowling off, and all the parts of the engine were exposed and explained, quirks mentioned, eccentricities noted.

Some of these quirks are from the time period of her manufacture - the airspeed reads in miles per hour instead of knots, and there's portable intercom system rigged up in the back because the designers hadn't expected pilots to be wearing headsets. Some of these are due to age - her plastic tailcone, being over 30 years old, needs to be checked very carefully for integrity lest the checking inflict damage on aged plastic. Some are by design - she's made to be extremely responsive, very light control pressures, and fun - but for those of us not used to an airplane that goes left when you look left, and may start to roll if you look away for a second, that is also referred to as "squirrelly."

After fifteen minutes or so of acquaintance with the airplane, we were in it and getting ready to start. Starting requires the ignition be on left magneto, engine primed, mixture rich, throttle cracked 1/2in open, and pressing the start button... and sometimes a flick from the aux fuel pump. Try one didn't work, and try two didn't either. D took over the priming and the throttle, and try three nearly caught - only to die when I let off the starter. Try four yielded similar frustrating results... and try five died as the battery ran out of charge.

So, off with the cowling - she's old enough to be before manufacturers started putting plugs to jump the aircraft in the side, so one has to start taking things apart to reach the battery. Of the cells in the battery, several were wet at the top from boiling over - and only two were as full as they should be. We went looking for a battery charger smaller than the Ground Power Unit that was roughly the same size as a hot dog stand on a sidewalk. (Overkill is not always better.)

The FBO here that keeps the airplane has left an impression of nice setup, but the employees are a few fries short of a happy meal. The line guy we tracked down told us that the only charger out was for charging the golf cart at night (therefore we can't use it), and the other one was in a locked cabinet. "Uh, the maintenance guy will be back Monday, so y'all can charge your battery then. Sorry, folks." (At this point, it's roughly 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. FBOs are typically busy with weekend flyers, so there's no excuse there.)

At this point, I am starting to feel a bit impatient - after all, Monday D and the CFI are both free, so I want to be flying to the Grumman checkout CFI, not sitting on my ass waiting for weather and schedules to coincide again. So, I unclench my teeth, smile at the boys, and say "Ok, then we'll go buy a battery charger. Where do we get one?" Blank look from the line guy. "I'm here, and I want to fly on Monday. There are some problems money can solve!"
"For everything else there's... Mastercard?"
Off we went in D's truck to ferret out his favorite hardware store. Racks and racks of shelves full of shiny things called to us, but we got out of there with only a trickle charger. As D got it out of the box, I scrounged an extension cord, and started converting it from a hopeless tangle to useful. That done, we agreed on the order of operations: tomorrow he will go with his fiance to create the wedding registry, and I will either unplug the charger or call the FBO to do so. He went off to go catch some sleep, and I settled in for another weekend of being as polite a guest as I can be...

But it occurs to me. Sebring's Light Sport Expo is going on now. I want to go to that - I wanted it to be my first post-checkout cross county. Even by car, it's only 4 and some hours away. With no flying this weekend, I think I'll road trip - it's a good place to get a new battery, too, in case I need one!

1 comment:

  1. Not coincidently it also gets you out of the house and safely away from the kin, hopefully resetting to some degree a three-day guest rule.